Massachusetts Historical Commission - 2015 Preservation Award Winners
Photos of Academy of Music Theatre

Academy of Music Theatre • Northampton

Rehabilitation & Restoration

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a contributing building in the Northampton Downtown Historic District, the Academy of Music Theatre was constructed in 1891 with funding from businessman Edward H. R. Lyman. Architect William C. Brocklesby designed the building in the Classical Revival style, and it was deeded to the city of Northampton in 1895, becoming the nation's first municipally owned theater. Considered an architectural jewel of western Massachusetts, the theater has presented local and international talent onstage and on screen for more than a century. Theater and music stars such as Sarah Bernhardt, Ethel Barrymore, Boris Karloff, Mae West, John Philip Sousa, Jeannette MacDonald, and George M. Cohan have all graced the Academy of Music's stage. A trap door cut into the stage for Harry Houdini's disappearing act is still used in theatrical performances today. The 820-seat theater has a full-fly proscenium stage with one of the few full-fly hemp systems remaining in the nation. The Academy's continued success rests in part on its maintenance and preservation of the building's architectural features. In 2000, a state grant funded the repair of the damaged and leaking main roof, along with masonry repointing, a newly accessible entrance ramp, and upgrades to the heating and cooling systems. In 2008, a Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund grant allowed the Academy of Music to design and install a new marquee, featuring the historic and iconic neon sign and an electric reader board. This grant also helped leverage two rounds of Community Preservation Act funding to repair and replace, where necessary, damaged doors and windows.

The Academy's most recent rehabilitation project, completed in 2014, focused on a much-needed comprehensive restoration of the auditorium, as well as completing repairs to the roof. Prior to restoration, the auditorium's seats were worn and damaged, with some more than 50 years old, and there were no seating positions that complied with accessibility codes. Plaster walls and ceilings had large cracks and bulges, and many of the original ornaments on the balcony and box seat fašades were broken or missing. Auditorium rehabilitation included repair or replication of ornamental plasterwork and moldings, and repairing, reinforcing, and resurfacing the ceiling. Prior to the project, the auditorium's color scheme dated to the 1970s. In-depth paint analysis and newspaper research informed a new, historically appropriate color scheme, and a new historically inspired stencil pattern was applied to selected wall areas. The new ceiling paint emphasizes the auditorium's ornate beams and moldings, and the coffers have been painted with a historically appropriate glazing pattern. Energy-efficient LED aisle lighting was installed to improve safety while lowering the overall light levels in the auditorium during shows. Historically appropriate new seating now meets current code for dimensions and fire-retardant fabrics, and the seating plan was modified to provide additional wheelchair positions without decreasing the number of seats. The asphalt-shingle roof over the stage was stripped and replaced over rigid foam-board insulation, improving energy efficiency. At every stage in this successful rehabilitation, the Academy strived to make historically appropriate choices in materials, techniques, and design, and the recent rehabilitation will help to serve the organization's mission and expand its regional appeal. The Academy of Music Theatre's ongoing commitment to investment in and care of its facilities secures this building's future as an architectural resource and a cultural treasure.

< < 9 of 11 > >