Perserving a city icon


By: Lisa DeStefano
Date: Monday, May 8, 2006
Publication: Portsmouth Herald

As a life-long resident and now an architect living, working and designing in Portsmouth I'd like to speak to the importance of the Market Square Steeple Fund project. There's no doubt that the character of our city is surrounded by this wonderful piece of architecture.

When I think of the North Church steeple, I think of the bigger picture. This building is the thing we use as our icon, our symbol of who we are as a community, the reflection of Portsmouth's heart and soul. The church has always opened its doors to residents and visitors alike, whether it's Market Square Day, First Night, Children's Day or any other day of the week; the North Church has long been a meeting point and its steeple a beacon.

So long, in fact, that the steeple has stood tall in Portsmouth's Market Square since before my ancestors settled here. It was already a symbol of our city when my grandfather, Frederick DeStefano, arrived here in the early 1900s from San Giovanni, Italy. While his plan was to stay only one year, he (like so many of us) became enchanted with this place and sent for my grandmother, his fiancée, Victoria. They made their home here and raised five children in the North End where many other Italian families settled.

Having lived here all my life I can personally say how my image of Portsmouth includes the North Church and its steeple. Through the years, I can recall many changes all around the church. Gilly's used to sit alongside the church and the place where my friends and I would go to see movies (and later became Eagle Photo) is no longer there. While these changes continue to evolve, our symbol - the steeple, has stood the test of time.

There is a group of dedicated people who care enough about this precious jewel of our city to ensure the funds are raised to complete the restoration process that is necessary to preserve it for future generations. I appeal to your love of this place and to this powerful symbol that creates the image of our city to do what you can to contribute to this rich and meaningful effort.

Consider this passage from "The Image of the City" by Kevin Lynch who writes: "At every instant, there is more than the eye can see, more than the ear can hear, a setting or a view waiting to be explored. Nothing is experienced by itself, but always in relationship to its surroundings, the sequences of events leading up to it, the memory of our past experiences. Every citizen has had long associations with some part of the city, and his image is soaked in memories and meanings."

Indeed, our experience and memories of Portsmouth would not be complete and our image of this city very different without the beauty of this simple steeple we all know and love so well.

Lisa DeStefano Portsmouth

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