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!

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Did You Know?

Welcome to the first installment of a little blog series, “Did You Know?,” where we  highlight some of the documentary resources available at the CHC.

During the summer, we receive a lot of phone calls and emails inquiring after the Old Burying Ground in Harvard Square (sometimes referred to as the “Old Burial Ground”). Many people visit from out of town and would like to know where their ancestor, or person of historical interest, was buried — do we have a map of the burying ground? What about lists of burials? Records of specific epitaphs?

The answers: Yes, we have documentation on all of those things! It is important to note that, although this was the only burying ground in Cambridge until the early 1800s, many burial plots today remain unmarked.

Those interested in finding out more about the Old Burying Ground can make an appointment to check out the resources at our office, or find some of the digitized resources online.

Check out our list of some of these print and online resources:

  • We have a copy of the book, Epitaphs from the Old Burying Ground in Cambridge, (1845) by William T. Harris. This publication is also available online at Google Books.

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  • We also have several other useful books in our office.

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Paige’s essential early Cambridge history book, complete with helpful Supplement and Index, lists out the residents of Cambridge and their relations from 1630-1877. We often use this to figure out if a person died in Cambridge.

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Consulting Cambridge’s vital records to 1850 can also help locate a burial record. Cambridge Church Records, Records of the Town and Selectmen of Cambridge, and Proprietors Records of the Town of Cambridge, may also provide interesting genealogical clues and contextual information on the goings-on in early Cambridge.

  • For more information on the history of the Old Burying Ground, check out the book “Building Old Cambridge: Architecture and Development” (2016) by Susan Maycock and Charles Sullivan. The City of Cambridge’s Department of Public Works has an excerpt from the book on their website: https://www.cambridgema.gov/theworks/ourservices/cambridgecemetery/oldburialground/historyandnotableburials
  • Other cemeteries in Cambridge:
    • Cambridge Cemetery, opened 1853, 617-349-4890
    • Roman Catholic, Archdiocese of Boston’s Genealogy and Cemetery Locations, 781-322-6300
      • North Cambridge Cemetery on Rindge Avenue, Cambridge, opened 1846
      • Sand Banks Cemetery (aka Mt. Auburn Catholic or Cottage Street cemetery), on Cottage St., Watertown, Searchable Database
    • Mount Auburn Cemetery, opened 1831, 617-547-7105
    • (No longer a cemetery) Cambridgeport Burial Ground, opened 1812, closed 1865. When this cemetery on Broadway in Cambridgeport was closed in 1865, existing burials were relocated to the new Cambridge Cemetery or another cemetery selected by the family of the deceased. The former burial ground was then re-purposed as a public park and called Broadway Common/Broadway Park and later renamed Edward J. Sennott Park.

To see these resources in person, or for answers to other questions, feel free to call the Historical Commission at 617-349-4683, or email us at histcomm at cambridgema.gov. Additionally, check out our other documentary resources on our page here.

Still Making History

In the archives field, we are often charged with describing, cataloging, and preserving memories in their physical form. A key first step is actually acquiring historic items and collections that can speak volumes about the past.

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Our flyer requesting historic photographs

In 1980 the CHC initiated a project to document photograph collections in private hands. The Polaroid Foundation donated a copy stand, a camera, and cases of 4×5 instant film that also made high-quality negatives. The flyer, pictured above, was sent out with utility bills and generated hundreds or responses.

The staff had copied about 2,000 images when the CHC published A Photographic History of Cambridge in 1984. Donations, which included including the corporate collections of the Cambridge Electric and Gas companies and the Cambridgeport Savings Bank and many, many scrapbooks, slowly tapered off, but the recent donation of this photo shows that the simple flyer of 1980 continues to bear fruit.

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Our appeal – “Don’t let our history fade away.”

A family residing in Buzzards Bay discovered our flyer while going through the papers of their mother, Julie Ferguson.

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Sally Howes as a nursing student weighing “Baby Hope” in 1926.

Along with the flyer, the family included this photograph featuring nursing student, Sally Howes.

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Program for graduation exercises at the Cambridge Training School for Nurses, 1927. Sally Howes is the second graduate listed.

Ms. Howes is listed as a graduate of the Cambridge Training School for Nurses class of 1927. It is possible that she was a family friend or acquaintance of the donor’s mother.

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Verso of the program featuring the Florence Nightingale Pledge.

These materials will soon be available for research. We are open for research Mon: 4:00-7:00PM and Tue-Thur: 9:30-11:30AM & 2:00-4:00PM. Contact us today for an appointment!