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.

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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.

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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

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Fig Newtons and the Kennedy Biscuit Company

Today is National Fig Newton Day!

In 1892, Philadelphia native and bakery machinery expert James Henry Mitchell patented a device that could simultaneously create a cookie dough and its filling–a small pie with jam or preserves surrounded by dough. Mitchell persuaded the Kennedy Biscuit Company of Cambridgeport to try his new machine and shipped one to Massachusetts. Soon, the company began mass-producing the fig cakes at their factory. The company dubbed this new concoction, then marketed as a nutritional cake, the Fig Newton–so named after the town of Newton, Massachusetts. Later, the Kennedy Biscuit Company and the New York Biscuit company merged to form Nabisco, which still manufactures the cookie as simply “Newtons.” Following Nabisco’s move to New Jersey, the plant was occupied by Fenton Shoe Company and was later purchased by MIT. Today, the building has been converted into mixed-income housing and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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Entrance to the courtyard of the Kennedy Biscuit Lofts at 129 Franklin Street

The Bakery Oven
One of Frank Kennedy’s many innovations was the use of the reel oven. This type of oven allowed a continuous baking process which both increased production capacity and improved product quality. The original reel ovens were powered by a 50-horsepower steam engine. Located directly in front of you is one of the original six ovens with a new internal assembly suggestive of the very first reel oven.

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Rendering of the Kennedy Biscuit Company reel oven introduced in 1869 by Frank Kennedy. The oven was incorporated in the building’s renovation and can still be seen today.

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The Bakery Buildings
In 1875, the first brick structure was erected on this site. Cambridgeport was experiencing rapid growth as it shifted its economic base from trade to heavy industry. Twelve separate additions were erected between 1875 and 1937, and the 250,000-square-foot complex employed up to 650 people.

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North side of the Kennedy Biscuit Lofts in 2019

Nabisco moved its operations to New Jersey, and the Fenton Shoe Company occupied the building from 1956 through 1986. The building was subsequently listed on the National Register of Historic Places and won the 1990 Preservation Award for its conversion from a factory to mixed-income housing.

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Gate post of the Kennedy Biscuit Lofts featuring a cracker-like design plaque.

The Biscuit Company
In 1805, the Kennedy family started in the bakery business. Forty years later, Artemas Kennedy moved the business from Milton, Massachusetts and built a wood frame building on the Cambridgeport site. Steam power was introduced to the production process in 1855. Artemis’s son, Frank A. Kennedy, took over the business shortly thereafter, and the bakery was renamed the “F.A. Kennedy Steam Cracker Bakery.”

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Kennedy Steam Bakery card, ca. 1910. CHC Postcard Collection.

In 1890, Frank Kennedy merged his bakery with the New York Biscuit Company, which later merged with the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco).

Frank Kennedy served on Nabisco’s Board of Trustees until his death.

The Bakery Products
The Kennedy Bakery product line consisted of three cracker types – soda, butter, and sugar – as well as several varieties of cakes and cookies. Familiar names include Lorna Doone, Arrowroot and Social Tea. Other Nabisco products include the still-popular Oreo cookie.

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Gate post of the Kennedy Biscuit Lofts featuring cracker and cookie details.

In 1892, a device that extruded dough into a continuous tubular shape was purchased by the company. After experimenting with various fillings for this cookie sandwich, Frank Kennedy finally selected a brand of his fig preserves. It had been the company’s custom to name its new products after local towns – Fig Cambridge and Fig Shrewsbury were considered as possibilities for this new invention. However, an employee who lived in nearby Newton suggested the name of his hometown instead. Thus, a famous snack was born, the “Fig Newton.”

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Fig Newton advertisement, date unknown. From The New York Times article “The Newtons Cookie Goes Beyond the Fig” (30 April 2012).


Sources:

Cahn, William. Out of the Cracker Barrel: The Nabisco Story, From Animal Crackers to Zuzus. Simon and Schuster, 1969.

Historical exhibit located in the lobby of the Kennedy Biscuit Lofts, 129 Franklin Street, Cambridge.

Building and Structure Documentation Collection: Wolcott Gibbs Memorial Laboratory

Today, we are highlighting a building from our Building and Structure Documentation Collection. This collection documents buildings and structures in Cambridge that were either demolished or significantly altered. In this case, the materials were compiled as a condition of approval by the Cambridge Planning Board for a proposed replacement project.

