New Portrait Kicks Off Civic Center Centennial

23Aug12

Americal Civic CenterOn January 15, 2013, the Wakefield, Massachusetts building now known as the Americal Civic Center will turn 100 years old. Last night, it received an early birthday present. In ceremonies held last night in the Heritage Room, a new portrait of the historic building, painted by local artist Elizabeth O’Neill Lowry, was unveiled.

Cheryl Webb Scott, a founding member of the Americal Civic Center Board of Directors, said last night that the board is already planning events to celebrate the centennial of the former State Armory, including a lecture series on the building and other aspects of Wakefield history. They wanted to do something big to kick things off, Scott said, and the idea of commissioning a new portrait of the building seemed like just the right thing.

The board applied for and received a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council to cover the cost of the painting, the framing and last night’s reception. Scott credits Wakefield Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kendall Inglese with helping to write the grant. The framing was done by Jeff Schilling of the Frame Shack on Salem Street.

Americal Board member Kate Stevens introduced Scott who handled the official unveiling. Lowry’s painting captures the rich architectural beauty of the building and the surrounding colorful spring foliage and bright blue sky.

Elizabeth LowryLowry said that she worked primarily from a series of photographs that she took last May and June, but she also visited the building a number of times in order to get a closer look at the building’s details. By taking photos from a variety of angles, Lowry explained, she was able to get an almost 3D image from which to paint.

Lowry is the owner of House Proud Portraits, where her primary business is creating commemorative portraits of homes. She described the process that she employs to create a portrait of a building. She first does a number of sketches and then a finished drawing. “Then I transfer the finished drawing to the board and paint it,” Lowry said.

Leo Couture, president of the Civic Center Board of Directors, said that for the centennial celebration the board really wants to share the history of the building. He said that the Americal Civic Center building is one of two or three former Armories in the state still in existence as an adaptive reuse.

“All the others have been sold or converted to other uses,” Couture said, citing one of Boston’s former Armory buildings, which is now a restaurant.

Wakefield’s State Armory was dedicated on January 15, 1913, replacing a wooden Armory across the street which had burned down 18 months earlier. The new Armory was a massive brick structure built like a fortress, with a unique columned Colonial façade. Massachusetts Governor Eugene N. Foss attended the dedication as did numerous military officers.

During World War I, members of the 6th Massachusetts Infantry departed from the Armory and in 1918, huge crowds lined the streets of the town and packed the Armory’s Drill Hall to welcome home from the war members of the Richardson Light Guard.

Over the years, the State Armory was home to a variety of military companies. In 1975, the town purchased the then Massachusetts National Guard Armory from the state for one dollar. On April 21, 1976, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy presided over ceremonies rededicating the old Armory as the Americal Civic Center.

A few years later, when costs of maintaining and operating the building became a burden on the town budget, the town considered selling the Armory. But group of local citizens stepped in and eventually Town Meeting approved turning management of the building over to a non-profit. The Americal Civic Center Association was incorporated in 1983 and undertook a massive building improvement program. In 1989 the building was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places.

Last night’s festivities were hosted by members of the Americal Civic Center board. A generous spread of pastries and coffee were offered to members of the public in attendance.

[This story originally appeared in the August 23, 2012 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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