The Grand Beauport Hotel
In the 1920’s Clarence Birdseye invented the quick-freeze method of preserving fish. It allowed fishermen to trawl up bottom fish, fillet and freeze them at sea, then ship them directly to supermarkets, which responded by stocking more fish. It brought about an economic boom along the Gloucester waterfront. But in the 1930’s the haddock fishery collapsed, followed by other ground fish species during the following decades due to increased pressure from the new technologies.
Now the old Birdseye plant is part of another scheme that will also provide short- term gain but ultimately lead to another collapse in twenty years or so.
Jim Davis, the billionaire chairman of New Balance shoes apparently sees Gloucester’s gritty blue-collar fish processing district as the next South Beach. He is building a $25 million, 96-room grand hotel on Gloucester’s rock strewn barrier beach, which is regularly inundated by hurricanes, Northeasters and high course tides.
According to data from the International Panel on Climate Change, the Grand Beauport will be the first Gloucester building to be flooded by sea level rise. The panel conservatively predicts the seas will 3 feet by 2100. But NASA former scientist James Hansen predicts the rise will be closer to 5 feet in 25 years and 10 feet in fifty years, which will put this grand hotel in jeopardy in about 20 years.
The curious thing is that Gloucester officials seem to have forgotten about the damage inflicted on this shore by past storms. As you approach the hotel along the curving boulevard where Gloucester’s famous statues to her lost fishermen and their wives stare out to sea, it all makes sense. Low houses are located about a hundred feet back from the ocean on the other side of Western Avenue.
But as you get closer to the Grand Hotel it seems like Gloucester officials came down with a severe case of group amnesia. The hotel juts out just above the high tide mark so its summer revelers can get a good look at Gloucester’s famous greasy pole during the annual St Peter’s Festival. But what are hotel guests going to look at during the rest of the year when Northeasters and hurricanes take dead aim at the Beauport Hotel?
Like Clarence Birdseye’s original plant this modern boondoggle will provide a few immediate construction jobs then but then lie fallow for most of the year as storms savage her underlying superstructure.
Read more in William Sargent’s new book, Plum Island; 4,000 Years on a Barrier Beach is available in local bookstores and through Amazon.com.