Modern Monday and Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month: Joyce Chen’s Restaurant, 390 Rindge Avenue

Joyce Chen (1917-1994) was born on September 12, 1917 in Beijing, China. Born into a wealthy family, she discovered her passion for cooking at a very early age. Her father, a railroad administrator and city executive, hired a family chef that cooked all of their meals. Chen learned about Chinese cuisine simply by watching their chef and other family members cook in their home kitchen. During the Chinese Communist Revolution, Chen and her family moved to the United States. Along with her husband Thomas Chen and their two children Henry and Helen, the family left Shanghai, China in 1949 and moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Joyce Chen

Joyce Chen, image courtesy of

While living near Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she frequently met Chinese students that missed the food they’d grown up with. Chen’s children attended Buckingham School and she would often cook food to be served at school events. Her meals quickly became popular among college students and the families at the Buckingham School. This inspired Chen to open her first restaurant in 1958, called “Joyce Chen Restaurant.” At this restaurant, she served both Chinese and American dishes to encourage customers to try new foods. She often served “buffet-style” meals, to allow customers to try samples of everything. She created a menu with both Chinese and English translations of her food and numbered the menu items for easier communication in her restaurants. This made it easier for customers who spoke different languages to order at her restaurant.

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Joyce Chen, image courtesy of

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Joyce Chen’s first restaurant at 617 Concord Avenue in Cambridge. Courtesy of

In 1967, Chen opened her second restaurant called “The Joyce Chen Small Eating Place.” That same year, Chen starred in Joyce Chen Cooks, her own cooking show on PBS that aired worldwide. This twenty-six-episode broadcast was filmed in the same studio as famous chef Julia Child’s show, and the two became good friends. Her business empire expanded, and two larger restaurants were built in the Boston area with an architecturally unique restaurant at 390 Rindge Avenue.

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Circa 1974 image of Joyce Chen’s Restaurant. Photo from CHC Collections.

The restaurant, believed to have been designed by Allan Ahaknian, was built in 1974 and employed architecture not typical for Cambridge. Partially hidden behind a tall wooden fence to screen noise from the heavily trafficked Rindge Avenue, the structure featured minimal fenestration on the sides but employed large skylights to flood the interior with natural light. The Contemporary/Shed style restaurant was a common stomping ground for residents of Cambridge and beyond. The restaurant was purchased by Just-A-Start and was converted to a child-care facility in 1999. The remainder of the lot was filled with townhomes for moderate-income, first-time homebuyers. In 2005, the structure was demolished for eight additional units of affordable condominium units. As it was not yet 50+ years old, it did not qualify for protection under the Demolition Delay Ordinance.

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Circa 1984 image of Joyce Chen’s Restaurant at 390 Rindge Avenue. Image from CHC Collections.

While her restaurants are all now closed, the impressions of Joyce Chen’s legacy can be seen in almost every Chinese-American restaurant in the country today and in the enduring popularity of “Peking ravioli.” Also, her cookbooks and branded cooking utensils can be found in kitchens all over the world.

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Images and some information on Joyce Chen courtesy of



Sarah Wyman Whitman


Portrait of Sarah Wyman Whitman by Helen Bigelow Merriman,

Sarah Wyman Whitman (1842-1904) was a painter, stained glass artist, and book cover designer based in Boston. Whitman was also a doyenne of Boston society, along with Isabella Stewart Gardner for whom she designed a sign over the entrance to her house, now a museum in the Fenway. Married to Henry Whitman, a wool and dry goods merchant, they entertained in their home on Beacon Hill and summered in Beverly Farms on the North Shore. In addition to her social activities, Whitman was deeply involved in philanthropy. She founded the Boston Water Color Club in response to the Boston Society of Water Color Artists who only admitted men, and co-founded the Boston Arts & Crafts Society. Whitman advocated for Radcliffe College and better educational opportunities for women and children in the public school system, and she was a benefactor of Howard University and Tuskegee Institute.


“Gloucester Harbor”, late 1880s or early 1890s,

Whitman studied painting with William Morris Hunt of the Boston Museum School from 1868 to 1871, and studied drawing with William Rimmer. In the late 1870s, she traveled to France and studied drawing with Hunt’s former master Thomas Couture. She worked in oil and pastel, painting landscapes around New England as well as floral studies. She also painted numerous portraits, preferring to paint her subjects against dark backgrounds. She exhibited widely in the 1870s through the 1890s, including the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.

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“A Song,” signed S. W. Whitman, 1883,

In the early 1880s, Whitman apprenticed with John La Farge, a stained glass artist who utilized opalescent glass in his work and innovated methods of layering and welding glass. Whitman also used opalescent glass in her own work along with colored and transparent glass. Whitman later started her own firm, Lily Glass Works, and her stained glass windows can be found in churches and colleges throughout New England, including the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe, Memorial Hall at Harvard University, Trinity Church in Boston, and First Parish Church in Brookline. For Harvard’s Memorial Hall she designed both the elaborate south transept window and the Honor and Peace window on the south side of what is now Annenberg Hall.


