Pittsfield, Massachusetts: 10 Reasons to Visit
“We think of Pittsfield as a big artists’ colony,” says Julianne Boyd, artistic director of the Barrington Stage Company (BSC). After 11 successful seasons in the southern Berkshires, BSC decamped to Pittsfield to renovate a circa-1910 former vaudeville theater into a permanent home. BSC mounted three main-stage productions last summer while also operating a second-stage incubator for new musical theater. (This company developed the Tony-award-winning Broadway hit The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.) Boyd hopes to expand BSC’s season over time. The reception in Pittsfield has been overwhelmingly positive, she says: “I feel energized.”
The 1903 Colonial Theatre operates all year, with up to 250 nights of classical, popular, and country music acts mixed with comedy, dance, and children’s productions. After decades of fund-raising and two feverish years of restoration, this turn-of-the-20th-century palace reopened triumphantly after standing dark for more than 50 years. “People who have spent their lives in town were awestruck,” executive director David Fleming says of the unveiling of the gleaming Rococo Revival interior.
6. Artists scout the best turf
To take in the pulse of Pittsfield’s visual arts scene, stop at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts. You can catch an exhibition in the center’s gallery and pick up a map for the city’s annual outdoor sculpture display. You’ll likely encounter Megan Whilden, head of the city’s Office of Cultural Development, who explains that since Pittsfield was the manufacturing center of the Berkshires, it once left the arts to neighboring towns. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, when General Electric closed some of its operations and cut thousands of jobs, “Pittsfield felt like a jilted lover,” she says. Now it’s rebuilding on a base of the arts. Whilden says that about 160 visual artists live or work in Pittsfield now; at least 50 have studios in the central business district. “To attract new businesses, we have to make Pittsfield a desirable place to live,” notes Mayor James Ruberto.
7. The city has curb appeal
Wherever artists go, real estate agents are always right behind them. Pittsfield has a big stock of affordable housing, ranging from live/work factory conversions for artists to urban lofts and in-town condos. Sprawling old Edwardian and Victorian homes on leafy side streets lure big families. Prices have refugees from Boston and New York wondering if the agents missed a digit.
8. It might be the only place in the Berkshires where you can find Chanel shoes
Last time we stopped at USBluesware, co-owner Linda Mitchell had just finished shipping an entire fall wardrobe to Paris. Yes, the one in France. She runs her category-killer eBay business selling used and new designer clothing, shoes, and handbags from a big Pittsfield storefront, where you can try on the goods. A former New Yorker who loves designer duds, Mitchell literally sizes you up when you walk in and sends you out with a touch of elegance at below-bargain-basement prices.
9. You can get pampered
As a gauge of civilization and sophistication, some folks rank a day spa above even a latte bar or taxicabs. With the opening of Sante Skin Therapy and Spa next door to USBluesware, you can look as though you should be wearing designer clothes. Treatments range from simple facials to a turn under a magical light machine said to minimize fine lines and wrinkles. Mother/daughter team Carolyn and Joan Clevenger got their training at Canyon Ranch.
10. There are neat places to sleep
The White Horse Inn, about a mile south of downtown, is one of those spacious circa-1900 homes that make such fine B&Bs. New owners wisely chose clean, modern decor. Fabulous gardens out back are a plus for summer visitors. The Thaddeus Clapp House is an easy stroll from downtown. This 1871 industrialist’s mansion was a rooming-house wreck until Harvard MBA Becky Smith (who dropped out of her California corporate career to return to western Massachusetts) transformed it into a B&B with eight luxury suites. She’s a big booster of Pittsfield’s charms and is as plugged into the city’s revival as any nonelected official can be.