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Local News

May 20, 2010

Y to restore Ames Hall and open an arts center

SALEM — Ames Hall, with its marble staircase and stained-glass windows, is one of those grand relics of Salem past that survived time and the wrecking ball.

This 1898 concert and lecture hall inside the Salem YMCA, where President William Howard Taft once spoke, has certainly changed over the years. The balcony is gone, and, years ago, the hall was converted into a gymnasium. But unlike the Paramount Theatre and other architectural treasures that have disappeared, Ames Hall stuck around long enough to make a comeback.

This week, the Salem YMCA announced a $3.5 million capital campaign to restore the historic hall and to make it the centerpiece and performance space of a Creative Arts Center at the Salem YMCA. The board of directors began investigating this fundraising goal more than a year ago, during the dark days of the recession, and emerged convinced there is community support for this historic restoration.

Two Salem natives, retired Salem State College President Nancy Harrington and businessman David Ives, have agreed to co-chair the campaign, which kicks off next week with a reception inside the 112-year-old hall.

"Fundraising was never my favorite thing in the world, but this sort of tugged at my heart strings," said Harrington, who grew up a block away from the Essex Street facility. "When I was a kid in my high school years, I lived on Lynde Street, so I spent a lot of time at the Y."

Harrington actually spent a lot of time inside Ames Hall, which was home to The Salem Philharmonic, the Harriet James Dancing School and to "Teen Town," a Saturday night program of movies, bowling and a weekly dance. Harrington, at one point, was president of Teen Town.

The scope of the project will depend on the amount raised, but plans call for the renovation of the original Essex Street entrance, restoration of the marble staircase, reconstruction of the balcony, installation of an elevator for handicapped accessibility and space for youth arts programs.

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