Stained glass at the Memorial Hall, Harvard University, 1900. The left side depicts “honor”, the right, “peace”.

In 1884, Whitman was asked to design book covers for the publishing company Houghton Mifflin. She designed over 200 books, working in the Art Nouveau style using organic forms and delicate line work. She also employed gold stamping and was one of the first to carry the design over the front, spine, and back of the book.

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book 01

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Whitman designed many book covers for her dear friend Sarah Orne Jewett, author of Country Of The Pointed Firs and A Marsh Island, among others. Wyman also designed a stained glass window in memory of Jewett’s father at his alma mater, Bowdoin College.

More images of her book cover designs can be seen at the Boston Public Library’s flickr site,, and at the University of Wisconsin online digital archives.


Smith, Betty S. “Sarah de St. Prix Wyman Whitman.” Old Time New England, V. 77, No. 266, Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, Boston, 1999.



Modern Monday: Cambridge Federal Savings Bank, 38 Brattle Street

The former Cambridge Federal Savings Bank was designed in 1937 by local architect William L. Galvin as was located at 38 Brattle Street in Harvard Square.

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38 Brattle Street as it was constructed, photo taken circa 1939.

The limestone-faced bank was an excellent and rare example of Art Moderne architecture in Cambridge built at the tail-end of the Great Depression. At this time, banking institutions sought high-quality design in their facilities to provide a sense of wealth and security for existing and prospective members. The two-story bank was symmetrical in form and had a metal and glass storefront with glass blocks comprising most openings.

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Drawing of Cambridge Federal Savings Bank from William L. Galvin Collection at CHC Archives.

At the entrance, a curved metal canopy was topped by a bold glass transom with an eagle etched into the glass by Galvin. Also designed by Galvin, two porthole windows showing a beaver and an owl respectively, were etched into glass. The beaver was included, likely for its industrious qualities and the owl for its wisdom.


Drawing of eagle design used in transom from William L. Galvin Collection at CHC Archives.

As the banking industry grew after the conclusion of World War II, the bank expanded, also hiring Galvin to design a one-story addition which blended seamlessly with the main structure.

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Photo of 38 Brattle Street after merging with Watertown Federal Savings Bank, 1972. 

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Photo showing one-story addition to the left of the main building at 38 Brattle Street, 1972.

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1966 Sanborn Map showing location and detail of 38 Brattle Street.

In 1967, the Cambridge Federal Savings and Loan Association merged with Watertown Federal Savings Association and was renamed as the Northeast Federal Savings Bank. The bank building at 38 Brattle Street was named a branch office of the bank and served that use for the remainder of its life.
A demolition application was submitted in 1987 for the building and it was demolished soon after to be replaced by One Brattle Square.

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Staff photo of One Brattle Square, 2013.

Staff of the Cambridge Historical Commission was able to save the large transom with etched eagle design from the building just before it was demolished, the two porthole windows were already removed. The transom is now framed in the wall of our conference room at 831 Massachusetts Avenue.


For more information on the building or if you would like to schedule a visit to our office to review Galvin’s plans and drawings in the William L. Galvin Collection, please contact us at





Modern Monday: McCormick Hall and Katharine Dexter’s Legacy at MIT

In the year 1960, just 22 women were admitted to MIT, in comparison to 914 men. President James Killian and his Chancellor Julius Stratton made the decision not only to admit more women to the university, but to actively work to improve the environment and resources available for female students.

Women at MIT Enrollment

The shift to admit and provide better education to young women was described years later in 1970 in a report written by Professor Emily Wick, Associate Dean of Students and the first woman promoted to tenure at MIT:

“Until the Institute could commit itself to educating women in significant numbers, and could provide suitable living conditions, coeds were not overly `successful.’ … Before 1960 women entered MIT at their own risk. If they succeeded — fine! If they failed — well, no one had expected them to succeed. … The class of 1964 entered in 1960 knowing that MIT believed in women students. It was the first class in which coeds, as a group, matched the proportion of B.S. degrees earned by their male classmates!”

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Emily L. Wick talking with students circa 1963. Photo courtesy of MIT Class of 1964.

Katharine Dexter (1875-1967) graduated from MIT in 1904 in biology. She married Stanley McCormick whose mental illness emerged soon after. Throughout her life, she tried to find a biological basis and cure for schizophrenia as well as supporting women’s right to vote as a strong proponent of the suffrage movement. Later in life, she turned her full attention to the construction of the first women’s dormitory at MIT, which coincided with the Institute’s newly established goals for admitting more women. She donated her house at 120 Bay State Road for a women’s dormitory (the only such dormitory for female MIT students), and it housed approximately 19 graduate and undergraduate women students from the early 1950′s until McCormick opened. Katharine even funded a taxi service to shuttle the students to campus on poor weather days.


