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'I Gave it Everything I Got'

   MICHAEL LAFLEUR, Sun Staff LOWELL -

  When he bought the old Harmon Paint building in February, local developer Chris Natale says he was confronted with sagging floors, fire damage and years of neglect. Today, $1.3 million later, Natale has turned 338 Market St. into 12 luxury apartment units on top of three commercial storefronts. 

 

Chris Natale
Photo:  Lowell Sun

"I gave it everything I got in this building," he said. "This was the most complex of all the buildings" his company has undertaken in its nine years of existence.

 "I didn't anticipate the magnitude," Natale said.  When renovations began, there was a one-foot drop from exterior of the historic building to its interior an unintended result of "over-spanned" floor joists. 

Harmon had created one storefront from three, knocking down sections of load-bearing walls to do so, Natale said. It used a steel beam, running the length of the building's basement, to hold up four stories of bricks. 

"My foreman used to say, 'They don't build them like they used to, and thank God they don't,'" he said. Natale's workers reinforced the floors with heavy beams, added floor joists and gave each of the building's three distinctive window bays fronting Market Street its own cantilever system. Previously, the beams used to support the second-floor window bay were holding up the rest of the front of the building.

 "It's one of the strongest buildings in the city of Lowell," said Natale. He said he bought the building, built in the late 1800s and situated at the corner of Market and Worthen streets, for $400,000. The building will be renamed for Natale's former head foreman, Henry King, who died in June. 

"He led the restoration effort for this building, as well as all the other buildings that I've done," Natale said. He is asking $1,000 a month for his 800-square-foot one-bedroom apartments and $1,200 monthly for his 1,100-square-foot two-bedroom units.

Roughly three-quarters of the units there are six one-bedrooms and six two-bedrooms have been rented, along with two of the storefronts, he said.  One of the new tenants is Diana Coluntino, a personal trainer and artist who will be renting an apartment and turning one of the building's storefronts into "Queendom Come," a hat shop, gallery and instructional studio for hat-making classes, which she says she plans to begin offering in October.  She is one of the new artists to be attracted to downtown Lowell by Jerry Beck and his Revolving Museum, located at Middle and Shattuck streets.

Coluntino said she first began thinking of moving to the city last summer, after she came here for the annual Lowell Folk Festival.  "I remember my friends and I saying, 'Wow, this is a cool city,'" she said. Sean Harmon, owner of Harmon's Paint and Wallpaper Co., credited Natale's work and said his new building helps put a whole different face on the surrounding neighborhood.  "Somebody who returned to Lowell after 10 years would have trouble recognizing the place," he said. 

Helping in that regard is his own business, which had to do extensive renovations of its own for the move across Worthen Street to its new home at 314 Market St., after more than 40 years at its previous location. Harmon said he had to spend more than $100,000 to refurbish the company's new digs. 

"Everything went new," he said. "We essentially quadrupled our showroom space. We wanted to present a brand new face to the public."

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