The Sordid History of Haverhill’s Downtown Parking Deck—A Loss Few Will Mourn

A crew from Brockton-based J. Derenzo Co. pecks away at the soon-to-be-former Herbert H. Goecke Jr. Memorial Parking Deck. (Sharon Chouinard photograph for WHAV News.)

A crew from Brockton-based J. Derenzo Co. pecks away at the soon-to-be-former Herbert H. Goecke Jr. Memorial Parking Deck. (Sharon Chouinard photograph for WHAV News.)

Contractors this week began deliberately tearing down the downtown parking deck, but it was doing that to itself as far back as 1979.

Anyone who’s chronicled the thing would likely say ‘good riddance’ to the horror that started 50 years ago this year.

In 1974, the Haverhill Housing Authority, then the agency responsible for the city’s ill-fated urban renewal program, unveiled garage drawings that showed it up against the Merrimack Street sidewalk. The street, central to Haverhill’s reputation as the “Northeast Shopping Center,” now would have no stores for a lengthy part of the streetscape. The deck was intended to serve the retailers it displaced and a hoped-for “climatized mall” along the new Baily Boulevard.

Mayor Lewis C. Burton, who ousted Mayor George K. Katsaros, in the 1975 election wrested control of urban renewal from the housing authority and ordered the deck pushed back 60 feet and the height raised to allow storefronts. The only new one was the building that became Pentucket Bank. Donald A. Johnson of Mitchell and Company department store on Merrimack Street said that while he favored “all of the parking we can get,” he warned the city needs more businesses too.

By the time construction actually began in 1978, Katsaros was back in office for his third and final term. A year or so later, cracks appeared in 22 concrete beams holding up the top floor of the still-under-construction garage.

In the days of larger cars, the deck was supposed accommodate 433 vehicles at a total cost of $2.1 million, but the bill had risen to $4.4million after 349 spaces were completed. The first section and the part coming down now is about 80% of total parking spaces. It became known as “Area A” when what was supposed to be a single project was divided into two under former Mayor Thomas S. Vathally. The city’s portion of the scandal-ridden costs was largely paid at first by federal Community Development Block Grants.

For many years, it was known only as the “parking deck,” but after the 1987 passing of former Haverhill City Councilor Herbert H. Goecke Jr., it was dedicated in his honor. Some called it a cruel joke. The late Malcom D. Kimball Jr., who owned an adjacent insurance agency, often remarked he knew of no other parking garage where one couldn’t traverse floors from within the structure.

In litigation brought first in 1982 by the office of Attorney General Francis X. Bellotti, the state charged designer Anderson-Nichols, “was so negligent and so failed to exercise due care and professional skill that it furnished fundamentally defective and unusable plans and specifications.” It also charged bankrupt contractor Coronis Construction, subcontractor King Erectors and civil engineer Gina M. Ferrini Jr. It was said the contractor made the concrete columns larger than specified, but rather than making the structure safer, room was reduced for elastomeric bearing pads intended to absorb seasonal expansion and contraction. A report to the city also charged the top slab was 800,000 pounds overweight. The building began “tearing itself apart” during its first winter in 1979 while under construction.

In 1982, with only the left section completed, Mayor William H. Ryan closed the upper deck when it began vibrating violently during the demonstration of a street cleaner. A stress analysis at the time reported one of five bays in the original section was in danger of collapse. The state Department of Public Works contested the findings and ultimately agreed to warranty the garage, reopening the top in 1984. “Area B” remained unfinished, sporting rebar from the tops of unfinished support columns.

Then-Councilor Arthur J. Bower, appointed chairman of a deck task force, conveyed the general consensus, saying “Quite frankly, I wish they would blow it up.” The city argued the state owned the deck and was responsible for the disaster, but attorney Peter Milano, representing the state Department of Public Works, put an end to the claim in 1984, saying “basic property law” holds the city owns it. The state, however, backed down on trying to collect $717,000 for the city’s share of cost overrun charges to fix the structure.

Ryan appealed to then-Gov. Michael S. Dukakis who agreed to pay the additional $1 million. Ground was finally broken in August of 1985 for “Area B.” Councilor Goecke said at the groundbreaking, “The parking deck work was supposed to take nine months to complete, but that was 10 years ago.”

Instead of the “post-tensioning” system used on the original section, the smaller “Area B” on the right employed prefabricated concrete sections.

Developer Salvatore N. Lupoli’s plans to build a 660-space garage as part of his $160 million mixed housing and retail complex.

At the 1986 ribbon cutting of the section, demonstrators seeking Dukakis’s rejection of Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant evacuation plans held a sign that read, “This Deck was Built better than Seabrook.” Maybe contractors from Brockton-based J. Derenzo Co., conducting the demolition, can opine on that.

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