Bluesman and builder Albert Cummings helps revive a Williamstown gem
Stephen Klass, Albert Cummings, and Jason Miner
Photos by John Stanmeyer
In Williamstown, Albert Cummings is known as a fourth-generation builder with a deep appreciation for community. Beyond the Berkshires, though, Cummings is a renowned blues guitarist, having played with B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Johnny Winter, and other legends. His love for his hometown has never faltered, and he spends the majority of his time there with his family. He even went as far as to feature the Berkshires in a music video for his latest album release, filmed at recognizable north-county locations like MASS MoCA and the Water Street Grill, and starring Williamstown Theatre Festival actors.
“I’ve traveled not everywhere in the world, but I’ve traveled a lot and have seen many different places and many different countries, and I always love coming back to Williamstown,” says Cummings, who was born into a family of home builders. “It’s still my favorite place on Earth.”
That connection is evident in his most recent Williamstown project, The Log, on Spring Street, a renovation completed last fall by his company, Cummings General Contractor. Stephen Klass, vice president for campus life at Williams College, and Jason Miner, senior project manager, knew Cummings was the perfect person for the job, not only for his stellar reputation and attention to detail, but for his deep connection to the town. “My father knew the original builder, he was back in my grandfather’s day,” says Cummings.
“So this was a neat job for me, in the heritage of me being from an old family in Williamstown. To be involved in this project was a huge honor, really.”
The Log was built in 1941 by a Williams alum right over an existing 1800s house. Literally. During renovations, Cummings and his team found remnants of the original cedar-shingle roof. Structural remains of the original house still make up the front room. The building was donated to the college, and before long the lodge-like space became a meeting place for students. After the drinking age went up to 21 in the 1980s, most students could no longer enjoy the bar and it became obsolete.
More recent alumni viewed the building as sort of an enigma. Rustic, wide-plank floors, weathered beams, drumhead lights, and grandiose murals of historic town and college events gave the feeling of walking back in time. Full of antique beer cans from across the country, dusty sports memorabilia, and tables engraved with the initials of students, The Log oozed with history; it was a rare treat when it was opened up for events.
Williams graduates have felt a deep connection to this gathering place across generations, so much so that the $4.5-million renovation was funded entirely by alumni donations. The pressure was on to get it right. Klass met with student focus groups and a project committee of alumni, trustees, faculty, and others to create a list of guiding principles. What did they want the building to represent?
“One was: Do as little to modify the sense of architecture and the ambiance, the sense of place that it represents,” says Klass, “while still making it something that wants to be a student hangout, a student performance space, a place where the public can come in and share that space with students, and create food and beverage to support it all. Those are really hard things to achieve all at once.”
Or, as Miner explains it, “Fix it, but don’t change it. We had our fair share of sidewalk superintendents.”
“Twice that happened when somebody walked by and would be like, ‘What are you doing in there? Don’t change it!’ They would literally yell out,” laughs Cummings.
Floorboards were sanded and refinished, the murals restored, and the bar meticulously moved, piece by piece, from one side of the room to the other to make way for new bathrooms. The restored wood includes blackened beams saved from a building fire in the 1950s. All the quirky touches were preserved, including old photos, drumhead lighting, and even the graffiti-laden tabletops, much to the delight of visiting alums.
The juxtaposition of these meaningful artifacts with new furniture and updated amenities creates a welcoming, nostalgic space open not only to students but, for the first time ever, to the public. The restaurant and bar, managed by Hops & Vines Beer Garden & Brasserie, are open to anybody who walks in, while students can use other spaces for studying, gathering, or events.
“A woman walked in and she’s like, ‘Well, what did you do? You didn’t do anything.’ That’s my goal on every project, especially when it comes to an old remodel,” says Cummings. “It should look like it never was touched. It gives the building its dignity back.”
The Log also features regular live music. Local bands and singer-songwriters perform on the small, movable stage, creating a coffeehouse vibe that melds perfectly with the surroundings. While Cummings doesn’t have any immediate plans to play there himself—it would be a challenge to fit his large fan base into the space—he’s delighted to have a part in reviving an important relic of his hometown.
“A lot of musicians I know and entertainers can’t say that. They go, ‘I don’t want to go home, I don’t like where I live.’ I love where I live. And this building is still here, and I’m loving the fact that it’s now preserved, and it’s for future generations to be able to appreciate.”