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Historic Marine Paint Site Crumbling

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

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Part of the global birthplace of marine paint—the Tarr & Wonson Paint Manufactory in Gloucester, MA—is failing and facing demolition, officials say.

The nonprofit Ocean Alliance, the complex’s current owner, has found that part of the building, built on pilings, is rapidly sliding toward the sea at Rocky Neck in Gloucester Harbor.

Antifouling Pioneers

The iconic paint factory, a familiar New England image, dates to 1863—the same year that James G. Tarr and Augustus H. Wonson received the world’s first patent for copper-based marine bottom paint.

 Tarr and Wonson antifouling marine paint
Tarr & Wonson patented the world’s first antifouling paint, which is still sold today.

The paint—a mixture of copper oxide, naphtha or benzene, and pine tar—earned many international awards. For years, Tarr & Wonson’s was the only bottom paint made in the United States and the only paint used on ships and boats worldwide. Prior to its invention, boats were sheathed in metal—a costly and cumbersome solution—to protect against fouling.

The first antifouling paint transformed global trade, commerce and even warfare and is still made today. The paint also helped seal Gloucester’s legacy as America’s oldest seaport.

New England Landmark

The factory itself became a New England landmark, part of the region’s legend and culture, immortalized in art and literature. The building is also on the National Register of Historic Places. Paint was produced there until 1985, and the complex was abandoned.

In 2008, the Ocean Alliance acquired the Paint Manufactory and embarked on a $10 million restoration project.

 Tarr and Wonson Factory

 The Annenberg Foundation

In 2008, the Annenberg Foundation donated $3 million to restore the Tarr & Wonson factory, which dates to 1863.

So far, crews have done substantial cleanup work at the site, removing asbestos, lead, and antifouling paint residue, local reports say. The project has four phases: toxic cleanup, brick building restoration, wooden building demolition and restoration, and utility installation.

Now, however, the alliance fears that unless part of the structure is demolished and rebuilt, it will collapse into the water.

“If that building fell into the harbor, goodness knows what damage it could create,” Ocean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr told the Gloucester Times.

Rebuilding Proposed

The Alliance wants to raze and rebuild the building emblazoned with “Gloucester Sea Jacket Marine Paints” as well as a small connecting structure, according to the Times. The proposal will go before the local Conservation Commission this week.

“I don’t think it’ll make it through the winter,” City Building Inspector Bill Sanborn told the newspaper.

Sanborn attributed the building’s shift to weather damage and rot in some of the wooden supports. He said the building was not worth repairing and should be demolished soon.

 Tarr and Wonson Factory
The building’s owners will seek permission to raze and rebuild the “Gloucester Sea Jacket” building at left and the smaller connector building. The “Manufactory” building would be preserved.

The Ocean Alliance noticed the problem while work crews were removing asbestos tiles from the structure’s walls, Kerr told the paper. “We removed all the asbestos tiles from the building, and it looks like they were holding the building together,” he said.

The demolition would not affect the most prominent building, labeled the “Manufactory.”

Ocean Alliance has raised $4 million for the restoration. Kerr said the demolition would require the group to take out a $75,000 loan.

Richard Rosenberg, a local preservation advocate whose property abuts the Paint Factory site, said he would contribute about half the cost of the demolition, the Gloucester Times reported.


Tagged categories: Antifoulants; Coatings manufacturers; Historic Structures; Marine Coatings

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