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Furnishing the Future


Lambson Building

Lambson Building

Gene Borowski has a keen sense of history.

So he was especially intrigued by an old hydraulic elevator in the former Lambson Furniture building in downtown Westfield, which was manufactured at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the late 1800s and installed in the furniture business around 1896.

It was still operable, he said, but its cable shutoff system no longer meets modern building codes. So now, on the first floor of the building sits an array of 21st-century elevator parts, ready to be assembled — though Borowski still plans to use the original carriage in the new, modern shaft.

“It was one of the first hydraulic-powered elevators of its time,” said Phil Peake, one of Borowski’s co-investors on a project to rehabilitate the building. “And it actually worked.”

The development project known as Lambson Square includes both the four-story Lambson building at 89 Elm St. and the connected two-story building at 81-83 Elm St., which most recently housed Bentley Billiards, as well as a 15-space parking area in the rear.

“It’s quite a project. The goal is to take this business and turn it into some kind of resource for the town.”

Borowski bought the building in 2019 for $275,000, and has accessed $350,000 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds to painstakingly restore — as in brick by brick — the building’s Italianite exterior. Another award of $585,000 targeting underutilized properties in the downtown district will finish bringing the building up to code, including restrooms, handicapped access, and more.

“It’s quite a project,” said Peake, who is also a psychology professor at Smith College. “The goal is to take this business and turn it into some kind of resource for the town.”

Borowski plans to use the first floor of both buildings for restaurants, bars, and music and entertainment space. Among the items he’s secured are a chandelier from the old Union Station in Northampton and all the kitchen and furniture from the Sierra Grill restaurant in Northampton, which closed a few years ago. He also plans to turn a small roof off the second floor of 81-83 Elm into a courtyard and perhaps café space.

The second floor of 89 Elm will house small businesses and vendors and perhaps co-working space, while the third and fourth floors will feature a mix of residential units: two-bedroom, one-bedroom, and studio. Tenants will enjoy touches like the original, restored window trim and the original glass panes, all given a modern insulation seal — just one example of how “we’re trying to take this old building and bring it into this century,” Peake said.

Gene Borowski (left) and Phil Peake

Gene Borowski (left) and Phil Peake stand in one of the future living units in the Lambson building.

Borowski wants to rent the residential units for less than a typical rent in the district, as low as $900 a month, compared to a nearby building that was renting for $1,600 recently. The idea is to make the property as attractive as possible to residents, businesses, and hospitality entities alike as part of a revitalization of that stretch of Elm Street, across from the Olver Transit Pavilion and a plot of land the city plans to turn into an outdoor performance space.

“It is the intention of Lambson Square Properties to develop the shell of a building that was formerly the Lambson Furniture building into a vibrant, multi-use hub in a manner that we believe will catalyze the entire Elm Street business district,” Borowski and his partners wrote in their initial funding request from the city’s Community Preservation Commission.

“At present, there is limited foot traffic at Elm and Thomas streets in part due to the lack of compelling retail (and housing) options in the area,” they went on. “We believe the development Lambson Square will inspire redevelopment and spur occupancy rates throughout the Elm Street business district by re-establishing the Lambson Furniture building as a focal point for both attractive retail options and community housing.”


Historical Undertaking

Peake prepared a lengthy history of the Lambson property, which we’ll condense as much as possible.

The Lambson Furniture building was built at the corner of Elm and Thomas streets on a parcel of land that Clinton Lambson acquired from Reuben Noble, one of Westfield’s prominent early landowners and benefactor of what is now the Baystate Noble Hospital. Lambson had established the furniture company in 1860, began construction of the building in 1868, and occupied it for business in 1869.

In its early years, the building was the site of furniture manufacturing, and many would-be furniture makers traveled to Westfield to apprentice with Lambson and his partner, William Whitney. Over the years, the furnishings side of the business focused on the manufacture and sale of home-related items like baby carriages, bedding, and desk and parlor sets, all displayed on the expansive first-floor showroom of the building.

Also manufactured in the building were caskets, as Lambson also ran an undertaking business in the building. Historical records suggest that both the furniture and undertaking businesses were flourishing and highly competitive enterprises as industry — especially the whip industry — infiltrated Westfield in the late 1800s. The Lambson Furniture building continued to house the undertaking business until 1944.

second floor of the property

The second floor of the property is being envisioned as spaces for small businesses and/or co-working space.