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Close-up view of south facade of Gibbs Memorial Laboratory, Naito Chemistry Complex is under construction at the left of the photograph, 1999-2000.

For each building or structure, the corresponding box often includes an architectural description of the building or buildings, a narrative history, and archival photographs, negatives, photograph key(s), and/or electronic copies of the files and photographs. Today we are featuring the documentation of the Wolcott Gibbs Memorial Laboratory.

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Copy photograph of Wolcott Gibbs circa 1895. Original in Harvard University Archives.

The Wolcott Gibbs Memorial Laboratory, named to honor Harvard University Rumford professor Oliver Wolcott Gibbs, was originally constructed in 1913 to address issues of limited laboratory space at Harvard.

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View northwest, perspective view of Wolcott Gibbs Memorial Laboratory in 1913. Original in Harvard University Archives.

Located at the head of Frisbie Place, the building was designed by architect and 1876 Harvard graduate Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow Jr., nephew of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, for research in physical and inorganic chemistry.

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View into cold storage room and laboratory, second floor, Gibbs Memorial Laboratory, 1999-2000. This room was not part of the original building plan.

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View west from east side entrance into Gibbs Memorial Laboratory basement, 1999-2000. Note autoclave in center of photograph.

 

The laboratory cost $85,000 to build. During its construction in 1912, the Harvard Crimson noted that “The Wolcott Gibbs Laboratory will be unique in this country, and in fact will be the foremost institution of its kind in the world. The proposed group of buildings, which will cost a million dollars, would give the University an unrivaled place in the field of chemical science.”

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View of vestibule from front hall, first floor of Gibbs Memorial Laboratory, 1999-2000. Note the six light transom set above the doors. An arch at the top frames the individual lights and mullions delimit them. The frame around each light resembles a pier arch.

The building was constructed with a high degree of integrity of design including elements derived from classical, Roman, medieval, late Gothic and Corinthian architecture. In the 1960s, the laboratory was remodeled for inclusion of biochemistry laboratories, and in the early 2000s, the building was demolished.

Look for more building and structure documentation in future posts!

Polaroid and the Land Camera

On this day in 1948, the Land Camera first went on sale. Developed by the Polaroid Corporation, and named for its co-founder Edwin H. Land, this mechanism was the first of its kind—a camera with instant film.

Polaroid Land Camera Catalog (cover)Polaroid Land Camera Catalog (fold-out)

Polaroid Land Camera Catalog (price list)

Images from a Polaroid Land Camera catalog, ca. 1950s

Polaroid was co-founded in 1937 by scientist and inventor Edwin H. Land and Harvard physics professor George W. Wheelwright III. The company was originally known for its polarizing sunglasses, a product Land had invented following his self-guided research in light polarization. The name “Polaroid” was coined by Professor Clarence Kennedy of Smith College, a mutual friend of Land and Wheelwright.

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Advertisement for Polaroid “sun goggles” and sunglasses appearing in the Cambridge Chronicle, 11 July 1940

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Pair of Polaroid sunglasses from the CHC Objects Collection with case and informational insert, ca. 1930s-1940s

Land studied chemistry at Harvard but left without a degree and moved to New York City in the late 1920s. Without the backing of an educational institution and laboratory, he invented a system of instant in-camera photography—Polaroid film.

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Land, shown here with an early instant photograph, first demonstrated Polaroid’s instant photography system to the public in 1947. Bettman/CORBIS

The Land Camera was constructed in a similar way to traditional film cameras: light entered a lens and was reflected onto light-sensitive film, recording a negative image. Where the system differed was in its delivery of the print. Land’s system contained both the negative film and a positive receiving sheet joined by a reservoir. This pack held a small amount of chemical reagents that started and stopped film development. Rather than sending the exposed film off to a laboratory to be developed, consumers could produce a developed photograph in one minute or less.

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Edwin Land at the Polaroid Corporation in 1940

Polaroid originally manufactured sixty units of the Land Camera to be sold during the 1948 holiday season. Fifty-seven were put up for sale at the Jordan Marsh department store in Boston, all of which were sold on the first day.

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Christmas decorations on Jordan Marsh store, photographed by Leslie Jones, December 1957. (Boston Public Library Print Department © Leslie Jones)

Land ran the company successfully until the late 1970s. Land died on March 1, 1991 in Cambridge and is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery.

