The effort to save historic Memorial Hall has often been one piece at a time – many times in the beginning with Joe Zuffante and Stan Leonard hustling to do anything possible to make improvements and reform the board.
Both men, as well as the Charlestown Preservation Society (CPS), which has joined them in the effort, believed that it was a long-haul project.
However, funding has been swifter than expected, and the pot was sweetened to the tune of $500,000 this week when Mayor Martin Walsh and the new Community Preservation Committee (CPC) recommended that figure to help with the outside restoration of Memorial Hall.
And while the City Council still has to make the final vote in March, all signs point to a major score for those trying to bring back the historic structure on Green Street.
In the opening round of the CPA last year, Charlestown didn’t have any applications or any awards, a situation that the City moved in to quickly rectify this year.
“After all this time, we’ve really kind of moved up into the big leagues,” said Zuffante last Friday, who is part of the Abraham Lincoln Post at the Hall. “We started the Friends of Memorial Hall as our fundraising arm and then we linked up with the Charlestown Preservation Society. We worked with the City to put in our proposal and it paid off. This is a good start to restore this jewel of a building…It’s been more than 40 years since this building had any serious attention and it shows, but we’re about to rectify that.”
The grant, if approved, will allow the effort to complete the outside renovations of the Hall. Already, one side has been restored and made weather-tight through the cobbling together of resources, but to date the other three sides have been waiting. With other resources and the CPA grant, it will result in the full outside restoration and Americans With Disabilities (ADA) access for the building.
The work is going to be completed by local preservation architect Lynn Spencer and her firm, Spencer, Sullivan & Vogt – located in the Five Cent Bank Building.
“By next year, people won’t recognize this building,” he said. “That’s going to be the best thing of all when the people walk up the hill and are so surprised when they see it restored.”
Larry Stevens of the CPS said they are waiting the final Council approval of the award, and they hope to begin work in the summer and be done this fall. He said the work would include making the building weather-tight and prevent any further weather damage inside.
Already, extensive renovations by a Brazilian Church have been completed in the upstairs portion of the Hall, and now attention can be paid to the inside once the outside is completed.
Stevens postulated that it will take about $2.5 million to fully restore the building, noting that even with the outside renovated, they still have to replace 15 period-style windows in the future.
“We’re not finished, but this puts us in a very good spot,” he said.
Zuffante said this award comes on the heels of a $100,000 grant and a $20,000 grant from the Browne Fund last fall. The $100,000 grant will pay for completely fabricating and replacing the historic wrought-iron fence that is around the property. The $20,000 will go towards lighting to emphasize the war memorial and flag pole.
Memorial Hall served as the Town’s go-to function room for decades, and has been the Abraham Lincoln Post’s home for years as well. In colonial times, it was a private home owned by Samuel Dexter – an estate that stretched with orchards all the way to Thompson Square.
•In another score for the Town, Gardens for Charlestown got $6,000 to improve their signage on Main Street.
Lillian Weigert said they were hopeful they would be approved by the Council and honored to be recommended.
She said they are the only community garden in the city open to the public from dusk to dawn. There’s only one problem, their signs have the wrong name on them.
“We are going to have signs designed and made and installed,” she said. “There are three new signs for the garden. “Notably, for some strange historical reason, the old signs don’t have the right name on them.”
The new signs will have ‘Gardens for Charlestown’ on them and will reflect the idea that they are open to the public from dawn to dusk.
“We serve a different and special community function for all populations in Charlestown,” she said. “We’re more of a park and that distinguishes us from others.” •In the final award, the CPC and mayor recommended $20,000 to add new sod, benches, and fencing for Kelly McGoff Park, a public park maintained by a mixed-income homeowners association.