PITTSFIELD -- The Historical Commission is hoping a photo of the Old Berkshire Athenaeum from an 1886 book can be turned into a wall-size mural once an almost $2.8 million state-funded reconstruction project is complete.

The photograph would become one of two large murals on display inside the building at 44 Bank Row, which now houses the Middle District Registry of Deeds and Berkshire County Probate and Family Court. It is now called the James A. Bowes Building.

Historical Commission member Kathleen Reilly said recently that the commission was asked for input on a historical image that could be used for one of the murals. The other image, which already has been selected, is a more modern photo of the structure.

Reilly said the commission would like to use an image in the book, "Streets, Public Buildings and General Views of Pittsfield, Mass.," published in 1886 by O.J. Copeland & Co., with prints by W.P. Allen of Gardner.

The problem, she said, is that efforts to find an original copy of the photo in Gardner or elsewhere had been unsuccessful thus far. A copy made from the book might not reproduce well enough, Reilly said, adding, "That's the one we really want to use."

The photo and the entire book can be viewed online at a University of Massachusetts-Amherst library website: https://archive.org/details/streetspublicbui00alle.

A stone-by-stone restoration of the historic building's facade, a redesign of the entranceway facing Park Square and internal upgrades are now underway with Allegrone Construction of Pittsfield as the general contractor. Stained glass windows also will be removed, restored and replaced. The project is expected to be completed later this year.

Other work will include renovations throughout the offices and rest rooms, a ventilation system upgrade, modifications to the elevator, interior door replacements and installation of an emergency generator.

The large mural images are to be included in part because the main entrance will be altered so that the building will comply with Americans with Disabilities Act access requirements.

The Old Athenaeum building was constructed in 1876, and a major rear addition was added in 1896, according to project filings. It replaced the city's first library and itself was replaced by the new Berkshire Athenaeum on Wendell Avenue in 1976.

In 1979-80, the building was renovated for the Family and Probate Court and steel bands were added to the second story to reinforce the masonry walls, which were bowing outward.

The building is described as High Victorian Gothic style and was designed by New York architect William A. Potter. The masonry stone was of blue limestone, Longmeadow freestone and red Missouri granite.

It is located off Park Square in a historic district and is listed on state and national registers of historic places.

To reach Jim Therrien:
jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com,
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