How does one begin a eulogy of a house? (Well, I guess I just did, didn’t I?)
There are structures and then, there are buildings. There are houses and then, there are homes. There are places that people go and then, there are places people want to go to. That was, and always will be, 10 Wirt Street in Westbrook, ME, which officially closes its doors this week after approximately three years of ‘business.’
A linchpin for social activity in the greater Portland area, the Wirt Street residence was a vision by one man: Rob Akerley. Rob had an idea of getting a great house to rent in the area and having a diverse group of guys to live there with him, providing a dynamic that couldn’t be beat. Akerley brought together himself, Brian ‘Sluggo’ Jacobs and Zack ‘Jesus’ Longley for the first incantation of the Wirt, immediately lauching it into a place to be and a place to be seen; a nerve center of fun. Many a Sigma Chi, friend of a Sig or otherwise walked through the hallowed doorway and many of those same people ended up sleeping there as well, due to the unofficial fourth roommate: alcohol. Plenty of beers and mixed drinks were guzzled, many a joint smoked and many a laugh shared: the Wirt’s energy was undeniable and intoxicating in its own way.
(Side note: A fact mostly held for trivia buffs, Tom Houghton also signed up for temporary living duty at the Wirt, sharing the undesirable first-floor bedroom with swing doors that wouldn’t close all the way. Tom also ushered in the two-TV era, known as the Holy Shit months. While he may never be seen by critics as having large historical implications on the Wirt, it’s important to note his charter status and his crucial role in the building’s opening months.)
While the Wirt and its unique blue sectional couch monster were inviting, the property also had its share of controversy: the legendary Akerley/Nelson taxicab shouting affair, the McMann New Year’s Eve snowbank debacle, the random water drips, the 45-minute Chris Kelley showers, the Nason-Haney Black Tar Vomit bathroom incident. But it was all part of what I call The Wirt Experience. If you wanted to embrace this two-story structure for all of its glory, you also had to accept the warts. I think it was part of the car-crash appeal of staying there: you really had no idea what to expect.
Host to dozens of eventful parties, the Wirt saw perhaps its most lucrative and controversial era when Jacobs moved to Michigan and recent college grad Chris Kelley took his place. Between his Apprentice-like infatuation to learn the ways of Rob, his explosive demeanor and his revolving door of employers, CK brought a new era of entertainment to the Wirt. Eventually, Zack would leave as well, resulting in the final permanent tenant, Rick Haney, to stake a claim in Wirt history. But all through the ever-changing faces, one solid figure remained: Robert G. Akerley, the founder of what was known in most circles as ‘Akerley’s house.’
That is why it is a sad goodbye, but a happy beginning for all of the Wirt alumni as well. Rob bought his first house, CK moved to Concord, NH, and has a bright future at a big company, Zack continues to do well in the Portland environment, Rick has found a new love and Jacobs will tie the knot this September. Perhaps it was that group of people, perhaps it was the house’s proximity to the Old Port, perhaps it was that ragged blue couch, but something about that house made you feel good. Whether it was a simple game of horsehoes, an 80s party or watching Rob wash his car for the 800th time, the Wirt wasn’t just a place but a feeling.
Now, that feeling will have to live in all of us. Thank you to the residents in helping to create memories that will last forever…except for those of us who had them erased by illegal substances.