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Last Chance to Save a Piece of History

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Not long ago, Springfield’s historic W.H. Allis mansion had an impending date with a wrecking ball. Now, the 1867 building has received a reprieve—but only if a prospective owner steps up in the next few weeks to save it.

The Victorian mansion was first built as the home of Haitsill Hastings Allis, owner of a city brick works business, according to a history by Jim Boone on the website www.springfield-history.com. In 1896, Boone writes, the house was bought by the Catholic diocese, serving first as a home for the bishop and then as the Sisters of Providence’s House of Mercy, which would come to be known as Mercy Medical Center. Over the years, as the hospital grew, the mansion was used for various purposes.

Late last year, the Sisters of Providence Health System applied for a permit to demolish the Allis mansion and two nearby buildings to create parking for a new, $20 million office complex planned for the site. At the time, the SPHS described the building as “unsafe and unusable.”

The news inspired protests from Springfield’s preservationist community, which had been worried about the fate of the mansion for years. (In 2010, the building had been put on a list of “most endangered historic resources” put together by PreservationMass, a statewide preservation group.) After meeting with preservation activists, the SPHS agreed to seek proposals from developers interested in rehabbing the building. If a plausible proposal emerges, the building could be saved.

“We remain mindful of the history of the W.H. Allis House and appreciative of the importance of effectively preserving that history, particularly as it relates to the legacy of care provided by the Sisters of Providence,” SPHS CEO Daniel P. Moen said in announcing the decision. “At the same time, our ongoing role as stewards of our limited resources calls us to continue the transformation of the Mercy campus, ensuring our ability to continue to serve the needs of our community while furthering our mission.”

The hospital has said the building could lend itself to medical or other professional uses; residential uses will not be considered. Interested developers have until April 3 to submit proposals, and the Sisters of Providence will decide on those proposals by April 22. (For more information, contact the SPHS’s Daniel Keenan at 413-748-9307 or e-mail daniel.keenan@sphs.com.)

Bob McCarroll, a board member of the Springfield Preservation Trust and a member of the city’s Historical Commission, spoke appreciatively of the SPHS’s willingness to give the Allis Mansion another chance. While the house has been “remuddled” over the years, he said, it’s still a gem, with tin ceilings tucked behind drop ceilings, marble fireplaces, original wood floors and a “fabulous carved staircase.” He also suggested that the cost of renovating the mansion might be significantly less than the $6 to $7 million figure estimated by the SPHS.

“The building needs some work but it’s in a highly visible location—it has a good neighbor,” McCarroll said.•

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