“Back in those days, the furniture makers were also the undertakers. He also owned a piece of the cemetery,” Peake told BusinessWest. “He was a real entrepreneur.”

Around 1896, Lambson installed the hydraulic elevator, likely one of the first in operation in Massachusetts, and the first and only hydraulic elevator designed and manufactured at the Washburn Shops at WPI. The elevator was in continuous use until 1998.

Around 1910, a two-and-a-half-story warehouse was added to the rear of the building, probably serving as a shipping and storage facility for furniture that was shipped to the company. Finally, in 1924, a fourth story was added to the building.

After the furniture company closed in 2002, the building was purchased in 2004 by Brian Whitely, who operated Bentley Billiards on the first floor of the Lambson Building and the first and second floors of the adjoining building until it closed in 2007. During the 12 years that the property was unoccupied, Whitely upgraded many of the mechanical components of the main building.

In 2011, the city of Westfield purchased the rear warehouse, which had by then gone into disrepair, in an effort to develop increased public parking to support business in the Elm Street business district. Unfortunately, the demolition of the warehouse left the back wall of the main building physically scarred, while former egress points for the two buildings were eliminated, rendering the upper floors of the main building in code violation for occupancy. The access doorways were covered with plywood, and much of the brickwork on the rear of the building was damaged. In addition, both corners of the building suffered considerable damage. Finally, demolition of the rear warehouse removed the only directly accessible restroom facilities for the Lambson building.

“We are excited and already exploring design options that would allow us to use the space to support live music and arts events that are currently being initiated by other businesses in the Elm Street district.”

That exterior damage was repaired — and the aesthetics improved — with the help of that initial $350,000 grant, as well as investments by the Lambson Square Properties team. Besides Borowski, principal owner of Beyond Building Inc., and Peake, that team includes Eugene Borowski Sr., principal owner of Borowski Accounting Inc., and Tristram Metcalfe III, principal owner of Metcalfe Associates Architecture. Joining the Lambson Square Properties team for this project is Sidney Hubbell, construction manager with Jacobs Engineering Group.

Beyond the interior work, Borowski and the team see potential in developing the open space behind the building into a small public-park-like area that might be covered and provide public access to bench seating and perhaps some fixed-in-place board games.

One of the current tasks is modernizing the original, 126-year-old hydraulic elevator.

One of the current tasks is modernizing the original, 126-year-old hydraulic elevator.

“We see the back wall of the building as the least historically significant portion of the building, yet the part of the building that cries out most for creative planning and use,” the CPA funding application notes. “We are excited and already exploring design options that would allow us to use the space to support live music and arts events that are currently being initiated by other businesses in the Elm Street district.”


Spring Ahead

Before the pandemic, Borowski said, he had two restaurants lined up as first-floor tenants, but those plans later fell apart. He’s confident others will emerge, but at first, he might hire a general manager and open up a restaurant himself. “I know we would do well, and the city’s dying for some entertainment and good food.”

Meanwhile, professors from Westfield State University have visited, and ideas kicked around include a science museum or another educational project.

At any rate, if completion of the interior goes as planned, Borowski is looking at tenants moving in by the spring. “The sprinkler, electrical, water, sewer, all the infrastructure is done, and I can tell you, that’s the hardest thing.”

Borowski paused for a moment late in his tour of the buildings with BusinessWest and tried to capture what initially drew him to this investment.

“My father and I looked at this as a righteous project,” he said. “This is a Westfield jewel here. This is part of the community. I feel like we’re not the owners of this property; we’re simply the caretakers. And I am privileged to take care of it, to be able to do a project that means something, you know? There’s just something here.”

And soon, there will be much more.


Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]



The scaffolding has come down from the five-story wall on Worthington Street facing Stearns Square after a lengthy process of restoration and completion of a new mural undertaken by artist John Simpson.

So now, people can see what they have. And what have is much more than art, although it is certainly that.

It is bridge from the past to the present — and the future — as a well as a conversation piece and another important effort to ‘activate’ property in the City of Homes, and especially in its downtown.

