Community Profile

Movie's afterglow turns focus to real-life Gloucester

By Alice Giordano, Globe Correspondent, 7/22/2000

Gloucester at a glance
Incorporated: 1642 (as town), 1873 (as city)
Area: 26 sq. miles
Distance from Boston: 25 miles
Population: 28,716
Form of government: mayor and city council
Tax rate: $14.83
Schools: one high school, one middle school, six elementary schools
Nearest hospital: Addison Gilbert Hospital, Gloucester
Houses of worship: six Roman Catholic, 20 Protestant, one Jewish Synagogue
Cable TV: Adelphia
GLOUCESTER - When Kathy Interrante started reading "The Perfect Storm" a couple of years ago, she was so taken in by the real-life, hometown tale that she couldn't put the book down, not even during a family camping trip. [an error occurred while processing this directive]

"The way the writer describes the men drowning is incredible, you actually feel like you're drowning yourself," she said. "It gave you a taste of what it could be like out there."

Interrante, 35, a waitress at Valentinos, also saw the movie. And now she and others in the fishing community, are under watch by a swarm of sightseers smitten with curiosity about local scenes featured in the movie.

Hollywood, most agree here, did a good job of capturing the flavor of Gloucester, the oldest commercial fishing port in America. But many fear the blockbuster movie may have a tinsel-town effect on local real estate costs.

Before "The Perfect Storm" was released, Interrante already was having a hard time finding an affordable home to replace the smaller one she and her husband bought for $80,000 seven years ago. So far, they have found that houses just comparable to their Willis Point home, which has water views, run around $230,000.

Gloucester, located off Route 128 or winding Route 127, is not growing as fast as other North Shore towns. In 1995, local realtors estimated the average price of a home was a little over $180,000. According to figures prepared by the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce, last year the average selling price of a single-family home in Gloucester was $213,700.

January sales of single-family homes this year averaged just a little over $181,000.

Gloucester has had its share of problems. In addition to federal limits recently imposed on fishing and the tragic loss of the Andrea Gail crew, the fishing community suffered millions of dollars in property damage during the 1991 northeaster.

That same year, Mayor Bruce Tobey said, Gloucester had a 15 percent unemployment rate. Gloucester was also under a court mandate to build a wastewater treatment plant and sewer system. The recently completed project, which locals call the "Big Pig," cost Gloucester $60 million.

Jeff Worthley , economic development manager of the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce, believes the costly project may have stymied other much-needed improvements, including a new parking garage, road repairs, and a program to deal with litter problems in the downtown.

A cacophony of fuel and storage tanks, fish processing plants, and empty lots that line Gloucester Harbor is not exactly the picture-perfect setting that many New England home buyers are looking for.

Some of Gloucester's grittiness translates, Tobey said, into "a stubborn crankiness - that we're going to stay the way we are, we've got a character and, dammit, we're going to preserve it."

Measuring Gloucester's real estate market, however, is like measuring the number of fish in the ocean. It depends where you drop anchor.

Outside of its blue-collarish harbor district, Gloucester is made up of several pricey neighborhoods such as Bass Rocks and Eastern Point, where minimum asking prices start at $1 million.

For-sale signs are scarcest in Rocky Neck, billed the oldest art colony in the country. Situated on Gloucester's eastern shore, the neighborhood is a tiny and more conservative version of Provincetown.

Janet L. Johnson Real Estate currently lists a five-bedroom house that comes with 130 feet of Rocky Neck shoreline for $1.1 million.

Probably the best barometer for Gloucester's rising popularity is Magnolia, a residential potpourri of lower- to upper-middle-class families, which borders Manchester-by-the-Sea.

Current listings range from a three-bedroom, two-bath Cape fixer-upper with an asking price of $275,000, to a three-bedroom home close to Magnolia Beach for $349,000.

Gloucester's working waterfront that surrounds the weather-beaten bones of its fishing fleet has its own treasures, such as McT's Lobster House & Tavern, about as close as you can get to fresh seafood at a Yankee price without taking it off the hook yourself. A new seafood commodities exchange features local daily catch, and a preserve of quaint shops includes The Bookstore, which has filled its latticed windowfronts with "The Perfect Storm" posters and paperbacks, alongside other literary sagas of local fishing epics.

This story ran on page E1 of the Boston Globe on 7/22/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company
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