Sweetheart Restaurant sold, to become possible art center

The Historic Sweetheart Restaurant on S. Maple Street in Shelburne Falls.
Recorder/Micky Bedell

The Historic Sweetheart Restaurant on S. Maple Street in Shelburne Falls. Recorder/Micky Bedell Purchase photo reprints »

SHELBURNE FALLS — The historic Sweetheart Restaurant building may soon become a multicultural performing arts and learning center for visiting American and Latin American artists, musicians, actors and writers.

Maurcia Alvarez of Wayland bought the vacant building this month for $249,413 from Dena G. Willmore and Martha J. Thurber of Buckland Center Partners LLC. She also bought a house in Conway in June, according to records from the Franklin County Registry of Deeds.

Alvarez is currently traveling overseas, according to her lawyer, and couldn’t be reached for comment about her plans for the Sweetheart or for the new nonprofit arts group to be housed inside the building. However, Alvarez gave the former owners an extensive statement detailing some of her plans for the building and for the Siempre Unidas Foundation.

“Siempre Unidas” means “always united ” in Spanish, and it was inspired by advice that Alvarez’s parents gave her and her three sisters, to always stay united. Her parents founded the International Center on Aging in their native Dominican Republic, and “Siempre Unidas aims to follow their advice of promoting unity,” according to Alvarez.

She founded the group “to create opportunities for interchange, collaboration and development projects here in the United States and throughout Latin America.”

“Siempre Unidas will sponsor, organize and fund performances, workshops, courses and publications,” her statement reads. “In addition, Siempre Unidas will have a social club, a restaurant, an educational component with courses and workshops, a cultural center with performances, permanent and temporary exhibitions and library, and a shop for the sale of the arts, including books, posters, artwork, films, arts and crafts,” the statement says.

The foundation will also promote both the artistic and economic development of young artists. Also, the building will have rooms and performance spaces available to artists and sponsors from abroad.

Mauricia Alvarez is a licensed psychologist and clinical social worker with a graduate degree in education and an interest in the arts and in Latin culture. She developed the Latino Mental Health Clinic at the Cambridge Health Alliance, affiliated with the Harvard Medical School and psychiatry department, where she worked between 1985 to 2007. She moved to the Dominican Republic to assist her aging parents before opening an independent practice in Wayland.

The Sweetheart Restaurant building was built in 1914 and many consider it the gateway to Shelburne Falls. After the scenic Mohawk Trail highway was built and began attracting tourists, Alice Brown thought motorists would be interested in local maple sugar if it was attractively marketed. She poured maple sugar into heart-shaped molds and named the candy “Maple Sweethearts,” according to “The History and Tradition of Shelburne, Massachusetts.” The maple hearts went on sale in 1916 and were a roadside treat. Later, seating and more foods were added to the menu of what became the “Sweetheart Tea House.” The building grew in size as its public popularity grew, reaching its peak in the 1930s.

In 2005, the landmark restaurant at 42 South Maple St. was purchased by three women for $320,000. They had planned to turn it into an inn with eight rooms, along with a tea and tap room. But their investment plans fell through, and after the building didn’t sell, it was put up for auction.

When the auction failed to get its minimum, Willmore, the mortgage holder, took ownership of the property to protect her investment, but didn’t have any specific plans for it.

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at: dbroncaccio@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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