Academy of Music renovations recognized with state Historic Preservation Award

Last modified: Monday, June 15, 2015

NORTHAMPTON — Recent renovations to the main auditorium at the Academy of Music were recognized this month with a Historic Preservation Award from the Massachusetts Historical Commission.

Massachusetts secretary of state William F. Galvin, chair of the commission, presented the awards at the Massachusetts Archives Building in Dorchester to 11 projects, organizations and individuals.

“We feel very honored to be recognized by the state for the work we have accomplished here at the Academy of Music,” said Debra J’Anthony, executive director of the Academy of Music. “[The projects] have helped us make improvements to enhance our patron service.”

Andrew J. Crystal, president of the Academy of Music’s board of trustees, said the award was “recognition of a significant effort.”

“We’ve done a lot of renovation over the last 15 years,” Crystal said. “We’ve upgraded the mechanical and electrical systems, made [the building] more code compliant — but the latest renovations for which we received the award, was for restoring the auditorium.”

“I didn’t have any doubt we’d win the award, but what was very important to me and my team was that we managed to win the award while on a very tight budget,” said Northampton-based architect Thomas Douglas, who worked on the $750,000, two-and-a-half-year project at the 274 Main St. landmark.

Funding came from Community Preservation Act money, the city budget and the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund.

The rehabilitation project involved some significant visible changes. Auditorium seats were repaired, refurbished with fire-resistant fabric and made more accessible, and energy-efficient LED aisle lights were added. Repairs were made to ornamental moldings and cracked plaster on the walls and ceiling, andthe auditorium was repainted. Repairs were also made to the roof, which was insulated with foam board.

J’Anthony said the most important aspect of the renovations involved maintaining the historical integrity of the building, and being sensitive to the original design, colors and style. “We used the original colors and stencil choices as a base,” she said, calling that historical foundation “our inspiration.”

The building was constructed in 1891 as the country’s first municipally owned theater. Crystal said the project involved extensive research on the building’s original historical designs.

The renovations have historical significance, he said, explaining that the Historical Commission had to review changes that would be most visibile to visitors to ensure they were appropriate to the time period.

Douglas, who also worked on the renovation of the Calvin Theater — a project recognized with the same state award — said his team picked seven or eight spots on a wall where they stripped paint down to its original layer.

“It had an ornate color scheme; the side walls were stenciled,” Douglas said, noting that decorative painter Jonathan Kohrman was involved in developing the color scheme presented to the board.

The 820-seater theater has undergone other significant renovations over the past 15 years. In 2000, a state grant funded the restoration of the main roof, the repointing of the building’s masonry, and the installation of an accessible entrance ramp. The grant also funded improvements to the heating and cooling systems.

J’Anthony said more repairs were made in 2008. “We made repairs to the roof above the stage, we added a new marquee, and repaired and replaced doors and windows,” she said. That work was completed in 2010.


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