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Pittsfield Historical Commission Vote to Urge Miss Hall to Preserve the Weston House
By Sabrina Damms, iBerkshires Staff
05:13AM / Tuesday, August 02, 2022
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Historical Commission on Monday voted to give the nearly 200-year-old Weston House at Miss Hall's School "preferable preserve" status after an extensive discussion between the public and the commissioner.
 
The private school on Holmes Road is considering demolishing the structure, saying the estimated half-million cost to renovate it is too high.
 
But the commissioners determined that since people are still able to live in the house, there isn't an urgent need to raze it. 
 
Head of School Julia Heaton and Jeff Crosier, manager of campus services, said decision on how to handle the house had not been made despite the application for demolition.
 
Miss Hall's purchased the house in 1997 for $190,000 and, since then, replaced windows, put a room on, and took care of anything that made it difficult for faculty to live there. 
 
Heaton said a conditions assessment of campus properties in 2015 listed renovations by urgency. Priority 1 refers to conditions that cause health and safety issues and Priority 2 is important but does not need immediate attention. 
 
One member of the public commented that Miss Hall's has not done enough to preserve the historic house calling their efforts "deplorable." 
 
She said she cried seeing the condition of the gardens and house when visiting 10 years ago with a friend of the last owner, Mary C. Weston. 
 
"I have a degree in architectural history, I saw the estimate that was in the paper, I think it's very high to fix a house, my feeling is put it on the market, see if you can sell it. If no one comes forward within a given amount of time, six months, a year, that can be determined, then you can readdress it, but I think just to take it down, out of hand, is tragic," she said.
 
Some members of the commission questioned the accuracy of the assessment of cost because it seemed high. The school hired an outside contractor who determined the cost of restoring the building at $553,690.
 
"I think they have they are in fact, quite reputable. But my question is, from their perspective, are they just taking this historic building and sort of bringing it into the modern era, and in doing so, really extensively, renovating it to the point that maybe even doing so it would lose its historical integrity," Commissioner Carol Nichols said.
 
"If that was done, there's just a question. I mean, there's a line between restoration and renovation."
 
Commissioner Matthew Herzberg, director at James Dixon Architect PC, said he is not surprised by this estimate, especially with construction costs these days. 
 
"First of all, with respect to these construction costs, certainly nothing these days surprises me about construction costs. And specifically to this, there's nothing that seems egregiously high more out of line, to me," Dixon said. 
 
"It just happens to be an incredibly expensive type building. And so these costs are reasonable, based on what I'm seeing. I also think that it's a very saleable property, you know, the property can be subdivided, if the school wish to maintain a significant portion of that parcel on staff house, I think that's reasonable."
 
The Greek revival house is one of three from the early first half of the 19th century. It was part of Holmesdale, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.'s summer home, and may have been built by his father, Abiel. The history and architecture of the house contributed to the commissioners' decision and said they are willing to work with Miss Hall's to discuss their options and funding.
 
The commission has received emails from community members after word got around that Miss Hall's School wanted to demolish this home.  
 
"There are few homes in Pittsfield this old, and with that much character, and historical meaning, it deserves to be here in 500 years; the building should stay, and if Miss Hall doesn't want it, they can sell it to someone who can fix it and live in it and care for it. There are plenty of people moving to the Berkshires who would save it and turn it into a family or vacation home," one email said. 
 
The commissioner also deemed the Clapp House carriage barn as historically significant. Berkshire Theatre Group had requested to demolish the structure at 74 Wendell Ave. The commission initially delayed a decision at its last meeting pending a walkthrough of the building.
 
They discussed the poor state of the building, commenting on the debris, rubble foundation, and rotting joists caused by the water falling through a hole in the roof. 
 
BTG spent more than $1 million to restore Clapp House but a professional assessment indicated that the best path forward for the barn is to take it down.
 
BTG needs to build artist housing and thinks the most cost-effective option would the barn down, regrade, and landscape that area.  
 
Despite this commission members argued that the structure is likely not beyond repair but recognized the great cost that would be associated with refurbishing it. 
 
The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in the early 1990s and the commission believes it can be renovated with a bit of vision, creativity, and money. 
 
After conducting some research on the carriage house it was discovered that in 1889, well-known woodworker, cabinetmaker and Ward 3 alderman Theodor Glentz leased the building for 10 years. 
 
The commission said it is willing to discuss the financial options with BTG and understands that the company is also dedicated to preserving the historical integrity of the building since it put so much effort into restoring the Clapp House. 
 
In other news: 
 
The commission voted to allow the demolition of 224 Francis Ave. with little discussion, deeming that there is nothing significant about this residential structure. 
 
• Commissioner Carol Nichols was appointed the representative to the Community 
Preservation Committee. 
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