Monday, April 12, 2010

Preservationists decry redevelopment of historic New Bedford whaling building

Historian fumes at failure to save New Bedford site
By David Filipov
Globe Staff / April 12, 2010

NEW BEDFORD — In its prime, the Baker-Robinson whale oil refinery was a pillar of this port’s reputation as the whaling capital of the world. The factory excelled in using the products taken from sperm whales to produce the finest candles, the best lubricants, and the purest oil for lamps.

But the whaling industry left New Bedford in the 1920s, and the great cauldrons that refined oil in the Baker-Robinson plant never fired again. The hydraulic press that made candles out of spermaceti, a waxy substance taken from the whales’ heads, fell silent.

The Greek Revival structure was transformed into an ice house, a fish-processing facility for the Finicky Pet Food company, and finally an abandoned property fallen into disrepair, its bygone significance forgotten for decades.

Now, the 172-year-old Baker-Robinson building is back in the spotlight and embroiled in contro versy, its gray granite frame the subject of an often rancorous debate about how far New Bedford should go to preserve tangible links to its whaling glory days. Last month, the developer who owns the property cleared out the interior to make it a function center for a new hotel. Preservationists say the project has ruined an important historical site, and the city did nothing to stop it.

FULL STORY: Preservationists decry redevelopment of historic New Bedford whaling building - The Boston Globe

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