To the Editor:
The Grange Hall was built by Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society in 1859, and used for 137 years for the annual Agricultural Fair and Livestock Show. In 1993, West Tisbury purchased the structure for $300,000 after the Ag Fair moved to its new facility. In 1997, with the unified support of town leaders and residents, the Vineyard Preservation Trust purchased the Grange for $300,000. At the time of the Preservation Trust’s purchase, then West Tisbury selectman John Alley commented, “It has been so sad to watch that building deteriorate. 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 … A great number of activities have been lost because of the condition of the old hall. The center of town, which was once thriving, grew dormant. It will be nice to get some of that activity back.”
For the past 25 years, under the Vineyard Preservation Trust’s ownership, the Grange has served as a gathering space for the community. Nonprofit and for-profit organizations have historically conducted events on the premises, including art, theater, film showings, lectures, fairs, festivals, concerts, dinners, and expositions. This summer, the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival (Circuit Arts), our new long-term tenant for the second-floor theater, started its year-round arts programming, receiving positive reviews.
Today, the Grange requires significant investment due to modern code and safety requirements and ordinary “wear and tear,” including a sprinkler system, HVAC, insulation, a new roof, window replacement, and foundation work. These projects are estimated to cost up to $2 million.
To fund the required work, we are poised to launch a Friends of the Grange Hall fundraising campaign together with Circuit Arts. Additional grants are also being pursued, including $200,000 already received from the Mass Cultural Council and a proposal submitted to the West Tisbury Community Preservation committee to provide a grant for a new roof. These significant investments will not only upgrade and preserve this iconic Island landmark, but also allow the community to use the building more comfortably in the winter.
Recently, the Vineyard Preservation Trust has been encouraged by the West Tisbury ZBA to apply for a “special permit” for all events to “define the various uses and parameters around the activities allowed and contemplated.”
We see the requirement for a “special permit” as inconsistent with our deeded rights, and potentially negatively affecting our ability to generate the revenue required to operate the building, and hampering our mission to preserve the building and provide its use for the community.
To reach an amicable way forward, we have organized a forum to invite the community to weigh in on the present and future uses of the hall. Please join us at the Grange on Tuesday, Oct. 11, at 5:30 pm to share how you want the hall to be used. The guidelines for discussion will be the historical activities and deeded rights. After receiving community input, the Vineyard Preservation Trust will subsequently file an appeal to the West Tisbury zoning board of appeals.
We remain committed to preserving the Grange and keeping the landmark in community use. We look forward to working with the residents of West Tisbury, the town, and donors dedicated to the future of the Grange to fund the needed repairs and restoration while also determining a shared vision for the use of this iconic Island property.
Klein is chairman of the board of trustees for Vineyard Preservation Trust. –Ed.