The Town Council this week forwarded a request from a Willimantic resident to a council subcommittee that asks that the town hall auditorium be named the “Bellingham Ballroom” in honor of the late Bruce Bellingham.
Bellingham, who lived in Coventry at the time of his death on Jan. 3, was founder and past president of the Willimantic Victorian Neighborhood Association.
He was also a retired University of Connecticut music professor.
Shirley Mustard of Willimantic made the request in a Feb. 16 letter to the town.
She writes, “In 2006, Bruce was at the forefront in the restoration and preservation of this classic 19th century grand auditorium/ballroom.
“Bruce’s enthusiasm and willingness to climb ladders and scrub floors inspired many other people to pitch in to work and to obtain funds for the needed repairs.
“Today, this ballroom, along with the town hall itself, is a major part of Willimantic’s rich architectural heritage.”
Mustard said if the proposal is accepted, an appropriate plaque and formal portrait will be privately funded and donated to the town.
The town hall auditorium is located at the top floor of Town Hall at 979 Main St.
The auditorium received about $1.1 million worth of work, including an elevator to the auditorium, a renovated women’s bathroom and a brand-new, enclosed fire escape.
The space, which once hosted town meetings, events and a state Department of Labor office, received other safety improvements such as sprinklers, a second stairway and a new fire control system.
The work was paid for with a grant from the state Department of Economic and Community Development.
Recent events in the auditorium include the 2010 Snow Ball in January, which was the first major event after renovations were complete. It was a fundraiser for the Windham Textile and History Museum.
Last month, the room hosted events associated with the Romantic Willimantic Chocolate Festival celebration.
Earlier this month, a public hearing on off-track betting was held in the auditorium.
At Tuesday’s meeting, members of the public spoke in support of honoring Bellingham’s contributions and leadership.
“I think that would be a great honor,” said local historian Bev York.
She added that Bellingham was a “mover and a shaker” when it came to getting people to preserve their Victorian homes. He was also a great painter, she said.
President of the Victorian Neighborhood Association Robert Horrocks also spoke in favor of the proposal. “He was a preservationist,” Horrocks said.
Bellingham was “a citizen who really loved this town,” he said.
Pamela Horrocks said Bellingham’s memorial service was attended by a standing-room-only crowd and the service centered on his contributions to Willimantic and how much influence he had on the town.
“I think this would be a wonderful way to thank him,” she said.
Local businesswoman Lynn Duval also supported the proposal and said that even though Bellingham wasn’t a Windham resident, his “passion for the town brought great results.”
The Administration, Finance, Health and Human Services subcommittee will take up the proposal in April.
Posted March 20, 2010 – edited by HTNP.com Editor Brenda Sullivan