We’re seeing that word ‘activate’ quite a bit lately in reference to downtown properties — everything from the old Court Square Hotel, now being renovated into apartments, to the parking lot adjacent to the soon-to-be-demolished and replaced Civic Center Parking Garage (that property will become an extension of the MassMutual Center and used for various gatherings). It’s also been used to describe restoration work at Stearns Square, Pynchon Park, the riverfront, and other landmarks.

Overall, it is used to describe efforts to take something that was once dormant, or underutilized, and bring it back to useful life.

It’s understandable that the phrase would be used in reference to buildings or parks or even vacant lots. But a wall — in this case, the east wall of the Driscoll Building, built in 1894 and on the National Register of Historic Places?

Yes, a wall.

The wall has been there for 125 years or so, and the advertisements for cameras and related equipment that adorned the wall and sold by the company, Bloom’s, which occupied the structure, have been there for nearly 70 years. But they had become faded and easy to overlook.

Now, the wall is impossible to overlook. It features those same ads, carefully restored to what they were in the 1950s, as well as other images depicting people, businesses, products, and culture that help tell the story of Springfield — everything from a Dr. Seuss book to an Indian motocycle to a depiction of Milton Bradley.

In short, the wall is no longer a wall. It’s a piece of art, but it’s more than that. It’s a window to the past and a vibrant, colorful part of the present and future of the city. It’s also an attraction. People stop, they look, they take pictures, and they marvel at what once was — and still is. You don’t often see 50-foot-high ads for camera equipment.

Even more importantly, this wall is another piece of the city that has been activated, or given a new life. With each triumph like this — and it is a triumph — Springfield takes another important step forward in its efforts to become more vibrant and more livable.


Home Free

Partners Stephen Ross (left) and Bob Walker

Partners Stephen Ross (left) and Bob Walker

Construct Associates has built a reputation for home renovation and restoration in Western Mass. over the past few decades, which is fortunate these days, since business is surging in that area. The reasons are myriad — among them, plenty of old housing stock in the Pioneer Valley, a generally strong economy, and the continued aging of America and the desire among the senior set to remain in their homes and age in place. It all adds up to opportunity, and Construct is making the most of it.

Stephen Ross says residential renovation is looking up — in more ways than one.

“We’re doing a lot of aging-in-place stuff — personal elevators, residential elevators, additions,” he told BusinessWest. “I like to say that an elevator costs probably 10 months worth of a decent retirement community. There, you’re not going to get that money back. But with an elevator, it’s equity toward your house.”

Ross and Bob Walker, the partners at Construct Associates in Northampton, say aging in place is a major trend in residential construction and renovation these days, with the Baby Boom generation continuing to swell the ranks of the over-65 age group, many of them loath to give up independent living.

“I saw a poll recently where 88% of people want to remain in their home, and a lot of them are trying to do just that,” Ross said, noting again that elevators, accessible showers, and other additions pay for themselves if they make the difference between staying there and moving to a retirement community. “I’ve got two of those in the works now. One is an in-law suite, where they’re making it accessible for the in-laws, and the other is a professional couple that wants to be able to utilize their whole house.”

Meanwhile, Walker is wrapping up a first-floor master suite in Northampton with an aging-in-place concept. “It’s an older home right in the middle of town, but all the bedrooms are upstairs. A couple years ago, they did a big kitchen remodel, and now they want a bedroom and bath and laundry on the first floor, where they can get to all of it. We’re putting in a curbless shower, in case of limited mobility.”

“We did a pretty serious job search back in the fall, but we we got a lot of people we felt weren’t qualified for the quality work we do. Sometimes you do get good people come in who are older guys. The labor pool is aging, and it would be nice to see a lot more young people coming into the field.”

Not only do older people want to age in place, Ross said, but the Five College area tends to have consistent rotation of housing stock, and new owners want to come in and put their mark on their new house. And many newcomers to the region arrive from pricier markets, so they’re getting relative bargains and have money left over for remodeling.

“We’re a high-end firm,” Walker added. “We’ll do the whole gamut of work, but our real money is in high-end residential remodeling. At this point, we really are working off our reputation, our referral base. I’m doing a major house remodel in Longmeadow now — four bathrooms, going through the house and upgrading. I have another major job like that, a big Victorian in town here with a high-end kitchen, a big master bath, upgrading mechanical systems, making it as energy-efficient as possible.”

