The Cambridge Trotting Park: Part 1

This post is the first in a series of four written by guest author, Dan Sullivan, owner of The Book Oasis in Stoneham.


Part 1

Just a casual glance at an 1854 map of the city makes it clear that North Cambridge was a very different place than it is today. Now the map is crowded with streets, and the houses on them are built on small lots. Massachusetts Avenue is lined with businesses. By contrast, 1854 shows an area with very few streets. Most business in the area consist of a few farms and the brick industry. The one area that is beginning to show some ‘crowding’ is the village of Dublin, which is made up of Rindge Avenue, Sargent Street, and Dublin (now Sherman) Street. Few landmarks would be recognizable by a modern visitor. The most prominent feature on that map is something that has left little trace on today’s landscape; the Cambridge Trotting Park.

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Aerial view of Northwest Cambridge, 2019

From 1837 until 1855 North Cambridge had a sports arena that often drew thousands of spectators and had such a high level of talent that it regularly generated national news. Famous horses such as Black Hawk and Lady Suffolk raced on the track. The strange thing is, it got almost no coverage from the Cambridge Chronicle, and the stories that did appear in that paper seldom focused on the actual sporting events. Many did not even mention them.

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H.F. Walling & Co. map of Northwest Cambridge, 1854

The course was one mile around and followed a route that was just inside what are now Rindge Avenue, Harvey and Cedar streets, and about one hundred feet beyond Clifton Street. The name ‘Trotting Park’ is slightly misleading. Yes, that was the principal type of event held on the course but not the exclusive type. Besides being the site of multiple types of horse racing, the park also hosted many foot races, or what was known at the time as ‘Pedestrianism.’ I have found descriptions of a greased pig chase, two boxing matches, and multiple mixed event ‘handicapped’ races. In addition to these there was one event that came close to what we would call a track and field meet today. It consisted of a hammer throw, a mile run, and the one-hundred–yard dash with other less traditional events.

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Beadle’s dime hand-book of pedestrianism : giving the rules for training and practice in walking, running, leaping, vaulting, etc., etc. Together with a full account of the great Weston feat, 1867

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Detail of ‘Running’ section, Beadle’s hand-book, 1867

My principal sources for information for these events are out of state newspapers. Why, you might ask, would these papers cover the events at the Cambridge Trotting Park and yet the hometown paper almost completely ignore them? The answer was an ethical one. You see, the principal activity at the Park was not sports competition, but rather the gambling that took place on those events, and Cambridge in the 1800’s would rather have ignored that.

Check back next week for Part 2…

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Modern Monday: Loeb Drama Center, 64 Brattle Street

Exterior of Loeb Drama Center_Radcliffe College Archives

Completed in 1960, the Loeb Drama Center at 64 Brattle Street stands as one of Cambridge’s greatest examples of Modern Architecture. The structure is human-scaled, made of regional materials and is a sensitive addition to its residential and commercial neighbors along Brattle Street. The scale of the building was reduced to blend in with adjacent heights and the use of New England waterstruck brick is a nod to the Harvard and Radcliffe buildings nearby. Exposed concrete serves as a sort of frame to the delicate ornamental grille which provides a lace-like effect, enhanced further at night when the light from inside the building shines through.

Exterior View of Loeb Drama Center_night_Radcliffe College ArchivesExterior View: Harvard - Loeb Drama Center, 29 Brattle Street

Architect Hugh Stubbins wanted the theater to be architecturally exciting, while still serving as a backdrop to the purpose of the building, the arts. Stubbins was quoted as saying, “the auditorium should please the imagination in such a way as to release it, not captivate it” and later went on to reference examples of recent museums and art galleries erected by architects to overshadow the art within them.

Interior View of Loeb Drama Center_Radcliffe College ArchivesView of Loeb Drama Center setbuilding_Radcliffe College Archives

The building opens right off the sidewalk of Brattle Street by the way of deep setbacks off the first floor, forming a porch-like or arcade feeling. The sides of the building open to a garden court on one side and a spacious terrace on the other. The travertine flooring in the lobby extends gracefully to the brick-paved courtyard, contained by a red brick serpentine wall.

Exterior courtyard Loeb Drama Center_Radcliffe College ArchivesExterior View of Loeb Drama Center (2)_Radcliffe College Archives

The theater was unveiled as a mechanical marvel as the first fully-automatic and flexible theatre in the United States. The audience’s position in relation to the stage, along with the position and shape of the stage itself could be altered between three main configurations: theater-in-the-round, proscenium, and arena seating, all possibly during the same performance. Yale’s noted stage technician and theater design engineer, George C. Izenour worked with Stubbins to integrate lighting, rigging and staging into an automated and hydraulic lift system, which could be altered and staged by just two people in mere minutes.

The Loeb Drama Center is now home to The American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) at Harvard University, which collaborates with artists around the world to develop and create work in new ways. To learn more about A.R.T. and their upcoming shows and events, check out their website at: https://americanrepertorytheater.org/

1960 color photo_CHC_LOEB

Color slide courtesy of CHC Staff.

