Massachusetts Historical Commission - 2017 Preservation Award Winners
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Photo of The Howard & Onota Buildings, Pittsfield

The Howard & Onota Buildings, Pittsfield

Adaptive Reuse & Rehabilitation & Restoration

The Howard and Onota buildings are early 20th-century commercial buildings in the heart of downtown Pittsfield. Erected in 1916, the Howard Building was designed by local architect Joseph McArthur Vance in the Classical Revival style. It sits on a prominent corner lot on First Street and occupies the full width of a block. The three-story, red-brick building is five bays wide by nine bays deep and features a parapet wall and flat roof. It was originally built for the Frank Howard, Inc., hardware store, which occupied the entire first floor, with rental offices on the second floor and inventory storage on the third. The Howard Company became a staple of the community, serving the surrounding Berkshire County farms and gentlemen’s estates from 1893 to 1960 as the region transitioned from agricultural uses to suburban neighborhoods. After the hardware store closed in 1960, the building changed hands several times before being purchased by the Allegrone Companies in 2011.

Located two blocks west of the Howard Building, the Onota Building sits at the corner of North and School streets. The Renaissance Revival-style commercial building was designed by Walker & Weeks Architects of Cleveland, and built in 1927. The L-shaped building is five bays wide by eight bays deep, is clad in red brick with limestone trim, and has a parapet wall and a flat roof. The Onota Building is one of the most prominent buildings in the downtown district and at six stories in height, the tallest on North Street, Pittsfield’s main commercial thoroughfare. It was originally intended to be mixed-use, with retail, office, and residential space, but the office and residential uses did not come into fruition. By 1930, the primary tenant was the Holden & Stone department store. After the department store’s closure in 1969, the space was divided into two stores on the ground floor, with the upper floors as office space. Its tenants were largely short-term, and more recently, it had been underutilized, with only partial occupancy.

Under the ownership of the Allegrone Companies, LLC, both the Howard and Onota buildings recently underwent significant rehabilitations into mixed commercial/residential buildings. In both buildings, the first-floor spaces remained commercial and the upper floors were converted to residential use. The Howard Building was transformed into 10,000 square feet of retail space and 14 apartment units, while the Onota Building became 8,000 square feet of retail space and 25 apartment units. Both buildings had significant surviving original interior decorative features, including historic hallway configurations and woodwork, which were retained in the adaptive reuse projects. On the exteriors, both buildings had modern windows and storm window combinations, which were replaced with more historically appropriate sash and glazing. The buildings also underwent masonry repairs, repointing, and cleaning, as well as storefront repairs and reconfigurations to more historically appropriate designs.

The successful rehabilitation of the Howard and Onota prominent buildings stands as an important accomplishment for downtown Pittsfield. With the downtown area leading the way for revitalization in Pittsfield, these two buildings are expected to serve as catalysts for a continued surge in economic development. The successful use of both state and federal historic tax credits demonstrates the feasibility of projects of this size and scope in downtown Pittsfield and the role that historic preservation can play in the city’s ongoing economic growth.

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