Like Its People, a City Evolving
LOWELL -- Andrew (A.C.) Theokas hears far too often people calling his hometown city a dump.
The 70-year-old Lowell native, who was born and raised in the Mill City before departing when he got older, wants that negativity to flip. Compared to other industrial cities in the state, Lowell has done exceptionally well, he emphasized.
“Lowell has really bounced back,” Theokas said, stressing he has seen the city go through some significant changes. “There’s a lot to be proud of here.”
He made this point clear in his recent book, “Lowell Through Time,” which visually explores how the city has adapted to changes in architecture, commerce, demographics and entertainment.
In the book, published in the “America Through Time” series, Theokas shows then-and-now photos for various sites throughout Lowell.
In the caption for each vintage-to-modern comparison, he explains the architectural style of the old building and what has now replaced it. He studied urban design at Harvard University.
This project took him about a year, gathering all the ancient photos and then taking the new ones.
“It’s a lot of nostalgia, looking back at what the city looked like,” Theokas said. “Overall, Lowell has come a long way, especially compared to what could have happened.”
In the book, he discusses the city’s unique origin, elaborating on how textile manufacturing drove its initial layout -- walling off the city proper from the Merrimack River by a “mile of mills.”
Then the southward migration of the industry began, and area shopping malls weakened the city’s business district, he explained.
Other cities in Massachusetts also suffered economic downturns, but Lowell has rebounded better than most, undergoing a mini-renaissance with an expanding university, destination as a National Park and a resurrected business district, he wrote in the book.
“The city has recognized how to preserve its industrial heritage,” Theokas said. “Old textile mills can be adapted for current use.”
He also dives into how the city has made mistakes over the years, and how to avoid that in the future.
For instance, Theokas points to the old Butler School built in 1882 in the Queen Anne style. Named after Benjamin Butler, the Civil War general, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.
Nonetheless, it was allowed to deteriorate, Theokas said. In 2013, it was demolished and replaced by a building not in the Queen Anne style: a Dollar Tree.
“You can’t assume something will always be there,” he said.
Through the book, he hopes readers appreciate the city’s architecture from the 19th century.
“A lot of those buildings were really elegant,” he said.
The 96-page paperback book costs $23.99.
For more information on Theokas and for those who are interested in acquiring the book, visit www.actheokas.com .
Follow Rick Sobey on Twitter @rsobeyLSun.