I am Susan Well, chair of the Northampton Historical Commission.
The Commission's charge is to identify, protect and promote the
historic assets of the city. When we speak, you expect to hear
that the old main complex should be saved. It should be saved.
Interested individuals contacted us thinking we should spearhead
the movement to save the buildings. I had to follow my head, not
my heart, when I encouraged them to form their own grassroots
group because it would be unexpected and what they said and did
would have a great deal more impact. The Commission wants to publicly
thank the Save Old Main Campaign for the time and effort they
have contributed. We would not be in this room now if it weren't
You have heard why the buildings should be saved and wonderful
ideas about how it can be done. This is a building on the National
Register of Historic Places, no mean feat. A property needs to
be architecturally significant or historically significant. For
example in Northampton, Calvin Coolidge's duplex on Massasoit
Street is historically important because he lived there without
being architecturally significant but the Florence Diner is on
the Register because of its architecture not its history. The
Old Main complex is significant on BOTH dimensions.
I have heard the argument that preservation on Hospital Hill
should be ignored because of the horrible things that happened
there. That is like saying that Auschwitz or slave quarters on
a southern plantation should be bulldozed. It's a position that
you should reject.
Since 1975, the Historical Commission has given annual awards
to building owners who have preserved their properties. As I look
at the approximately 100 winners, I see a railroad station converted
to a restaurant, several factory buildings that are now apartments,
offices, condos or some combination of the above and I see the
Calvin Theater. Were any of these buildings in better condition
than Old Main? Had any of them been abandoned for less time?
As taxpayers, we do not expect tax-supported development to meet
lesser standards. Using tax money to demolish this historic complex
is an outrage. Who would want to be responsible for another Cosmian
The Department of Capital Assets Management (DCAM) should pay
the developers the same amount to preserve the complex as they
would pay to demolish it. Barring that, the developers should
pursue historic tax credits and other sources of preservation
funds. I believe that Massachusetts Historical Society (HC) is
awaiting and expecting such requests.
In 1995, the City, state Department of Capital Planning and
Ooperations (DCPO) and Mass Historical Commission signed a Memorandum
of Agreement regarding the Northampton State Hospital. If old
main is demolished, DCAM must encourage new buildings and landscapes
that are sympathetic or comparable, including a campus-like organization
and a massing at the crest of the hill with smaller scale and
sized structures of heterogeneous building types sited along the
slopes of hill. Rehabilitation and new construction must meet
the Secretary of the Interior's guidelines. If this plan came
to our commission for review, we do not think it would fare well.