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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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!