By Jill Nagy
The large Victorian gothic building on Washington Street, once a church, stands empty except for construction workers. However, Teddy Foster, campaign director for the Universal Preservation Hall, which now owns the building, can already see it as the home of a 700-seat theater-in-the-round, a year-round venue for performances and community events.
Furthermore, the campaign she heads is within $300,000 of meeting its $5.5 million goal to pay for this phase of the transformation.
The theater, with a 45-foot-high ceiling, will occupy the second floor of the building. Community space and an atrium will be on the lower floor.
The building was constructed in 1871 as a Methodist church, the site for annual regional church meetings, and a speakers’ venue that hosted presidents and abolitionists, politicians and others. Its bell tower, equipped with a Troy-made Meneely bell, was the tallest structure in Saratoga Springs.
After 100 years or so, the Methodists sold the building to the Universal Baptist Church, a traditionally African American congregation, who used it for years and then abandoned it. By 2000, the building was condemned, in danger of collapse.
Rescue work been in 2003 with the creation of the nonprofit Universal Preservation Hall. Repairs began that year and are expected to be completed in “early spring 2020, we hope,” Foster said.
Fundraising began with a $1 million anonymous gift. Donations from the general public have been augmented by grants form foundations, government agencies, the Universal Baptist Church, and the Landmarks Conservancy, among others.
Architects Lacey, Thaler, Reilly and Wilson, an Albany form specializing in preservation architecture, designed the new facility. Bonaccio Construction is the general contractor on the project.
While the building is under reconstruction, Universal Preservation Hall is headquartered at 3 Franklin Square. The Universal Baptist Church is also in that building.