With $300,000 cash and the unified support of town leaders and residents, the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust today purchases the old agricultural hall on State Road in West Tisbury.
The deal, which had been expected for several months, allows the Edgartown-based trust to acquire the 138-year-old hall from the town and begin restoration work.
Once considered on of the Island’s most important and recognizable buildings, the hall now suffers from considerable disrepair and is no longer a center of local activity.
“It has been sad to watch that building deteriorate,” West Tisbury selectman John Alley said yesterday. “The town did the best that it could, but the hall really needs an infusion of cash right now, and that’s where the Preservation Trust can help.”
Before the trust can begin restoring the hall, it must first fund raise. Trust executive director Christopher Scott said the organization needs between $150,000 and $200,000 just to bring the hall up to current building codes.
Chief concerns are the hall’s wiring, fire escapes and wheelchair accessibility, Mr. Scott said.
“Right now, the building is essentially condemned,” Mr. Scott said. “The hall’s role as a center of Island activity is in great jeopardy.”
Still, the trust executive director was very pleased his organization was able to raise the $300,000 in order to purchase the hall in time to meet its January deadline.
The purchase price was achieved through a number of private contributions and a $100,000 grant from the Massachusetts Historical Commission, Mr. Scott said.
“There has been terrific support for this project,” he said. “We had great support not only from the trustees of the Preservation Trust, but also from the entire Island community.:
Mr. Scott gave much of the credit for the hall purchase to the West Tisbury selectmen and Walter Eberstadt. The latter is the new trust president who has championed the old building during his term.
Reached yesterday in New York, Mr. Eberstadt said he was “happy” to close the hall deal, but emphasized the need to begin critical restoration work.
“This is a big job, both financially and structurally,” Mr. Eberstadt said.
Mr. Scott said he is optimistic that the trust can begin restoring the old hall by the early summer, with an eye toward reopening the building in October. It’s highly unlikely that it will reopen any time sooner, he said.
Though the restoration is complex and may take several months to complete, the trust does not intent to make any dramatic changes to the hall’s rustic interior or exterior.
“We need to bring this hall up to code while respecting its historic character,” Mr. Scott said. “It was built, essentially, as a barn and a meeting hall. That’s not going to change one bit.”
As part of its purchase agreement with West Tisbury, the trust agreed to create a local advisory board to oversee activities in the refurbished hall.
While this committee has not been fully appointed - the selectmen recently named two members, Carol Borer and Marjory Potts - the trust expects the hall to host a number of activities, including political meetings, social parties, youth events, concerts, theatre and films, Mr. Scott said.
The trust, which also owns such Island buildings as the Old Whaling Church and the Flying Horses Carousel, becomes the third owner of the old agricultural hall in four years.
West Tisbury purchased the structure for $300,000 in 1993 from the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society, which built the hall in 1859 and used it for 137 years for its annual agricultural fair and livestock show.
The hall also served as the headquarters for the West Tisbury Grange, a group of farmers who founded a local branch in 1905.
When the town bought the hall, the building continued to host events such as the farmers’ market on summer weekends, but the fair moved to the new agricultural society grounds on the West Tisbury Panhandle.
Mr. Alley, who lived directly across the street from the old hall, believes that West Tisbury’s spirit suffered when the old building began to crumble.
“A great number of activities have been lost because of the condition of the old hall,” Mr. Alley said. “The center of the town, which was once thriving, grew dormant. It will be nice to get some of that activity back.”