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The Polaroid building at 784 Memorial Drive, originally built for the B B Chemical Company in  1938, was occupied by Polaroid from 1966-1996.

For more information on Polaroid or Edwin Land in Cambridge, contact the CHC at histcomm@cambridgema.gov.

Resources:

“Invention of Polaroid Instant Photography.” Edwin Land and Polaroid Photography. 2015. https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/whatischemistry/landmarks/land-instant-photography.html#invention_of_instant_photography.
American Chemical Society’s National Historic Chemical Landmarks program.

Focus On: CHC Volunteers

We are back with the latest installment of our blog series on the wonderful CHC volunteers. Today we would like you to meet volunteer (and former staff and Commission member) Allison Crump.

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How long have you been with the Cambridge Historical Commission?

I came to the Commission as an Audubon summer intern in 1975, while attending the Columbia Preservation program.  After graduation, I joined the staff for several years.  Later I was an appointed member of the Commission for 20 years.  Now I’m retired, I’m back to my roots!

What collection have you been working on? Tell us more about it.

The City Clerk’s archives include several boxes of applications to the Cambridge City Council for permission to move structures, which was once a common practice.  The applications I am working with date from 1870 – 1910; these are the ones we have found, but there may well be more. [Editor’s note: We are calling this the Building Removals Collection. Allison has been going through the applications in search of the original and subsequent – post-move – locations of these structures.]

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A building removal form for a property at Broadway and Main, 1888

What is the importance of the Building Removals Collection?

When I am successful at determining the original and subsequent locations, it’s a view into development patterns, as demands for more modern, larger structures in high-value locations created surplus structures available for re-use in various ways, often in areas newly subdivided for development.

What’s challenging is that descriptions of the sites are not always precise, and even when street numbers are used, these have often changed over time.  In some cases, approved removals appear to have never occurred, or were subject to multiple applications as proposed routes or locations shifted.  Another interesting aspect is the activity of specific moving firms at different periods.

It’s most satisfying when the survey files have speculated that a building was moved to its current location, and the removal files tie it to an original site.

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Example of a completed building removal research form (completed by a former CHC staff member)

What is your academic and career background?

In undergrad, I majored in history and art history, specializing in architectural history.  After Columbia and working at the Commission, I gradually migrated into affordable housing and nonprofit finance as my professional focus.  It’s fun to be back in the research game.

How long have you lived in Cambridge?

Over 40 years.  But I’m still a newcomer, and would never presume to describe this as my hometown.  My kid’s a native, though, so that gives me some standing.

What is your favorite thing about historic preservation? (or, your favorite building in Cambridge?)

I’m most interested in the flexibility of structures to adapt to changing needs over time.  That makes it possible to maintain continuity and context in the built environment, even when their original purpose has been superseded.  It’s also deeply satisfying to witness the extent to which preservation values have become accepted and see individual buildings, streets and neighborhoods which once seemed doomed, now in good repair and no longer threatened.  The block of Broadway between Prospect and Inman Streets is a great example of this phenomenon.

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Thank you, Allison!

A Whaleback Barge in the Charles River

Today’s post was written by CHC Executive Director Charles M. Sullivan.


In 1894 the Union Switch & Signal Company installed signals that prevented trains on the Boston & Maine and Fitchburg railroads from proceeding in or out of North Station when the Charles River drawbridges were in the raised position.

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Whaleback barge in the Charles River, ca. 1895. Photographer unknown.

The company publicized the project by distributing this photo of three empty coal barges passing through the drawbridges. The three-masted barge in the foreground was probably built as a schooner, but it retains only vestiges of its original rig. A similar vessel leads the procession.

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Figure 9.5 from Building Old Cambridge: Architecture and Development. Wharves near Harvard Square, ca. 1862. Sargent’s Wharf (foreground) is piled with lumber; four two-masted schooners are tied up beyond the College Wharf.

The second vessel was a steel whaleback barge, a rarity on the East Coast.  This type of vessel was developed to carry bulk cargoes on the Great Lakes. The first, Barge 101, was launched at Duluth, Minnesota in 1888.

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“Whaleback Str. A.D. Thompson [sic],” ca. 1905 by Detroit Publishing Co. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

The design was a mixed success, but over the next eight years the American Steel Barge Co. built about 40 more whaleback barges and steamships. The company also had two vessels, Barge 201 and Barge 202, built in Brooklyn, N.Y. in 1890 for saltwater service.

