Vance's impact remains intact

Monday, August 14

John B. McElfatrick (1829-1906) was the more famous of the architects who worked on the Colonial Theatre. He had a national reputation for the brilliance of his acoustical designs.

But Joseph McArthur Vance (1868-1948), who designed the original beaux-arts exterior and the movie-house additions in 1937, had a far greater impact on the Berkshires and the look of downtown Pittsfield.

Only 35 when he took on the Colonial project in 1903, Vance was just beginning his career, while McElfatrick, 74, was near the end of his.

A Midwesterner, Vance earned his degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1891, worked briefly for a Boston firm, and came to Pittsfield in 1894 to supervise construction of the Berkshire County Savings Bank (now Berkshire Bank) on Park Square.

He remained here for the rest of his life, designing some of the most notable buildings downtown, including the Masonic Lodge (1914), the First Baptist Church (1930), First Church of Christ, Scientist (1926), and the grandstand at Wahconah Park (1927).

Vance also designed the Mahaiwe theater in Great Barrington in 1905 (also restored and reopened this year), as well as the Majestic (later The Palace) on North Street in 1918.

In addition, Vance drew up the plans for Bascom Lodge, built in 1937 atop Mount Greylock.

A fan of amateur theater, he took part in local dramatic and operatic productions, and was a founder of the Town Players, which is still active today.

Outside of theater and architecture, Vance was a champion golfer and for two years served as president of the Pittsfield Baseball Club.

He married Grace Hersey in Gardner, Maine, in 1899, and they raised their son, Joseph Jr., at 153 South St., a few doors down from the Colonial.

Vance died in Pittsfield at the age of 80 in 1948.


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