New Wine in Old Bottles

By Michael Kenney, 2017

Sunday brunch time and weekday happy hours, the courtyard at the corner of Broadway and Hampshire Street is a lively place, with hipsters and families enjoying the bars and restaurants grouped around the open brick-paved space. Hard to believe, but it was even more bustling a century ago, when shifts of workers came and went at the vast complex of the Boston Woven Hose and Rubber Company, one of the biggest manufacturers of hydraulic hose in the country, employing nearly a thousand and operating around the clock at the turn of the 20th century.

The Cambridge Brewing Company and The Smoke Shop now occupy what were once offices and the finishing department at the corner. Circling clockwise, there is BeanTowne Coffee House & Café in the former mill room building, then Mamaleh’s Delicatessen, Bon Me, State Park, and The Friendly Toast, all in the old machine shop building.

One Kendall Square, as the collection of buildings is now known, is a leading example of a certain kind of adaptive reuse in Cambridge, a place that used to make something (in its case fire hoses and Bulldog garden hoses) and now makes something else (great meals, classy cocktails, and tasty beer). Or, if you will, a case of new wine in old bottles.

It’s not the only such place in town. Giveaways are sometimes to be found in the names, like Puritan & Company at 1166 Cambridge Street, which Zagat calls a “‘farm-to-plate hipster’ joint in Cambridge [that] could easily hold its own in larger cities.” Its building was once the Puritan Cake Company, where until the 1950s a dozen delivery vans might line up along the street to pick up its freshly baked goods.

The only clue to the past at the Lamplighter Brewery at 284 Broadway is the sign that marked its previous occupant, the Metric Systems Company, an auto-repair shop that closed two years ago, its round symbol still hanging at the corner of the building,

31 Church Street, formerly White’s Carriage Shop (photo courtesy of Cambridge Historical Commission)

On Church Street in Harvard Square, James White’s 19th -century shop once repaired horse-drawn carriages, where the baristas at Starbucks now make a mean mocha latte.

In Cambridgeport, Ford Motor Company’s old plant at 640 Memorial Drive built Model Ts until the company realized that a horizontal assembly line made more sense than a four-story vertical one, and moved the plant to Somerville. Remodeled several times, the plant has now been re-engineered to meet the demanding specifications of the modern bio-science industry, with 225,748 square feet of Class A lab space leased out to Sanofi-Genzyme and other, smaller firms by its owner, Alexandria Real Estate Equities.

The old NECCO plant at 254 Massachusetts Avenue was famous for the water tower painted to resemble a packaged roll of its colorful sugar wafers. Today it is the center of several buildings occupied by the Novartis

Institutes for BioMedical Research, where white-suited lab workers invent new disease-fighting drugs. On the street level, folks at the Flour Bakery + Cafe make on site most of what’s on the menu, including a delicious banana bread and old-fashioned sour cream pound cake.

Elsewhere in the city, old industrial buildings have been repurposed for what is perhaps Cambridge’s most thriving industry — housing.

At Broadway and Boardman Street is the factory that produced Squirrel Nut Zippers, converted to 20 units of affordable housing in 2002 by Just-A-Start Corporation. Adjacent to it is a community garden with 34 plots. In Central Square, the Kennedy Biscuit Lofts at 129 Franklin Street markets itself as the “home of the Fig Newton cookie.” Now a mix of affordable and market-rate units, it offers concierge service and a catering kitchen.

Outside Porter Square, at 75 Richdale Avenue, is the Payne Elevator Company building, which was converted to residential lofts in 1995.  Just down the street, where bread was once baked in quantity, the newly opened Hathaway Lofts at 15 Richdale Avenue offer 46 loft-style apartments in “an elegant fusion of luxury and history,” all in a reclaimed 1910 bakery complex. And there’s even a charging station for your electric car, which saves you some bread.