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“Loading the Great Whaleback Ship at the Famous Grain Elevators, Chicago, U.S.A.,” ca. 1895. Photographed by George Barker, published by Strohmeyer & Wyman. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

The Charles River photo shows the 190-foot-long Barge 202 returning to Boston Harbor after delivering coal to a wharf upstream on the Charles River. On June 18, 1892 the Cambridge Tribune noted that the whaleback then discharging 1,400 tons of coal at Richardson & Bacon’s wharf near Harvard Square was “the largest boat that ever came through the Craigie Bridge.”

Even in the late 19th century the Charles remained an important avenue of commerce; in 1893 sixty-four sailing vessels and sixty-one barges called at wharves in Old Cambridge (Harvard Square) and Watertown.

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Figure 9.11 from Building Old Cambridge: Architecture and Development. The industrial waterfront of Old Cambridge, seen from the chimney of the Boston Elevated Railway’s power plant in 1897. Richardson & Bacon’s coal shed is in the foreground. A schooner is unloading bulk cargo at Sargent’s Wharf. The Cambridge Park Commission has moved the Cambridge Casino from the foot of Hawthorn Street to the flats near DeWolfe Street, where it was burned by arsonists. Harvard moved its boathouses downstream below Winthrop’s Wharf in the 1870s to escape the city’s sewer outfall at the foot of Dunster Street.

This photo was taken in 1897, soon after Barges 201 and 202 brought cargoes of coal from Edgewater, N.J. A year later both vessels were sent to the Great Lakes via the St. Lawrence River and the Welland Canal. The last whaleback on the Great Lakes was taken out of service in 1969 and is preserved at Superior, Wisconsin.

Sources:

C. Roger. Pellett, Whaleback Ships and the American Steel Barge Company (Wayne State
University Press, 2018)

Susan E. Maycock and Charles M. Sullivan, Building Old Cambridge: Architecture and
Development
(MIT Press, 2016)

Boston Globe, Boston Post, Cambridge Chronicle, and Cambridge Tribune

 

Newly-Digitized Images – Lois M. Bowen Collection

We are happy to announce the addition of 28 images to our CHC Flickr account. These images come from the Lois M. Bowen Collection. Bowen was a Cambridge-based photographer and entrepreneur who owned a camera shop, Cambridge Camera and Marine, in Harvard Square from the 1940s to 1995.

Kodak film cannister owned by Lois M. Bowen

Kodak film cannister owned by Lois M. Bowen, ca 1960s

Ms. Bowen was a freelance photographer for several organizations and publications around Cambridge and Boston, including The Architects’ Collaborative and Architectural Forum Magazine, as well as advertising agencies and admissions publications for colleges and universities.

Cover: "Architectural Forum: The Magazine of Building"

Cover: “Architectural Forum: The Magazine of Building”, June 1964

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Pages from “Architectural Forum: The Magazine of Building” featuring the work of Lois M. Bowen, June 1964

Bowen’s work was primarily focused on architecture, but her photographic subjects spanned the Northeast and included documentation of her own life and community.

View of Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Boston

View of Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Boston, 4 September 1978

Contact sheet: images of Strawberry Banke

Contact sheet: images of Strawberry Banke, October 1966

In addition to the photographic materials there are business papers and documents as well as personal correspondence and ephemera.

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Interior view of Cambridge Camera and Marine, ca. 1960s

Interior View: 14 Old Dee Road

Interior View: 14 Old Dee Road in Cambridge, ca. 1960s

Visit our Flickr page to view these images and more from this collection.

Building and Structure Documentation Collection: 55 Wheeler Street

Today, we are highlighting a building from our recently opened Building and Structure Documentation Collection. This collection documents buildings and structures in Cambridge that were either demolished or significantly altered. In this case the materials were compiled as a condition of approval by the Cambridge Planning Board for a proposed replacement project.

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55 Wheeler Street: interior view of reception area

For each building or structure, the corresponding box often includes an architectural description of the building or buildings, a narrative history, and archival photographs, negatives, photograph key(s), and/or electronic copies of the files and photographs.

