... nooks and crannies at Memorial Hall.
Photos by Don Norris, Louise Fennell and Chuck Person
It is possible to thumb your way through the Melrose Public Library and the City Of Melrose documents to get a good feel of what this magnificent Memorial Building has stood since, December 14, 1912 until the present. In the morning, we will meet with Chuck Person, Director of Memorial Hall to get an update.
John C. F. Slayton began with a monument shaft as a memorial. Later, the new memorial became a large, Grecian style building. A Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Building was constructed of Quincy quarry granite that was obtained by the demolition of the Old Court House on Court Street in Boston, built in 1830.
In 1919, through the generosity of Mr. Slayton, the Austin organ was donated. The case was made of butternut wood. There is only one other Austin organ in existence. It is in the Portland, Maine Town Hall.
The large main hall houses a capacity of 900. The stage measures 30’x 40’, capable of housing a good size orchestra.
The upstairs portion of the building has a capacity of 60 to 150 and has an adjacent kitchen facility. This front room is used as the G.A.R. Hall for the use of U. S. Grant Post and Auxiliaries.
On September 21, 1982, Memorial Hall was placed on the National Register of historical places.
In 1995, there was resurgent interest in the Hall and a master plan was developed for $4 million in necessary improvements.
The Massachusetts Historical Commission and Melrose City’s Capital Improvement Program has invested $1.4 million, slated over five years to accomplish these further improvements.
A group of trustees appointed by the Mayor oversees Memorial Hall. James Herrington, Chairman, Laura Paladino, Mary Sexton, Michael Margolis.
There were five of us who huddled in Chuck Person’s small office in the chill of the early November morning. Chuck sat at his desk, Heather Rizzo, assistant operations manager, sat just behind him. Don Norris, Louise Fennell and I sat in front of him. Chuck is a tall, dark haired good-looking young man who bubbled with enthusiasm. He gave us details of what he and Heather Rizzo have done since taken over as director, two and-a-half years ago.
"We have talked with about every organization in town trying to influence them in the use of Memorial Hall" he told us. "We have visited all the clubs and use the two newspapers, The Free Press and The Weekly News. In the past couple of years, dance groups use it for recitals, professional groups use Memorial Hall for presentations and political groups meet here. There were energy fairs held here and the Army has used it for a deployment stage. There have been several job fairs recently. A father-daughter square dance was held which draws 550 people, just Dads and daughters. We have had numerous weddings here, a few bar mitzvahs, three Nigerian weddings, and a Vietnamese festival drawing Vietnamese from the entire state." The resulting video was broadcast on Saigon TV.
“Governor Deval Patrick loves Memorial Hall,”Chuck told us. "The Governor even gave a budget address here.
“For the first time ever, we have reached a rental level equal to 96 percent of our budget, up from 38 percent.” Is there any doubt the Chuck Person and Heather Rizzo have succeeded in making Memorial Hall into a productive enterprise!
Chuck and Heather gave us a tour of Memorial Hall. It became evident from the first that Chuck Person loves this old building. He uncovered the 88-year-old organ and made it possible for us to get pictures of it, which is still in good shape. He took us into the nooks and crannies to see the organ bellows. He climbed into the rafters and took some pictures for us. Chuck said, “I climb up here all the time.”
When he told us that he had climbed up and changed all 65 bulbs in the main hall -- on the catwalk some 50 feet tall -- no man has greater love for Memorial Hall.
The photo essay on our tour of Memorial Hall will be featured in the next, January, issue of the Melrose Mirror.
December 7, 2007