Crews renovating downtown Bangor building discover Greek-inspired tiled walls, other surprises

Photo courtesy Berkshire Hathaway

Photo courtesy Berkshire Hathaway

The tile-front building located at 20 State St. in downtown Bangor was recently purchased by local entrepreneur Emily Tilton, and this week, crews have been inside, completely renovating the interior of the four-story property, built in 1911. During that process, they have made some surprising discoveries.

First off — and most interestingly — are the walls of the street-level floor of the building. After removing old drywall from the walls, which stretch more than 60 feet from the front door to the back of the building, crews discovered crumbling tiles lining nearly every inch of it. As seen below, the tiles are in very rough shape and will be removed from the walls in the coming days.

These tiles in particular were clearly designed with a Greek aesthetic in mind. The overall look was perhaps influenced by the then-popular art nouveau movement or the then-emerging art deco movement — if in fact these tiles date from sometime in the 1910s or 20s, around the time of the building’s construction.

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Contractors on site at 20 State St. on Tuesday morning said they believe the upper floors of the property were used as a long-term boarding house or residential hotel, as plumbing and other fixtures indicating such a use were found on site.

However, Melissa Gerety, director of the Bangor Historical Society, said some initial research revealed that at least as early as 1912, a confectioners was housed in the building, also known as the Largay building.

“The Largay building, the Adams building, the Bangor Cigar building where Orono Brewing Company is now, and the Pearl building all went up eight months after the Great Bangor Fire,” said Gerety. “We have a George Lufkin as being the first tenant in that building, and he ran a confectioners.”

There’s also record of a Nicholas Floros owning another confectioner’s business at 20 State, sometime in the 1930s.

Bangor historian Dick Shaw noted that in the 1920s, there was an eatery called the University Lunch on the bottom floor. In the 1930s and 40s, that restaurant had apparently closed, to be replaced by the Ritz Foley Hotel, Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge. An advertisement from that business is featured in Shaw’s “Bangor in Vintage Postcards” book — located at 18 and 20 State Street.

Ritz Foley

“J. Edward Foley had quite a few businesses,” said Gerety. “At the same time as the Ritz-Foley Restaurant he also owned the Bowling Academy with 14 lanes on York and French streets; he was owner of Shelton Apartments, and he owned Foley Chevrolet.”

After that, Shaw said that in the 1950s and 1960s there was a bar downstairs called the Hotel Belmont and Cocktail Lounge. He’s not sure exactly when that closed, but it was around 1970. Shaw sent a photo of that hotel along to the BDN.

Belmont

After the Hotel Belmont, the record grows a little more dim as to the building’s occupants. Regardless, it’s unclear at what point the intricate tiled walls were installed. A closer inspection of the tiles reveals some unusual pictorial depictions of some actual landmarks in both Maine and in Ancient Greece — possibly dating to the building’s days as the University Lunch.

They include the library at Bates College in Lewiston…

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…a historic building at Colby College in Waterville — perhaps also a library?

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… and the University Library at Athens — a library that still stands in Athens today, judging by the image linked here.

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In keeping with the academic theme, there’s also a tiled image of a bust of Socrates.

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The six or seven other tile pictures in the building are destroyed, so whatever else might have been on the walls is now lost to us.

Crews have already gutted the top two floors and removed lots of old stuff left up there from when it was last occupied — they estimate the last time the top two floors had tenants was at least 30 years ago. In addition to old claw foot bathtubs, crews removed a pile of old steam radiators, old tin ceilings, and some very old appliances — including gas-powered stoves and refrigerators.

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Overall, the entire thing is a mystery: who installed the tiled walls? What was in the building after the 1960s? The academic-themed photo tiles may be tied to the University Lunch — but then again, as Nicholas Floros, a member of Bangor’s sizeable Greek community, owned a confectioners there, it could be that the Greek theme is from his tenure as an occupant.

One thing is for sure: new owner Emily Tilton is undertaking a full renovation of the building — its first in decades — with commercial space on the bottom floor and loft-style apartments upstairs.

Tilton said that she didn’t have any clue about the tiled walls until well after the demolition process began. After removing four layers of drywall, wood and steel walls, the tiles became visible — but they were already partially destroyed.

“We were just so sad to see that was there. We had no idea. There were four walls and four ceilings on top of every surface,” said Tilton. “We really would have liked to see how it would have panned out, but it’s just too late now… back then, they didn’t think something like that was cool. They just thought it was a tiled wall that no one would care about. Now, of course, it would be cherished. It’s such a shame.”

Tilton, 23, is a native of the Bangor area and a 2016 graduate of the University of Vermont. She returned to her hometown this summer with a plan to invest in the downtown revitalization.

“I’ve had plans for this since I left for college,” said Tilton, who studied marketing and environmental planning at UV. “I want to help in the revitalization of downtown, and helping build the economy here as much as I can.”

Tilton is tentatively planning for the apartments and the commercial space to be ready for tenants in the spring of 2017. She is anticipating that the loft-style apartments will be of the kind of high quality of other loft apartments in downtown Bangor, such as the one on Broad Street, or above nearby Orono Brewing Company on State Street.

“One of the good things about all those walls they built over the years was that the original brick walls are all perfectly preserved, and there are rich oak floors underneath,” said Tilton. “So it’s also a good thing, in a way, that they were there.”

If you have any more information about the history of this building — specifically about these tiled walls — email me at eburnham@bangordailynews.com. I’d love to know more.

Emily Burnham

About Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native, UMaine graduate, proud Bangorian and a writer and editor for Bangor Metro Magazine, the Weekly and the Bangor Daily News, where she's worked since 2004. She reports on everything from local bands to local food to all the cool things going on in the Greater Bangor area. In her quest for stories, she's seen countless concerts and plays, been lobster fishing, interviewed celebrities, hung out with water buffalo and played in a ukulele orchestra. She's interested in everything that happens in Maine. Albums for review are accepted digitally only; please no CDs.