By Ella Stern, editor-in-chief, The Natick Nest
A 19th-century ballroom, gorgeous but decaying, rich with history, hidden in plain sight, and mortally threatened. It sounds like something out of a mystery novel or Victorian literature, but it is right here in Natick.
The ballroom, known as Concert Hall, is located on the third floor of Clark’s Block in Natick Center, above Lola’s and Baylee Bee. It has passed through many hands and been the site of many stories throughout the centuries, but now its tale may come to a close. Concert Hall’s current owners are threatening to demolish it, but Caroline Niedermeyer, Natick High School ’23, is determined to save the concert hall, its beauty, and its historical significance.
Concert Hall opened in 1875. It is located in Clark’s Block, a building in Natick Center that was built in 1872 and rebuilt in 1874 (after Natick’s Great Fire) by Nathaniel Clark. Clark wanted to give the people of Natick a place to gather for concerts, dances, meetings, and lectures. In addition to being a former social destination, the ballroom also has historical significance: Former Vice President Henry Wilson’s wake was held there in 1875.
But Concert Hall is no longer in its golden age. It was last used in the 1930s, and has been abandoned for the 90 years since. “It’s pretty sad inside, but if it’s restored, it could be so beautiful,” Niedermeyer said. The ballroom could also give back to Natick if it is saved. A video made in support of Concert Hall suggests that it could host ballroom dancing, chamber groups, musicals and plays, art shows, TED talks, graduation ceremonies, weddings, and more. The video also points out that the ballroom would draw more people to spend time in Natick, which would help local shops and restaurants.
However, the current owners want to demolish the gorgeous, historic ballroom and demote it to office space. They refuse to talk to Friends of Concert Hall, an organization trying to save the ballroom, or to Niedermeyer, a Natick High School senior whose National Honor Society lead project is raising awareness about saving Concert Hall.
Niedermeyer got interested in Natick’s history during quarantine, when she began walking around town, noticing interesting buildings, and researching their history. When she came across Clark’s Block, she was initially intrigued by its beauty and by the markings of past businesses on its exterior. She didn’t yet know about the ballroom within.
Niedermeyer’s motivation to save the ballroom stems in part from the hurt she, as an intern for the Natick Historical Society, feels at the knowledge that the ballroom’s current owners want to demolish it and the historical significance it carries for the town. “We’re tearing down all these old buildings when we could be restoring them and keeping Natick’s legacy. I think [Concert Hall] will bring a lot more life into the town, a lot more community,” she said. Niedermeyer is also inspired by Nathaniel Clark’s care for the ballroom. When he rebuilt Clark’s Block after the 1874 fire, he installed fireproof doors around Concert Hall to protect it. To Niedermeyer, this action exemplifies how important Concert Hall was to Clark. She wants to respect that memory by leading a project to save Concert Hall.
The first phase of Niedermeyer’s project is publicity. The concert hall’s third-floor location and locked doors make it so that the average Natick resident is unaware of its existence. As a result, it is difficult to fundraise, let alone to further mobilize people. Working alone, Niedermeyer has begun making posters and a website to raise awareness about Concert Hall. She hopes to assemble a group of students to help spread the word by putting up posters, editing the website, answering questions from the press, and, most importantly, talking to the people of Natick about saving Concert Hall.
After publicity, funding presents a major hurdle: it would cost around one million dollars to restore the ballroom. 20% of that price would come from the state government and another 20% would come from the town of Natick, but that still leaves about $600,000. Niedermeyer hopes that increased awareness of Concert Hall and its fate will help raise that money. Her lead project focuses on assembling a group to raise awareness, and she hopes that that group will take charge of fundraising (with her help) once she graduates.
Niedermeyer encourages Natick High School students to get involved in her project. She is looking for a group of 10–15 people, but would welcome anyone who wants to help. If you are interested, send her an email at email@example.com.
Just like Concert Hall itself, a band of students fighting against the powers that be to save a town landmark sounds like something out of a story, something that could never work in real life. However, Niedermeyer believes that Natick can pull it off. She says that Concert Hall presents “an opportunity for Natick to become unified and use this abandoned space for something beautiful, and it’s all in the power of the town…[I]f everyone is on the same page and comes together, I think we could save this concert hall.”
Natick Report has begun working with The Natick Nest, Natick High School’s official student-run school newspaper, to help bring the students’ work to a larger audience. We’ll be republishing some of their articles, and plan to coordinate with their staff on additional pieces.
Interested in sponsoring stipends for Natick Report interns? Let us know: firstname.lastname@example.org