Documented structures in this collection include buildings from the former Boston Woven Hose & Rubber Company, and the Fogg Museum from the Harvard Art Museum Restoration and Expansion Project. Today we are featuring the documentation of the Abt Associates office complex at 55 Wheeler Street.

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55 Wheeler Street: exterior facade

The Abt Associates Office Complex, much of which is less than 50 years old as of 2018, is located at 55 Wheeler Street, Cambridge, Mass. Abt Associates – which relocated to other offices in Cambridge in 2017 – is “a consulting firm that specializes in combining social sciences, computer forecasting, operations analysis and systems engineering to address technological advances and social change.” (Historical Narrative, Westbrook Properties Documentation). The firm grew rapidly in the 1960s and ‘70s, and the complex was repeatedly enlarged to enclose a series of beautifully landscaped quadrangles; almost every occupant enjoyed an exterior view.

The internationally renowned architect and urban planner Imre Halasz (1925-2003) was one of the most important designers associated with the complex. Halasz came to the US from Hungary in 1957 and taught at MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning for forty years. His firm, Imre & Anthony Halasz Inc., operated from 1957 to 1991. Halasz was also responsible for the master plan of the NASA Electronics Research Center (later the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center) in Kendall Square.

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55 Wheeler Street: courtyard view

Abt Associates was formed in Cambridge in 1965 by Dr. Clark C. Abt. The company’s Cambridge location is significant for its associations with an “iconic social sciences research and consulting firm that was forward-thinking for its time, providing child care, a restaurant and recreational facilities for employees.” (Memo, Liza Paden, June 28, 2017).

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55 Wheeler Street: pool, looking southwest

Look for more building and structure documentation in future posts!

Archives 101: This Wednesday 10/10

Celebrate American Archives Month with us at the Historical Commission!

This month we are offering a special tour of our archives, featuring an in-depth look at some of our many historical resources.

Join us this Wednesday, October 10 at 1 pm, OR Monday, October 22 at 6pm. Email egonzalez at cambridgema dot gov to reserve a spot. Tours will run around an hour.


Attendees of the tour will:

  • Get a behind-the-scenes look at the Commission’s archives and library space
  • Get an up-close look at a variety of historical resources, including: atlases, survey files, city directories, historic photographs, postcards, objects, and architectural drawings.
  • Learn how to research their house, building, or organization using the Commission’s files.
  • Receive helpful tips on preserving and caring for their own family papers and photographs.

 

WWII Ration Books

We have recently added a set of WWII ration books to our collection. These books belonged to a Jewish family who lived at 20 Worcester Street, Cambridge, in 1942.

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Hyman Yale Brown was born in Boston on November 2, 1905. Hyman was working as a clerk in Boston when he married Rose Shapiro of Cambridge on August 17, 1930. Rose was born on June 28, 1907. Both were graduates in the Class of 1928 from Northeastern University and received bachelor degrees in law that year.

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War Ration Book One issued to Hyman Brown on 4 May 1942.

During his lifetime, Hyman was a member of the Beth Israel Brotherhood, a District Warden in the civilian defense City Public Safety Program, and aided in the campaign of Republican candidate for Congress, Vincent Mottola. The Browns were devoted members of the former Beth Israel Synagogue at 238 Columbia Street.

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War Ration Book One issued to Edward Mordecai Brown on 4 May 1942.

At the time of their marriage, Rose was a lawyer in Cambridge, and following the ceremony and a camping trip honeymoon, the newlyweds moved in with Rose’s parents at 20 Worcester Street in Cambridgeport. They later had two sons: David in 1932, and Edward in 1937. The couple was living at the Worcester Street address when they and their two sons were issued ration books in 1942.

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War Ration Book Four issued to Rose S. Brown ca. 1942

During World War II, each American was issued a set of ration books. All family members, even children, possessed ration books and a customer would not be able to purchase specific rationed goods without also surrendering a ration stamp.

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Pages and stamps from War Ration Book Four issued to Rose S. Brown ca. 1942

Each ration book held stamps that could be exchanged at a local grocer for rationed items such as coffee, sugar, grains, meat, and canned goods. These small booklets were designed to cut down on profiteering as a result of import restrictions and goods shortages. The program’s goal was to distribute goods evenly among those on the Home Front while maintaining supply for military overseas.

If you are interested in studying these ration books or have other research inquiries, please contact our Archivist, Emily Gonzalez, at egonzalez@cambridgema.gov.