Enough with the squabbling. It’s time for the Registry of Deeds to move from its waterfront digs and become part of the effort to ensure the preservation of one of downtown Salem’s most historic and architecturally significant blocks.
Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, members of the city’s legislative delegation and Secretary of State William Galvin are convinced that after a long hiatus, the Southern Essex Registry of Deeds should return to the heart of the city’s Federal Street legal district. The area is already home to the new J. Michael Ruane Regional Judicial Center, the Probate Court, and a host of law firms. And local legislators went to great lengths — state Sen. Joan Lovely termed it “nothing short of a miracle” — to get a bill passed in the waning days of the last session conveying the old Superior Court complex to the Salem Redevelopment Authority for the sum of a dollar.
The buildings date back to before the Civil War, but have been vacant since 2012 when the new courthouse complex was completed. Meanwhile, Southern Essex Register of Deeds John O’Brien and his staff have been quite content with their leased quarters at Shetland Park, which they found after being forced to vacate the Probate Court building several years earlier.
What’s not to like? There’s plenty of parking at the Shetland complex and their offices offer a magnificent view of Salem Harbor. And truth be told, the location is still within relatively easy walking distance of the rest of the downtown.
But when the Registry left it was with the understanding that it would eventually return to its historic home near the intersection of Federal and Washington streets, just steps away from the train station and the rest of the legal community.
The legislation which Lovely and state Rep. Paul Tucker shepherded through the Statehouse recently, helps accomplish that goal.
Lovely, in a telephone interview, said she hopes having the Registry as an anchor tenant might convince a private developer to take on the task of renovating the remainder of the empty courthouses which, in our view, would make great offices for a law firm or architectural consultancy. (The former law library on the top floor of the 1889 addition to the brick building at 39 Federal St., with its walk-in fireplace, is one of the most impressive interior spaces on the North Shore.)
We trust the SRA, which did a great job finding new uses for the old Salem Jail when it was abandoned by the county, to come up with a suitable plan.
We have plenty of admiration for Register O’Brien, a veteran officeholder who has been a national leader in the effort to digitize records of real-estate transaction and require mortgage lenders to comply with all applicable laws. But in this instance we think the city and the region is better served by his making peace with his putative boss, Galvin, and bringing the Registry back to the center of downtown where it belongs.