Imagine Kendall Square as a blighted collection of vacant lots

The Cambridge Civic Journal has a look at how the area fell apart after LBJ moved the planned Kennedy Space Center to his home state and how the city and how the renovation of the Kendall Square T station helped make the area what it is today.

Kendall Square in 1925.

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I wonder if things ultimately

I wonder if things ultimately worked out for the best. Cambridge was able to innovate and become a tech hub, whereas I think if the city had pinned its hopes on the space program, it might be in a similar situation to New London after Electric Boat announced its departure.

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I think you're right

Pinning your hopes on a single large employer is never a good idea. Ask anyone from a military town what happens when the base closes. With a diverse economy, if one employer tanks, there are plenty of others to provide jobs and tax revenue.

Urban legend

First, a correction. A popular story about Kendall’s history is retold regularly: that it was intended to be NASA’s Mission Control until President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, at which point, Houston won out because the next president, Lyndon Johnson, hailed from Texas. Johnson did play a role in making sure that Houston had a major part in the space program, but the Texas city was picked as the site of the Manned Spacecraft Center while Kennedy was still alive.

http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/02/02/underused-parcel-kendall-squ...

Draper Labs and others

MIT and Draper Labs in Kendall Sq,, Lincoln Labs, MITRE in Bedford, Arthur D. Little and BBN in North Cambridge, Textron in N. Andover, others along 128, and perhaps Natick Labs together made a research and engineering base to support NASA efforts here even without mission control having to be here.

Kendall is nice if you need

Kendall is nice if you need an expensive hotel room or some 9 to 5 office space. But I never thought of it as a particularly pleasant public space.

And I don't really get why they think "modernizing" the T station was such a big deal for attracting office building developers. All Red Line stations were extended to hold 6-car trains and got elevators, not just Kendall. Moving the entrance over a few feet, and removing the historic details (which they call "dilapidated", but that's a value judgement), doesn't seem like it would help. Nor does building a "transit plaza", which is an empty expanse of broken bricks where the only sound is the moaning of the wind and the pinging of those banners on flag poles.

Does "informal performances by free-lancers" mean street musicians? I've never seen any in Kendall, which says a lot about its street life.

With all the thousands of students and office workers within a few blocks, they could have done better.

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You've never seen street

You've never seen street performers at Kendall? Really? They're there all summer. There are at least 3 competing summer street "concert" series that I can think of in the immediate area, including one at that "transit plaza".

Here's my Kendall Square Gripe

Okay, to be fair I don't work there or spend a lot of time there, so take this with a grain of salt.

Kendall Square has always felt like a glorified suburban office park to me. What can I say. I know downtown. I know Back Bay. I know the Seaport District (somewhat.) The Longwood Medical Area I have unfortunately come to know better, too. I worked for a little bit at Harvard, so I have Square exposure. Kendall just seems like a bunch of buildings without that certain urban something the other places have. My theory is that the area sees San Jose, Austin (the tech side, not the music side), and the like as its peers and reflects it. Boring, sterile, suburban.

Maybe I'm off. Maybe I'm missing something. It just seems like you could put Kendall Square in Waltham or somewhere else on Route 128 without anything being out of place.

An untold part of the story

A part of the story that I've never seen documented concerns the inbound subway entrance on the south side of Main Street, and how it was designed to "save" the F&T Restaurant.

The F&T was a popular dining spot with MIT students and faculty. It consisted of two separate buildings. To the west at 310 Main St., immediately adjacent to the present Cambridge Trust Co, bank, was a classic New England diner, open at breakfast and lunch, with sandwiches and burgers. Next to that was the main restaurant and bar. It was in the first floor of what had once been a double rowhouse, erected in 1832. The F&T — for Fox and Tishman, the owners — moved into the first floor of 304 Main St. in 1937. It was an old-fashioned Boston workingman's tavern. As you entered, there was a long bar on your right, running the length of the building back to the kitchen. In the middle of the room was a wooden partition, about 5 feet high, also running almost all the way to the back. The left half of the room was devoted to wooden booths where table service was offered, hot meals delivered by waitresses. Men could eat either at the bar or in a booth, but women were expected to dine only in the booths.

Next to the F&T was an identical building at 300 Main St., with some other business on its first floor. This structure — the second half of the 1832 double townhouse — stood at the corner of Main Street and Carleton Street.

In the early 1970s there was only one stairway to the inbound T platform, and that was the narrow entrance located in front of the present Bank of America branch, near Wadsworth Street. The Red Line platforms were extended to the west to accommodate longer trains, and the new inbound station entrance was built at Carleton Street. Part of Carleton Street was closed off to make room for the new entrance, and the T also acquired the building at 300 Main St. by public domain, demolishing it to make way for the station kiosk.

The F&T was so beloved by local workers and students — and by the architects planning the T station — that the T decided to save the building housing the restaurant and bar. This required considerable extra expense to stabilize the remaining half of the double townhouse, since the party wall between the two halves hadn't been designed as a load-bearing wall. So the budget for the new station entrance was increased, and new structural steelwork was erected to hold up the F&T building.

Shortly after the new station entrance was opened, however, the owners of the F&T decided to retire. No one else wanted to operate the restaurants, so the buildings were sold. The older F&T building was demolished in 1988, just a couple of years after the T spent millions to preserve it. The diner was also taken away. Today a parking lot is on the site of both buildings.

I'm told that the developers of the One Kendall Square project — which is actually 4/10 of a mile from Kendall Square, but that's another story — acquired the woodwork and furnishings from the F&T restaurant/bar, and also moved the F&T Diner onto their land, hoping to reopen both at some future date. But nothing ever happened of that idea, and I heard that the diner was eventually dismantled and sold for scrap.

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