SALEM — Col. George L. Ames would be proud.
One hundred and fifteen years after the Salem native and Civil War veteran’s $40,000 donation sparked its construction, the Ames Memorial Hall at Salem YMCA has been restored to its historic splendor — and it’s on the verge of again serving as a center for the arts.
“There was a lot of attention to the history. ... We restored as much history as we could,” said Chris Lovasco, chief operations officer at the YMCA of the North Shore. “It’s a wonderful space for kids to perform, but also, it’s a center for arts for the entire community.”
The hall was designed in 1896, built two years later and dedicated to Ames on Feb. 2, 1899. In the years since, it has hosted musical performances, public meetings, lectures, ballroom dancing, a basketball court and even a 1916 speech by President William Taft.
The center fell into disrepair after being converted to a gymnasium in the 1970s, and work to restore it began about five years ago, when the YMCA board of directors began looking into funding possibilities and making it a centerpiece of their Creative Arts Center.
A campaign co-chaired by former Salem State College President Nancy Harrington and local businessman David Ives raised $1.1 million in donations for the project.
Renovations are still underway, but the hall now features an expanded stage and backstage, a sweeping balcony, and new lighting and sound systems. It’s also handicapped-accessible and has air conditioning for the first time.
Much of the work focused on renewing original touches. Plaster molding and decorative details throughout the center have been restored, including on the stage’s dome. The marble staircase and original stained-glass windows have also been refurbished.
Additionally, the hall’s historic entrance at 290 Essex St. has been reclaimed via a property swap with Stephen Zisson Elderly Residence, which had used it for years. The residence has a new entrance next door.