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First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton
The Colonial Theater
July 14, 1998
Thank you all so much. I'm so grateful to be here, and I cannot tell you how I felt as I was traveling down the road on my way to Pittsfield,and some of your friends and neighbors were out in their yards, or in frontof service stations, and I think there was a place called Jimmy's on theside of the road. Some of them were waving flags, they were holding uptheir babies, and I thought, "Boy, have I come to the right place."
Now you might be interested in knowing how I ended up here today. Letme just give you a brief history of that. When we launched Save America'sTreasures a few months ago, we knew that we wanted to make the first tripto this part of our country, that is so rich with our history going backbefore the Revolutionary War. That has seen so much of what made Americagreat happen, right here. And we sent out people and asked all kinds ofexperts, "Where should we go?" We wanted to go from Washington D.C. andthen end up in Seneca Falls, New York for the 150th anniversary of theWomen's Rights Convention.
As you might guess, there were dozens and dozens of places that peoplesuggested in Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, andMassachusetts, and we had to sort through all those, and we started sortingby looking at pictures and descriptions. Then we actually sent people out.I know the Mayor had to kind of keep it a secret because we didn't want thepeople from Washington coming to a community and having folks think that wewould come, and not come. That would be very disappointing. So everybodywas kind of sworn to secrecy. And your mayor, I like him he's really doinga good job and he understands how to get things done. And so our people whowere representing the National Trust for Historic Preservation and theWhite House Millennium Council, they visited place after place after placeand some were hard to get to and some couldn't accommodate buses and allkinds of logistical problems. But when they came back from seeing allthese places, I want all of you to know, the place they could not stoptalking about was Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
So Mayor Doyle, citizens of Pittsfield, citizens of Berkshire County,it is wonderful to be able to join you today, to be here at one of thegreat cultural centers of our country and to be standing in front of thisrare jewel of architecture, the historic Colonial Theater. I want to thankeveryone who has been working to preserve this theater and to revitalizePittsfield and to understand that in today's world, one of the ways toattract economic development to attract tourism, to give people a sense ofpride and a better quality of life is by taking the jewels of the past andmaking them shine again, so that people all over the country and world knowabout Pittsfield and know the Colonial Theater. So all of you, from theMayor to the Congressman, to the Miller family, to Bob Boland who has doneso much to remind us of the importance of the Colonial Theater, to theFriends of the Colonial Theater and the Colonial Theater Steering Committeeand especially to the citizens of Pittsfield. I'm here to congratulate youfor your interest in preserving, not this particular site, but for what itcould be to the future of this community.
As Bill Ivey was explaining, we've seen all over our country -- hesaw it first in his role at the Country Music Foundation, the work he diddown in Nashville. He's seen it now as the head of the NEA, one of thebest ways that communities can make an investment in the future is to thinkabout what was special about its past and then to make that live again. Ijust had the rare privilege of hearing music from the stage once again. Ithasn't happened since 1952, I was told, but I heard the Berkshire Fiddlers,a group of young middle school students. I was amazed by their talent andI was amazed by the quality of the sound. I have read, like perhaps some ofyou have read, that the Colonial Theater has ranked above many, many othermore famous and well known theaters as having some of the best acoustics inthe world. Based on what I have just heard, I understand why experts saythat the acoustics in this theater are on a par with just a handful oftheaters across the world. I could almost hear the echoes, as I listenedto the young people play, of all the performers who appeared on that stageall those years ago. And as the small group of people who were gathered tohear them, including some very proud parents, applauded at the end of theperformance, I could sense what it must have been like sitting in thattheater years ago at the end of a performance. Imagine what it was like tosit there and hear John Delacusa or Rachmaninoff or think of hearing theimprovisational jazz of Eubie Blake or John and Ethel Barrymore, SarahBernhardt, even some of my favorites, the Three Stooges.
