Paul McGinley receives award for preservation work
By Natalie Miller, Ipswich Chronicle
May 7, 2007
Brick walkways and antique lighting border the streets of town, which are densely populated with rows of charming mercantiles and eateries. The refurbished buildings still evoke a sense of tradition and tell the history of an early American community.
Ipswich resident Paul McGinley is, in part, responsible for saving this town and revitalizing its heritage during a three-year downtown renewal project in the 1970s. The High Street resident is now being honored for this and his many other historical preservation projects up and down the East coast during his 40-year career as a preservation planner.
The Boston Preservation Alliance is honoring McGinley with a 2007 John Codman Award for Lifetime Achievement, which will be presented at its annual banquet on Thursday, May 3.
“It’s very special,” said McGinley, 69, about the recognition.His career in preservation didn’t begin early in life. In fact, the Newburyport project was McGinley’s first big leap into preservation planning.
After receiving a degree in civil engineering from Merrimack College, McGinley started out as an urban planner.
In 1966, he and his wife Cathleen purchased a house on High Street. They had been looking to move from their ranch to have more room for their family of five and a few years earlier had taken a tour of the historic house. They bought it when McGinley saw in the paper that the price had dropped on the 1658 house, which hadn’t been lived in for 50 years.
Working on the home sparked his interest.“That’s how I learned about preservation,” said McGinley, a Hamilton-native. “We restored this house ourselves.”
He found that the house, through various families, represented four centuries of architecture. Fascinated, he and his wife, an Ipswich native, have been working on the house ever since.
“It will never be finished,” he said with a smile.After raising five children, couple is still going. The current project is getting the four fireplaces up and running.
Because of his background in engineering, McGinley knew all state and federal regulations that came into effect in late 1960s in regards to preservation. Up until that point, there had been no rehabilitation of historic homes and buildings.
“Before that, it was wholesale clearance,” said McGinley, explaining that meant the structures would be torn down and construction would start from scratch. “It’s basically bulldozing the heritage.”
McGinley was working for an engineering firm when he applied for the job to lead the Newburyport renewal team.
“I spent the first year trying to get the project funded,” he said.
He was told he could get federal help if Newburyport’s downtown area was on the National Register of Historic Places. So, he spent the next 13 days digging into the history of the town before sending a document to Washington.
The downtown area was added to the National Register, which enabled the project to be funded. Using 70 historic photographs, McGinley was able to create a design for restoring the town. Calling the technique “adaptive reuse,” he explained that the process involved identifying the historical features of the town and modernizing it using those features.
Along with a team of specialists, the streets were designed with walkways and period lighting, but also to accommodate traffic growth and parking. The utilities were replaced and buildings were sold at bargain prices to local business owners. The only condition was to maintain the standards set by the new preservation bylaws.
“The town developed quickly,” said McGinley, “block after block.”McGinley has been active in Ipswich over the years; while serving on the town Planning Board as an engineer, he helped save the now office building across the street from Stone Soup from becoming a gas station and helped to upgrade regulations and zoning bylaws. He also served on the Nuclear Advisory Committee, which kept a power plant from moving to town. That plant is now located in Seabrook, NH. He also served on the Parking Study Committee and still serves on the Public Safety Facilities Committee and the Bridge Advisory Committee. He is also a member of the Essex National Heritage Commission and the Boston Preservation Alliance.
Among some of the other projects that McGinley is proud of is the Centennial Industrial Park in Peabody.
“I conceived and developed the plan for that,” he said, adding that before he started, the land was undevelopable with 25 property owners on 300 acres. “Today it is one of the most successful industrial parks in the area, employing several thousand people and bringing in $7 million of tax revenue to Peabody.”
Going back to his days as a civil engineer, over the course of his career McGinley had an interest in historic bridges and railroads as well. In the 1990s he made recommendations on the rehabilitation of the Choate Bridge, and last spring he formed the Bridge Advisory Committee in the aftermath of the flooding to ensure the bridges were properly monitored and repaired.
“Bridges are special structures,” he said. “It’s very important if you’re going to renovate, to do it in respect of the historical integrity (of the structure.)”
Last year, after redesigning 13 bridges on a historic parkway in Brooklyn, McGinley was presented with the Art Commission Award for Excellence in Design by the mayor of New York City.
Lately he has been working on the restoration of the Esplanade along the Charles River and the preservation of oldest dry dock in the country at the Charlestown Navy Yard. A grandfather of six, McGinley said he is trying to cut back on work and will slow down once the navy yard job is complete.