Easton’s Town Meeting voted to spend nearly $1 million in Community Preservation Act money on Oakes Ames Memorial Hall — the historic landmark and event space in North Easton — with the prospect of voting to spend millions more next spring on a complete restoration and upgrading.
The hall, which is owned by the Oakes Ames Memorial Association and managed by a board of trustees, closed this spring because of structural problems and is expected to reopen in the fall.
Town Meeting voted May 16 to spend $486,400 in emergency repairs to the trusses supporting the roof of the brick and stone building, which was designed in the late 1840s by famed architect H.H. Richardson to honor congressman and Easton native Oakes Ames.
Town Meeting also approved using another $508,000 to develop detailed plans for restoring the building and making it more usable, including adding air conditioning, elevators, and new kitchen facilities.
Residents also agreed to let the hall use an adjacent town-owned property for parking. The hall currently has 12 parking spaces for a facility that could accommodate several hundred people, according to Town Administrator Connor Read.
Read said the entire project probably would cost $8 million to $10 million — a number that will become clearer with the planning and design work — and officials anticipate asking for more Community Preservation money at the May 2023 Town Meeting. Officials have said they also plan to apply for grants.
Easton homeowners pay a 3 percent surcharge on property taxes — with the first $100,000 in assessed value and low-income residents exempt — to fund CPA projects. The state provides a partial match.
“This is a project that has long been in the works,” Read said. “Oakes Ames Memorial Hall is iconic to the landscape of Easton, and we want to restore it to its former glory, and do what is needed so the hall can be fully used and there is a good return on public investment.
“Our hope is it will be a revitalized cultural and art center for all of Easton — and an economic driver for that whole downtown,” he said.
Fred Ames, the president of the hall’s Board of Trustees, said in a podcast before Town Meeting “The building will be absolutely spectacular when all this is done. The town will end up with a real asset — something that we can all be proud of, and that will bring people to town.”
Oakes Ames was a member of one of Easton’s most prominent families — known locally for the Ames Shovel Co., which in the 1800s produced more than a million shovels a year.
In 1879, his children commissioned Richardson, architect of Trinity Church in Boston, to design the memorial hall as a tribute to their father. The foremost landscape architect of the time, Frederick Law Olmsted, designed the grounds and the prominent exterior staircase.
The building has five massive arches on its façade, flanked by an octagonal tower. Besides a main hall, the structure includes a stage and smaller rooms.
Johanna Seltz can be reached at email@example.com.