Sunday January 20, 2013

PITTSFIELD -- Lisa Whitney's dream of opening an arts center in the city where she was raised is nearing reality after the Pittsfield Community Development Board's approval of a special permit for the project.

The board on Tuesday unanimously approved conversion of the former home of the Women's Club of Pittsfield at 42 Wendell Ave. into gallery, performance space and office space.

Board member Louis A. Costi said prior to the vote that what will be called the Thomas Colt House Arts Center "will be a great addition" to the downtown arts scene.

Whitney told board members during a hearing on the permit that her objectives are to provide a platform for visual and performance artists and to preserve a historic home.

The New York City-based attorney said she has envisioned such a facility in Pittsfield, where she grew up, hoping to be part of the revitalization driven locally by the arts.

"That's why I'm confident I can realize my dream in this city," Whitney said.

The Colt House, built in 1866, is a 15-room Italinate-style structure that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was owned by the Women's Club of Pittsfield for more than 70 years, before the organization put the building on the market two years ago because it could no longer afford to maintain it.

Whitney purchased the building for $225,000 last year from Wally O. Fritz Nominee Trust, which had purchased it a year earlier from the Women's Club.


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"I think this is a wonderful use for a beautiful and historic building, after the Women's Club had taken care of it for so long," said Megan Whilden, the city's director of Cultural Development. "This plan is very compatible with other cultural organizations nearby."

The club took possession of the Colt House in 1937 when retailer Simon England of the former landmark store, England Brothers, donated the building to the nonprofit organization in memory of his wife, Frances. The home was built by Thomas Colt, who co-owned Crane & Co.'s Government Mill.

The only aspect of the project discussed by the city board was parking, as the zoning requirement calls for 33 parking spaces for the type of facility and there are 18 available. However, the board, which has leeway on parking within the Downtown Arts Overlay District, merely specified that anyone who has a future complaint about parking issues related to the center could ask for a hearing before the board.

Whitney said the events would include small jazz or chamber music concerts or acting performances, as well as events related to art gallery space at the center.

Those speaking in favor of the project at the permit hearing included Belle O'Brien, former Women's Club president, who said she was relieved the building will be preserved, and Michael E. Murphy, president of the Town Players of Pittsfield.

Murphy said the group has been searching for space to perform since selling the Lebanon Avenue facility it owned for 70 years.

To reach Jim Therrien:
jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6247
On Twitter: @BE_therrien