A New Day for an Old Gem; Memorial Hall Begins Major Facelift

For decades, so many have walked up the Green Street hill and wondered aloud how nice it would be to fix up the old Dexter Mansion, now known as Memorial Hall and the home to the Abraham Lincoln Post and other community organizations.

Crews from the North Bennet School’s Preservation Carpentry program joined friends and allies of Memorial Hall Monday morning to kick off the long-anticipated historic renovation of the Hall’s exterior and windows. In the front row are Hall President Joe Zuffante, Vice President Stan Leonard, Charlestown Preservation Society President Amanda Zettel and Kira Dunn, of the Friends of Memorial Hall.

With strong bones and still very usable inside, the Hall has struggled for years to try to button up its decrepit exterior – a once proud façade that overlooked Thompson Square and downtown Boston and was the place for all the best functions in years past.

No two people have fretted over the dream of restoring the Hall more than Joe Zuffante and Stan Leonard, both of the Post. On Monday, however, the years of banging their heads against the wall turned into the first day of rebuilding the walls.

In a project aided by the Community Preservation Act (CPA), the Henderson Foundation and several other generous donors from the community, workers from the preservation carpentry class at the North Bennet Street School in the North End began to set up for their careful restoration project.

Already, the back side of the Hall has been restored a few years back due to an emergency leak situation, but the remaining three, more visible, exteriors and windows were cost-prohibitive. Inside, the third floor has been renovated by a church, and the first floor is occupied by the Charlestown Lacrosse and Learning Center and the Post’s offices.

With the new funding mechanisms in place, the Hall is ready to take its noble 18th Century roots and jumpstart into a new gem for the 21st Century.

Zuffante, president of the Post, said the workers will be completing a full restoration of the exterior, including the windows. They’ll be removing the old shingles, putting in historic windows and refurbishing the old character pieces on the outside.

“They will return the Hall to its 1888 appearance,” said Zuffante. “This work is possible through a grant from the CPA and the Henderson Foundation, among others. In an exciting partnership, the work will be done by the teachers and students from the North Bennet Street School, who have incorporated our project into their curriculum for this year.”

For Zuffante and Leonard – and the Friends of Memorial Hall – it has been a long haul effort that started by reforming the Post a number of years ago and refocusing its mission and charter. That led to the need to get the building back into proper shape. At first, no one was interested. Zuffante was able to scrape up a few dollars here and there, and cooperate with tenants and contractors to do emergency repairs and inside renovations. However, until Monday, making it a showpiece was just a far-off dream.

Instructor Michael Burrey, director of the School’s Preservation Carpentry program, said they do all kinds of work for non-profits and organizations throughout Boston, and the Memorial Hall project was a perfect fit for them.

“It’s perfect because it needs a lot of work and they don’t have a lot of money to work on it and it’s also a building of significance to American history,” he said. “A lot of people may look at the deteriorated shingles and everything else and be overwhelmed. We look at it as if it’s probably in good shape…It’s hands-on learning for our students and a hands-on experience where you can teach them. You can only learn so much in a classroom and then you just have to get out and learn on the job.”

Burrey said this week they will start by removing the old shingles on the western side where the entrances are, and see what they uncover and what other things pop up that could need fixing. The plan is to work through the semester and then return later with a new crew of students.

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