Historic photos courtesy of Radcliffe College Archives and CHC slides.

Igor Fokin Memorial Sculpture, One Brattle Square

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Since the 1970s, summer evenings in Harvard Square have featured a vibrant street theater scene. In 1985, a major subway construction project that extended the Red Line subway to Alewife was completed, resulting in major changes above ground, including wider sidewalks and small plazas, that created even more opportunities for busking (Lotman, Harvard Square, An Illustrated History Since 1950, 2009). Performers ranged from jugglers, mimes, tightrope walkers, and fire eaters, to musicians and singers. This dynamic street performance culture continues today.

igorshowcourtesy of http://www.igorfokin.com

In the early 1990s, one performer stood out as a unique and remarkably gifted entertainer. From 1993 to 1996, Igor Fokin enchanted people with his life-like marionettes that mesmerized young and old alike as they danced, played, and interacted with the audience. Igor hand-carved his wooden puppets who ranged from dancing skeletons, a witch sweeping up the sidewalk, to a puppet named Doo-Doo with a fluted nose, and Satchmo playing his trumpet to the song Mack the Knife. Each puppet, measuring less than 12 inches, was elaborately detailed and truly came to life under Igor’s nimble handling, when climbing up someone’s leg, petting someone’s nose, or sitting on a child’s lap.

castcolorcourtesy of http://www.igorfokin.com

Born in Russia and a graduate of St. Petersburg Theatrical Institute, Igor moved to Cambridge in the summer of 1993 with his collection of puppets, and by the end of the summer he was one of the most popular performers. Igor put on several shows a day, including passers-by in the late afternoon and culminating in the evening with a large audience who purposely came out to see his show. He was always refining his craft and developing new characters for his street performances which he referred to as the “most democratic art form” (Schmidt, The Puppeteer, 2003).

igorandcastcourtesy of http://www.igorfokin.com

Igor performed in Harvard Square until his untimely death in 1996 at the age of 36. Today, at the corner of One Brattle Square, where Igor enjoyed performing the most, a bronze replica of Doo-Doo by sculptor Konstantin Simun is perched on a bollard, a permanent reminder of Igor’s joyful imagination and the delight he brought to everyone lucky enough to experience his magical world.

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Sources
Lotman, Mo. Harvard Square, An Illustrated History Since 1950. Abrahms, 2009.

Schmidt, Chris, and Gary Henoch, The Puppeteer, 2003, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cJ2gizaqVw8

http://www.igorfokin.com

Modern Monday: Charter House Motor Hotel

Today’s Modern Monday posting is highlighting the Charter House Motor Hotel (now Royal Sonesta Boston). Completed in 1963, the first tower, with its zig-zag shape was developed by the Hotel Corporation of America, led by founder A.M. “Sonny” Sonnabend.

Charter House Survey photo

Sonnabend decided to locate the company’s first ever high-rise motor hotel in the United States in Cambridge due to its location near transportation routes, businesses, universities and proximity to the downtown Boston area. To stand out from competition, the motor hotel required high quality design, ample parking, and interior amenities including: televisions, radios, air-conditioning, and complete hotel services for all rooms. The word “Motel” was created as a blending of the words “motor” and “hotel” and has since served as a defining piece of roadside architectural history.

Viewed from boat

The Hotel Corporation of America was renamed Sonesta International Hotels Corporation in 1970. Due to the success and location of the Sonesta Hotel on Cambridge Parkway in East Cambridge, the Sonesta Corporation began planning for a renovation and addition to the hotel, doubling the amount of rooms and enhancing facilities for the modern traveler. Architect John T. Olson designed a Post-Modern tower to stand next to the 60’s Modernist hotel. Boston Globe’s architectural critic at the time, Robert Campbell called the original tower an “upended waffle” and noted that the later addition was the region’s first large-scale Post-Modern development.

East Elevation_Window detail zoomed

The Post-Modern tower addition features large expanses of brick and is distinguished by the gabled features at the roof. John Olson, the head architect explained the design and goal as wanting to make a hotel that would look house-like and more domestic than institutional. The triangular gable shape was seen as a symbol for the idea of a house and was repeated both inside and outside of the addition. The pediments over the slightly projecting wings, resemble the long expanses of rowhouses which are synonymous to Boston architecture. Besides red brick, the main cladding material on the building is a green tile, which was selected to resemble the patinaed green copper seen elsewhere in Cambridge and Beacon Hill, just over the Charles River.

Current Photo

The two towers stand proudly at the entrance of Cambridge from Boston and showcase how far architectural taste can change in a matter of 20 years. Globe writer, Campbell stated that “The new wing of the former Sonesta Hotel on the Charles River stands next to its predecessor as if the two were a pair of slides chosen by a professor of art history to illustrate just how far architectural taste can travel in a single generation”. Which wing do you prefer?

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Full view