DANVERS — Like many of their neighbors, Janet and Mark Lettich went bigger and better when they had to build a new home in the wake of the Danversport explosion.
They used to live in a one-story cape with "tiny windows," as Mark described it. Their new house is a two-story modular colonial with a finished basement and side porch.
"We were able to take advantage of the situation as best we could," said Mark Lettich, sitting in the home office on the second floor of his new home. The floor-to-ceiling window behind him opens on a picturesque view of the Crane River with sea gulls swooping and the sun setting. "We wanted to see the river."
After being displaced for nine months, the couple and their dog, Luka, recently returned home. Janet Lettich toured their new master bedroom, and although they don't have a bed yet, the room's beauty | with a corner fireplace and picture window overlooking the river | is stunning.
"For the first time ever, we have 'his' and 'her' closets," said Janet, showing off the new space.
Danversport is a new neighborhood in many ways.
Boarded-up homes and leveled lots are a reminder of the explosion that decimated the neighborhood on Nov. 22, 2006, but those sites are juxtaposed by new houses that are bigger and fancier, with large front porches framed by tidy, white railings.
"It looks a lot more prosperous, that's for sure," said Deborah Riva of 1 Bates St., who will soon start construction on her new home, although she may be the only resident planning to downsize.
"We call it God's urban renewal project," said John Joyce, whose family recently returned to a new modular colonial at 9 Bates St. "Nobody got hurt. It was the oldest part of town. Now it's all new."
Twenty new homes have sprung up so far, and more are in the works.
Businesses rebuilding, too
Liberty Marina owners Jim and Wendy Cheever are constructing a 12,600-square-foot steel warehouse that will also have office space. Two buildings at the marina damaged by the explosion had to demolished. The Cheevers hope to finish the new warehouse by the end of December.
Maria Silva, owner of the building that housed the Danversport Bakery & Coffee Shop and the Pizza Factory, is rebuilding the demolished bakery on Water Street and hopes to have it open by early January. Amid the changes, a new Dunkin' Donuts is under construction on Water Street, and a spa is moving into the former North Shore Association of Realtors building on Water Street, which was seriously damaged in the explosion.
"When I was growing up, Danversport wasn't the best part of town," said Richard Stamm, whose home was severely damaged by the blast and had to be torn down. Now he and his wife are building a large house with a gabled roof at the corner of Water and Riverside streets. "The neighborhood looks nice. It's coming up to snuff."
Neighbors say they are bracing for assessment time, when the town will reassess property values.
"The house value went up," said Donna Joyce of 9 Bates St. "Our taxes will show it, I'm sure."
Stepping inside the neighborhood's new homes, some similarities are evident, because the neighbors have shared information and advice with each other as they have rebuilt.
"We have the same kitchen tiles as Alan and Andrea Farrell (on Bates Street) because we saw theirs and liked them," said Janet Lettich with a laugh. "Everyone shared a lot."
Getting to know you
The changes in Danversport transcend the aesthetic. The devastating explosion also served to unite the neighbors, who are now a closely knit group.
"I like that we all have a bond now that we didn't before," said Kelly Lord of 12 Bates St., whose family moved into their new home on Sept. 22. "We all hug when we see each other, and we're all going in each other's homes, helping with curtains and stuff."
For many people who were busy with work and families, Danversport didn't have the sense of community it has today.
"Meeting the neighbors was a good thing," said Lisa Berman of 35 Bates St. "I work all the time, so I didn't see anyone. It's much more open than before, and everyone is there for each other."
Danversport residents formed an association called SAFE | Safe Area for Everyone | and also gathered for weekly dinners that the Maple Street Congregational Church hosted every Thursday night for a year. Neighbors gathered together to comfort each other, share information and spend time with people going through a similar experience.
"The neighborhood is incredible | I've never seen the likes of it anywhere," said Stacey Stamm, who was in the process of moving to the neighborhood when the explosion occurred. "The town has been very supportive, and I absolutely know a lot more people and public officials than I ever would have met.
"It's been a really nice welcome to town; it just was an unfortunate entry."