Arts Center Planned for Former Pittsfield Womens Club

by Joe DurwinPittsfield Correspondent
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The Wendell Avenue building was built in 1865 as the Thomas Colt House.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — One of the city's historic mansions is being eyed for an arts center.

City native and New York City attorney Lisa Whitney wants to start a new chapter for a former Women's Club on Wendell Avenue by opening it as a center for visual and performing artists and organizations that have yet to find the right venue in downtown.  

The Community Development Board will hold a public hearing Tuesday on Whitney's application to redevelop the 42 Wendell Avenue property.

The storied structure, vacant for about two years, falls within the Downtown Arts Overlay zoning area formed in 2008, along with the newly designated Upstreet Cultural District, along a particularly historic stretch of this scenic side street.  

"It just seemed like a perfect venue to have an arts center," Whitney told iBerkshires. "I had been looking at the building for quite a while."

The 27,443 square foot Thomas Colt House was built in 1865, two years after the prominent judge launched a prosperous mill in Coltsville. In the early twentieth century the building headquartered the Red Cross, then served as the site of Miss Mills School for girls.  Simon England, Sr. of England Brothers bought it in 1937 and deeded it to the Women's Club, who operated there from that time until 2011.   

Records show the club sold it to Wally O. Fritz Nominee Trust and the Raymond T. Kushi Jr. Trust for $250,000, who sold it to Whitney this past June for $225,000.  

"The historic value of the building I think is outstanding," said Whitney, "I've always admired it."

The new owner says she foresees the building hosting a variety of plays, art exhibitions, and "small, intimate musical performances," a space for new artists and resources for the arts community.

Whitney says she ideally would prefer to rent to tenants working in the creative economy, but may also rent some space to other interests initially.

An attorney by profession, Whitney said she is also interested in eventually looking into the concept of hosting some kind of resource or office for providing legal assistance for artists.

Whitney said there are not many hurdles in getting the building ready for use, and most of the uses intended were already allowed at the Women's Club facility.  Some maintenance is currently being undertaken to the exterior of the building.

"It's in relatively great shape," she told iBerkshires. "There are certain things we have to do to make it accessible. I want to preserve it, I don't want to reorder it much, just to update it as necessary."

The site currently has a parking capacity of eighteen and the owner has been working with SK Design on the site plan to see if more parking might be possible. While on street parking is scarce during the day, the street tends to be far more open during the evening hours.

The New York resident said she had been impressed by recent developments in her hometown, and wanted to support this evolution.  

"Pittsfield has really kind of turned itself around. I think it's extraordinary the work that's been done," she said.

It's exciting to see another cultural hotspot envisioned for Pittsfield's Upstreet Cultural District," said city Cultural Development Director Megan Whilden,  "and especially one that is being developed by a Pittsfield native who wants to give back to her hometown, and take part in its creative revitalization."

"We want to support these artists and welcome them into a beautiful space," says Whitney. "Hopefully we can give back to the community, and preserve the building in the process."

Following testimony from several area residents in support of the project, and no public comment in opposition, the Community Development Board unanimously approved the proposal to redevelop the building into a working arts center.

Tags: art center,   historical building,   

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