The Colonial Theatre
The Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, Massachusetts tells of preservation's power to spark economic development and reinvestment in our communities. Its restoration in 2000 revived an iconic cultural center and reversed the fate of a small city facing severe economic depression.
The Colonial is one of the finest turn-of-the-century theaters still standing today. It was one of hundreds designed by the noted theater architecture firm J. B. McElfatrick & Son. Built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, only a few of these theaters remain intact.
The Colonial Theatre was a nationally-revered playhouse and vaudeville theater until economic strain caused it to close in 1934. From 1937 to 1952, it operated primarily as a movie theater. The historical significance and the potential of this well-preserved space garnered attention through public tours in the late 1990s. The Colonial Theatre was named a Save America's Treasures project in 1998.
In 2000, Save America's Treasures awarded the Colonial Theatre a $400,000 federal grant to jump-start its restoration, the effects of which were widespread for Pittsfield. Executive Director David Fleming writes, "It is no exaggeration to say that the designation of the Colonial Theatre as a Save America's Treasures project and the visit by then-First Lady Hillary Clinton in May 1998 were the first building blocks in the revitalization of this rural city that had been devastated by corporate abandonment in the 1980s."
Fleming continues: "[A]rmed with the designation of one of our forgotten architectural gems as a national treasure by this program, business and community leaders, insightful elected officials, and property owners rallied behind the rehabilitation of the Colonial Theatre as both a physical and symbolic icon around which our city could be rebuilt." An unprecedented $21.5 million was raised from 2001 to 2006 to purchase and rehabilitate the theater. The restoration has earned international recognition for both the quality of work and for the dramatic impact it has had on the revitalization of the entire community. The theater is estimated to have a direct economic impact of $4 million in the Berkshires every year, and has created a minimum of 92 full time jobs.
Today, the Colonial Theatre is home to two stages for the nationally-renowned theater company, Barrington Stage Company, whose "Spelling Bee" was a Tony Award-winning production on Broadway. The restoration has also given rise to an exciting art gallery scene, two active dance studios and a fledgling professional dance company, new restaurants, a digital cinema multiplex, and a burgeoning housing market. The theater has become a critical element in building and sustaining tourism economy of the Berkshires.
Former State Senator Andrea Nuciforo, Jr. led the efforts to gain matching support from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for the restoration. According to Nuciforo, "Save America's Treasures recognition changed the way the public perceived the Colonial, and all of downtown Pittsfield. It allowed us, as public officials, to actively advocate for the restoration of the theater and its environment."
Executive Director David Fleming echoes Nuciforo's appreciation for Save America's Treasures: "None of this would have been possible without the leadership of the Save America's Treasures program."