Katharine Dexter McCormick in 1913. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

In 1963, the west wing of Stanley McCormick Hall was dedicated and named after her late husband. Just three years later, the second wing (a second tower) was constructed and dedicated just after her death. Both phases of the building were bankrolled by Katharine Dexter McCormick and were to house women studying at MIT. McCormick Hall was designed by Herbert Beckwith, a member of MIT’s architecture faculty and principal of the firm Anderson, Beckwith and Haible. The dorms could today be classified as “Brutalist” in design. The two concrete and glass towers front Memorial Drive and are connected by a low-rise community space. The buildings are used today as all-female dorms housing upwards of 255 students.

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Katharine McCormick speaking at McCormick Hall dedication ceremony. Photo courtesy of MIT Class of 1964.

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McCormick Hall West Wing. Photo courtesy of MIT Class of 1964.


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Image located in McCormick Hall Survey File at CHC. Photo circa 1966.

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Image located in McCormick Hall Survey File at CHC. Photo circa 1967.

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2017 aerial view of McCormick Hall and surrounding structures.

To learn more about McCormick Hall, feel free to make a research appointment with us by emailing

A Cambridge Entry in the Green Book

Today’s post was written by CHC Preservation Planner, Sarah Burks.

You likely have heard a lot of talk recently about Green Book, the award-nominated movie starring Mahershala Ali as Dr. Don Shirley, a world class pianist on a performance tour in the southern states during the Jim Crow era. The name of the movie derives from a U.S. travel guide for Black tourists. The Negro Motorist Green Book offered lists of restaurants, automobile service stations, hotels, parks, and other sites that would be safe and welcoming to African Americans traveling for work or leisure. The books were published by Victor H. Green between 1936 and 1967. A new documentary, The Green Book: Guide to Freedom, will air on the Smithsonian Channel on Monday, February 25 at 8:00 P.M. The original books have been digitized by the New York Public Library and can be viewed online here.

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Cover of the 1947 edition of The Negro Motorist Green Book. Digital Collections of the New York Public Library.

Although Boston had a couple dozen sites listed in the Green Books, Cambridge only had one, a “tourist home” at 26 Mead Street with the contact name of S. P. Bennett.

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Detail of the Cambridge entry in the 1947 edition of The Negro Motorist Green Book. Digital Collections of the New York Public Library.

Satyra Pearson Bennett was a Cambridge resident who rented out rooms to travelers in her family home. She worked as a linotype operator for several newspapers and was on the board of multiple charitable organizations and city committees. Satyra Pearson was born in 1892 in Rock Hill, Jamaica to Frances and William Pearson. In 1894, Satyra and her parents departed from Kingston and arrived in New York City. The family moved to Massachusetts in 1903, first residing in Worcester and then settling in Cambridge on Mead Street.


1916 Bromley map showing the Pearson residence at 26 Mead Street in Northwest Cambridge

According to Satyra’s 1926 Petition for Citizenship, the family arrived in Boston from St. John, New Brunswick aboard the U.S.S. Calvin Austin in 1913.


Steamboat Calvin Austin in Boston Harbor, ca 1906. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Satyra’s father was an ordained minister and was the pastor for many years at St. Paul A.M.E. Church at 37 Bishop Allen Drive in Cambridgeport.

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St. Paul AME Church in the late 1800s

In 1919, Satyra married Cyril Bennett. Cyril was also a Jamaican-born minister, and following their marriage, Satyra moved with him to Detroit. Together they had one son, George B. Bennett in 1920, but the couple soon divorced. By July 1921, Satyra had moved back to Cambridge and lived with her parents at 26 Mead Street. Satyra advertised her dress-making services in local newspapers, and in 1926 began the process to attain her U.S. citizenship.


Clipping from the Cambridge Chronicle, 23 July 1921


Frances Satyra Bennett’s citizenship card, 1933

Mrs. Bennett was a founding board member of the Cambridge Community Center, the Citizens Charitable Health Association, and an officer of the Boston chapter of the NAACP. She died in 1977. Her sister, Mrs. Ozeline Pearson Wise, was the first African American woman to work for the banking department of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. She was interviewed in 1978 as part of the Black Women’s Oral History Project. You can listen to their story here and view their entries on the Cambridge Women’s Heritage Project.

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Bennett House at 26 Mead Street, Cambridge, MA. Cambridge Assessing Department photo, 2017.

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.

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

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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


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.”

Wolcott Gibbs Memorial Laboratory - Vestibule

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.


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


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.


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.


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


“Invention of Polaroid Instant Photography.” Edwin Land and Polaroid Photography. 2015.
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.


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.]



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.


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.


Thank you, Allison!