New home building remains a quieter market, Ross added, so Construct is in the right place these days. “Kitchens and bathrooms are our bread and butter, and it always seems like weve got one or two, if not four or six, going on in the background.”

Innovative Idea

Walker and three other partners — Hobie Iselin, Bob Reckman, and Chris Dawson — launched Construct Associates in 1984 with a bright idea — and good timing.

The idea was to create a construction company based on the model of a law office, where the owners share space, marketing, and accounting, but are responsible for managing their own projects.

This residential addition in Northampton

This residential addition in Northampton features an elevator, an amenity that has become more popular in recent years.

The good timing had to do with the company’s home city of Northampton, which was growing quickly and had recently begun to capture the imagination of developers. Construct had a hand in shaping the commercial rebirth of the city, building or renovating the Northampton Brewery, the Hotel Northampton, the Calvin Theater, two Bart’s Ice Cream Shops, Bruegger’s Bagel Bakery, Pinch Pottery, Pleasant Street Video, Silverscape Designs, and other properties.

Other partners have come and gone over the years; today, Walker shares ownership with Ross, who first joined the company as a carpenter in 1988 and became a partner in 2006.

The workload has changed over the years; Construct Associates does far more residential work — mainly home-renovation projects — than it used to. But it still does some light commercial work, notably the recent renovation of New England Treatment Access, the marijuana dispensary a block away from its Northampton headquarters.

The firm’s design and construction capabilities cover everything from antique designs to modern styles, the partners note, but they specialize in older buildings, providing innovative designs and construction for kitchen and bathroom remodeling, renovations, and additions, as well as new construction projects.

“We do all our carpentry. We don’t sub out any carpentry because we have our in-house guys,” Walker said.

While the volume of work has been strong lately, he noted, the staffing issues that plague many contractors may be the only thing holding back further growth.

“We lost a few guys last year, and we’re trying to replace them. We did a pretty serious job search back in the fall, but we we got a lot of people we felt weren’t qualified for the quality work we do. Sometimes you do get good people come in who are older guys. The labor pool is aging, and it would be nice to see a lot more young people coming into the field.”

He said he hired a carpenter last year who recently graduated from Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School — one of only three students in the carpentry program at the time. That’s not surprising, as a decades-long emphasis on pushing kids into college has contributed to talent shortages in what are generally well-paying careers in the construction trades.

“The most interesting thing I see in vocational schools is the percentage that are going to college,” Ross said. “Back when we were kids, if you went to vocational school, that meant you were going into a vocation. I’m personally shocked at the kids going on to higher education.”

Walker agreed. “It’s interesting. You can make a really good wage doing this rather than try to come into the job market with some computer skill that every guy and his brother has.”

Smooth Sailing

Other than finding talent, the construction-industry landscape is looking strong in 2019, Walker said.

“One of my lumber-yard reps asked how we were doing because he was really surprised that, right after the first of the year, things are still hopping. He sees it because he supplies a lot of builders. Generally, you get to this time in January, and things kind of slow up, but they’re moving quite well.”

Part of that has been the mild winter — though at press time, shortly after this interview, a major snowstorm was expected to sweep through the Northeast.

“There are jobs where I might have pushed a little harder to get concrete in the ground had I known we would have had this mild weather,” Ross said, “but you had that first [November] snowfall that made you think winter was coming, and then it didn’t.”

He’s expecting a solid spring surge this year, though, once people get their tax refunds and the weather starts to get truly warm.

“One of my lumber-yard reps asked how we were doing because he was really surprised that, right after the first of the year, things are still hopping. He sees it because he supplies a lot of builders. Generally, you get to this time in January, and things kind of slow up, but they’re moving quite well.”

“People are funny,” he said. “They’ll call you in the spring when it starts warming up and want to do something right then, but in reality, some of them should be talking to us right now and planning ahead.”

At the start of 2019, though, the calls have been coming in, partly due to the lack of snow.

“With the weather being mild,” Ross said, “some of them are a little more anxious to get some projects started, when normally they would be hunkered down because they don’t want people tramping sand and salt into their house, and opening and closing doors. So we have more calls than we usually do this time of year, but winter will have to come sooner or later. It’ll be interesting to see what happens then.”

The desire to age in place, however, or simply to turn an old house into something fresh and modern, aren’t ideas subject to the season, and on that front, Construct Associates continues to make its mark on Northampton and the region.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]