Eradicating Searles, not preserving it
To the editor:
An accurate headline for the Dec. 18 article about the Great Barrington Select board hearing should read "Hotel plans wouldn't preserve former [Searles]school," as they call for demolishing virtually all of this historic landmark.
The only "preserved" section is part of the façade of the central block, but even that gesture will be neutered by the replacement of its signature tall, multi-paned windows with squat, off-the-shelf models.
The idea that they are "preserving" the building is important to the developer. Great Barrington has a bylaw (7.10.2) that limits the number of rooms in a hotel to 45 unless it is part of an historic preservation project. The developer is proposing that they are preserving Searles School in order to justify a permit for 95 rooms.
The eradication of a historic landmark and replacement with a faux "colonial" design is not historic preservation. Through adaptive use, however, the town and the developer can have it both ways: the introduction of a new hotel and the preservation of the real thing, thus sustaining an important part of the authenticity that is the essence of our small town's character.
The Historical Commission affirmed the building's architectural, historical and cultural significance as part of the application process under Bylaw 7.10.2 and considers it as eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. It is connected with Edward Searles (1841-1920), a munificent benefactor to Great Barrington. It was designed by Henry Vaughan (1845-1917), a famed architect and pioneer in the introduction of English, neo-Palladian and Georgian forms. His distinguished portfolio includes plans for the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. The building is a striking example of the Georgian Revival style and an impressive part of Great Barrington's architectural record. As an educational institution, the Searles building represents an important chapter in the cultural history of our town.
The significance attaches to the entire building, not token portions of it. We approved the developer's application with the belief and intent that the whole building would be preserved and re-used as a hotel, thus benefiting the town, the developer and preservation in Great Barrington.
The demolition-heavy approach and disfiguring alterations to the portion of the original building that remains not only destroys the integrity of the architecture but is clearly inconsistent with the Commission's conclusion that the whole building is culturally significant and needs to be preserved.
The Historical Commission urges the developer and Select board to work toward a sensitive adaptive use project that will create a new hotel in a preserved landmark.