Yet as unique a place as this theater holds in the history of Americantheater, there was no guarantee that the building we are in front of todaywould still be standing, because we see too often many of America's greattheaters and other treasures erode away, be torn down, to make way forsomething else. A few, like the Federal Street Theater in Boston, burneddown. Most fell into disrepair and were demolished. Yet here inPittsfield, the tradition of preservation runs deep. When the originalowners sold it, they didn't want it to see it destroyed and they put it upfor bid, as I understand the story, and they made a decision to choose, notthe highest bid, which was to buy the building and destroy it, but instead,to choose the lowest bid from George Miller, who guaranteed he would keepthe building in tact because he had a dream that one day it would bea...(inaudible)
You know there are untold stories around our country of men likeGeorge Miller and his son, Steven Miller, and I want to applaud the lateMr. Miller and Steven Miller, because they understood, even thought theydidn't have the resources themselves, that they were the caretakers of agreat treasure. I really appreciate that because by being the caretaker ofa historic site, you are preserving it for a moment such as this, wherehundreds of thousands of people of this community come together to hearabout this great tradition. When you can have a plan by your mayor andothers, to think of how that would fit in to revitalizing this city. Whenwe talk about preserving national treasures, many of us envision theconcrete examples like the Star-Spangled Banner that the President and Istood before yesterday at the Smithsonian. I also saw today in Newburgh,New York, the headquarters of President Washington after Yorktown andbefore the Treaty of Paris. We think about the Gettysburg Address, we thinkabout statues and monuments. Yet it is equally significant as to who weare as Americans to think about our cultural and artistic heritage. It isour dance, our music, our plays, our literature that define us as a people.They lift our spirits, they challenge our imaginations. You better thanmost understand this, living in the center of so much artistic, musicalactivity.
If we could think for a moment of what America would be like withoutour arts and culture, whether you are an country music fan like Bill Iveyor a Rachmaninoff fan, or a Jacob's Pillow fan. This is the rich varietyof arts and culture here in the United States, It's not just a luxury forthe few. We know that experiences with the arts are especially important tochildren. We understand how significant being exposed to music andartistic opportunities are to let each individual child develop theirskills and talents. Every child should have that experience. Few childrenwould have access to a theater such as this, whose state would permit moreand more young people, adults as well, to perform and attend their ownartistic experiences. If we were able to preserve a theater like thisColonial Theater, we would be keeping pace with our earliest foundinggeneration. The first American theater was built in Philadelphia in 1756, andAmericans fell in love with the stage ever since. When I read historyabout the predecessors who lived in the White House, I'm always struck byhow so many of them sought out the theater as a way to escape the pressuresof the job. While so many of us have found that same solace and refuge.And here at Pittsfield, you have an example of a place that goes far beyondwhat other communities could even dream of. Think about how promoting thearts year round, not just during the summer when so many people from allover the world come to enjoy the Berkshires, but keeping it going all yearlong, what that could mean to the development of this community.
So in 1962 when President Kennedy asked Americans for public supportof the arts, by creating the National Endowment for the Arts, he remindedus that during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln ordered work to go forward onthe Capitol Dome. And that Franklin Roosevelt, in the midst of World WarII, dedicated the National Gallery of Art. President Kennedy said "Theseleaders understood that the light of the arts, far from being aninterruption, a distraction in the life of a nation, is very close to thecenter of a nation's purpose, and is a test of the quality of the nation'scivilization."
Now we are facing that test ourselves today, which is why thePresident and I created the White House Millennium Council. We're going tohave a change of century and change of millennium whether any of us doanything about it or not. We can plan a great New Year's Eve party, and Ithink all of us should, but I think we should spend a little bit of timereflecting about what are the values from the past and the lessons we wantto take with us to the future. And so we created a theme -- to "Honor thePast and Imagine the Future." Just think what that means to a communitylike this. I believe that if we stop, as we approach the change of centuryand millennium, and think how do we honor the past and how do we bringforward what we honor to the present and then build on it as we imagine ourfuture, that's a pretty good description of what we need do in our ownlives, in communities like Pittsfield and in our nation.
I'm an optimist by nature because I believe that when people put theirminds to something, they can solve problems, they can make a difference,they can work together. And there certainly is no reason why this greatcity, which has certainly a glorious past, that's contributed so much towho we are as Americans, cannot take the lessons and the values of thatpast and move them forward into the future in a way that does honor tothem, but is imaginative, is on the cutting edge, which leads people to sayto one another, Pittsfield, the Berkshires, they're showing us how weshould imagine the future.
So I ask all of you, not just today, but in the days and weeks andmonths ahead, to work together, to be creative, to think of ways of savingAmerica's treasures. And you all are, in addition to the Miller family, youall are caretakers of a great American treasure. A treasure that meant somuch to people in the past, but can once again mean so much to all of us inthe future. I would like to come back in some early part of the 21stcentury and attend a performance here at the Colonial Theater. Now Ilearned the other day, that to be eligible for National Landmark status youhave to be at least 50 years old, I'd qualify. I don't think I could waita really long time, but I could wait a while to be able to return toPittsfield, and with all of you, celebrate, not just the reopening andrehabilitation of a great American treasure, but the revitalization of agreat American city.
Thank you all very much.
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