Researching Your Building at the CHC

May is Preservation Month, and over the next few weeks we will be posting about a couple of preservation-related archival projects that we are working on over here at the Commission.


Here at the Cambridge Historical Commission, our holdings are centered on the built environment of the city, with strong collections on the social, business, and industrial history of Cambridge. Formats include photographs, manuscripts, architectural plans, and books, among other mediums. The most valuable intellectual asset of the Commission is our collection of architectural survey files, documenting the history of every building (over 13,000) in Cambridge.

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An example of an architectural survey form from CHC’s files. Between 1964 and 1977, the commission surveyed and photographed every building in Cambridge.

As our largest collection, the architectural survey files contain architectural survey forms, photographs, news clippings, and like materials for buildings in Cambridge.

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The Executive Director of the CHC, Charles M. Sullivan, documented interior and exterior conditions before this home underwent renovations in the early 1980s.

Each file holds documents on every current building in Cambridge as well as records of many demolished buildings. An address may contain one sheet or boast an entire file folder depending on its history in the community.

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Many files contain a history of the address from its original purchase. These documents contain valuable information including dates and prices of sale or taxes, and a description of the building.

These files are used quite frequently by architects, building managers, or homeowners, and are open for research.

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Included in some files are newspaper clippings regarding the building’s history or current projects. This clipping from 1983 details a renovation project at this home on Otis Street.

As these files currently exist only in physical format, a patron must perform any research with our survey files in-person. The Commission is currently embarking on a pilot digitization project to improve access. This project will facilitate the creation of a searchable and browsable database, which will allow us to upload and share our survey files online.

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Taken by Alex Beatty in 1988, this image depicts the finished renovation of 67-69 Otis Street. Image courtesy of the Cambridge Historical Commission.

Please feel free to contact the Cambridge Historical Commission to explore the history of your property. Our research hours are Mondays 4:00-7:00pm, and Tuesday through Thursday 9:30-11:30am and 2:00-4:00pm. Check our blog often for updates on our other projects, and for news on when our digital files will be accessible!

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