WORCESTER – Plans have been revived to redevelop the long-vacant upper two floors of a building at Kelley Square that once housed a silent-movie theater.
The Historical Commission Thursday night unanimously approved a waiver to the city’s demolition delay ordinance so work can be done on the exterior of the building at 1 Kelley Square to accommodate plans to convert the upper two floors into office space.
The first floor of the building is commercial space.
The Historical Commission approved a demolition delay waiver for the building more than four years ago when its owner wanted to convert the upper two floors into apartments. But those plans never got off the ground because of some structural issues that had to be overcome, according to Edward Murphy, the building’s owner.
Since then, the focus has changed to office space for the upper two floors, he told the Historical Commission Thursday night.
Murphy said the plans are to remove and replace the building’s existing metal and wood windows and remove brick infill from the arched window bays. The windows were infilled with brick to block daylight from the movie theater.
The arched window bays, which are considered a key historical feature of the building, will remain intact.
Also, the window openings on the second floor will be lowered by up to two feet. That means having to remove some of the building’s exterior brick masonry.
Currently, one cannot see out of any of the windows in the second-floor theater space without standing on a ladder.
The building, known as the Vernon Theatre Block, is listed on the Massachusetts Cultural Resources Information System. It falls under the purview of the city ordinance that automatically puts a one-year hold on the demolition or major alterations to the exterior of historic structures to allow time to explore alternative uses.
In order to be able to begin work on the building sooner rather than later, the owner needed a waiver to the demolition delay ordinance from the Historical Commission. In order to be eligible for the waiver, it must be shown that the changes to the building will not have a detrimental impact to the historical or architectural resources of the city.
The plans won praise from members of the commission.
"Sometimes we have to make some accommodations for a building to continue to be functional," said Commissioner Randolph Bloom. "This building was designed as a theater."
Commissioners Diane Long and Tomi Stefani also spoke favorably of the new design, saying it will not hurt anything to the building in terms of its architecture or historical significance.
"The new design looks great and will compliment the building and everything else going on in Kelley Square," Long said.
One of the more prominent buildings in Kelley Square, bounded by Harding and Water streets, the three-story brick building was built in 1916. It was once the home of the street-level Salty Dog Saloon, which closed in May 2013.
The building’s upper two floors have long been vacant and were the onetime home of the Vernon Theatre, a silent movie theater that closed its doors in 1920 after four years of operation.
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