From the perspective of passersby, the restoration project underway at the Spire Center for Performing Arts has transformed the downtown building itself into an outdoor art installation. The former synagogue, with its striking steeple, has been surrounded by scaffolding wrapped in green mesh for months, evoking the monumental works of the artist Christo.
The 25 ½ Court St. building, which had been a community center for Congregation Beth Jacob, was bought by the town in 2012 for $365,000. Since it opened as the Spire more than a decade ago, the 225-seat venue has become an anchor of the downtown cultural scene. The roster of performers who have graced its stage is too long to list here, but includes everyone from Traffic co-founder Dave Mason to J. Geils front man Peter Wolf to Joan Osborne to Rita Coolidge to Shawn Colvin.
The interior was redone before the center’s opening and has since been upgraded. The sound and lighting systems are state-of-the art, and the unobstructed sightlines make every seat a good one. But the exterior of the 1886 building, originally a Methodist church, had deteriorated over the years. Bringing it back to good condition was going to be a costly and daunting job.
“It was like an ugly duckling,” says Bob Hollis, president of the nonprofit, which was started in 2010. “The outside didn’t look too good, but the inside was beautiful.”
In a nearly unanimous vote, Town Meeting approved spending about $3.6 million in Community Preservation money to return the façade of the town-owned building to its 19th Century splendor.
Structurally, the building “was in decent shape,” Hollis says, but as anyone who has renovated an old house knows, once work got underway, additional issues were soon revealed. As a result, the completion date, tentatively set for January, has been pushed out another three months. The contractor is ZVI Construction and Spencer Preservation Group is overseeing the historical detail work.
But there have been some pleasant surprises along the way, too.
“We discovered the actual historic paint scheme” when the 1970s aluminum siding was peeling off, Hollis says, “and more [architectural] details than we had realized when it started.”
In addition, the original windows are being restored, and insulation has been added to boost energy efficiency.
The goal is to have the painting done, the scaffolding down, and the site cleaned up in time for the Spire’s 10th anniversary celebration week in April, which Hollis says will be “a big deal.”
If you’re interested in helping out, contact him through the Spire.
“We need sponsors, we need volunteers,” Hollis says. For those who need an added nudge, he notes, “Ushers get to see some great shows for free.”
Photographer Ed Nute was given access to the building – inside and up – for the Plymouth Independent. He assembled a portfolio (below) that chronicles some of the splendor and challenges of the project. Nute says his fear of heights made him “a nervous wreck” when it came time to ascend to the top of the steeple. “It took me two attempts,” he admits. “A little out of my comfort zone.” Thanks for toughing it out, Ed.
Photos by Ed Nute.
Mark Pothier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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