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Kendall- a metamorphosis underfoot

Sandwich 1

As the country changed in those turbulent years, so did the square.

Sandwich number two.

In the summer of 1965, NASA became the messiah of Kendall Square with the blessings of federal, state and local governments. By Craig Jungwirth

A lonely clock tower watches over the square. It looms over the passers-by who walk unheeding the changes around them. Pile drivers pound against the broken concrete. They hammer as the subway rumbles underneath. The people are going places.

Thousands of people pass through it without a thought. They pass by it, under it. It is Kendall Square. But slowly, surely the 13 acre development is undergoing a metamorphosis from a primarily industrial area to a high-tech, mixed-use mecca.

Kendall Square "developed mostly as a center for industry" until the late 1950s to the early 1960s, said O. Robert Simha, director of planning for MIT. But as heavy industry in East Cambridge waned, Kendall Square became "kind of a run down area," he said.

The Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (CRA) has supervised the sometimes successful, oft-times agonizing, transformation of Kendall Square over the past 25 years.

As the country changed in those turbulent years, so did the square.

On the moon

Secretaries in their running shoes leave the F&T diner. Young men hurry out of the flower shop by the T stop, roses under arm. Attentions turn elsewhere, to the sky.

The decade was the 1960s. President John F. Kennedy dreamt of placing a man on the moon before 1970. The Soviet Union had already one-upped the United States when it launched tiny Sputnik into orbit. All of this prompted the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to seek a site for its proposed $64 million electronics research center.

In May, 1964, MIT President James R. Killian '26, presented to the Cambridge City Council the prospect of attracting NASA to Kendall Square.

The council lobbied NASA successfully. NASA chose Kendall Square from among 160 areas as the site for the research center three months later.

In the summer of 1965, NASA became the messiah of Kendall Square with the blessings of federal, state and local governments. The Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (CRA) delivered 14 acres for NASA buildings within the 42 acre Kendall Square urban renewal area.

NASA abandons Kendall Square

Memories of the late '60s ebb. The redevelopment of the square was one small step away in those days. We went to the moon instead.

Three American astronauts landed on the moon in July, 1969. The repercussions of the lunar landing were also felt on earth.

In December of the same year, NASA created shockwaves. It pulled out of the Kendall Square project without prior notification to Cambridge or the CRA.

Congressional funding in FY 1968-70 had dwindled. The optimism of the early '60s had faded.

"We were in a state of shock around here," said Robert S. Remer, CRA deputy executive director, in Mass High Tech. "We felt the city had been seduced and then abandoned by the federal government."

The US Department of Transportation (DOT) became the jilted Kendall Square's next suitor in early 1970. DOT announced a takeover of NASA's six abandoned buildings in the redevelopment project as of July 1, 1970.


The CRA set out to replan Kendall Square's development in 1972 to reflect the change in the square's benefactor.

But citizens' groups objected to the CRA's redevelopment plans. That is why the city council established a Citizens Task Force (CTF) in 1973 to recommend a plan for the redevelopment of Kendall Square.

After internal disagreements, this task force recommended a plan for industrial uses. The city council adopted the plan by an 8-2 vote.

In 1974, a Congressional report cited the possible use of HUD discretionary funds for the completion of the redevelopment in Kendall Square. The report stated that the funds were to be used to aid communities faced with unusual local programs "such as Cambridge, where the situation is characterized by the failure of the Federal Government to complete its planned development."

It was 1975. Prospects for completing the project, started a decade earlier, finally looked good.

President Gerald R. Ford signed the legislation into law. The legislation limited Cambridge's project-related expenses to $6 million, most of which were covered by Section 112 credits granted to the project by MIT.

Section 112 credits were granted to Cambridge "in the case where the [Kendall Square urban renewal] project was located within a certain distance of property of owned by," MIT, Simha said. The "value of land acquisitions within [a prescribed] distance" of the redevelopment area were used by Cambridge to finance the project "at [almost] no cost to the city," Simha explained.


Three city groups developed alternative redevelopment plans:

O+ Cambridge Civic Association Plan

The Cambridge Civic Association (CCA) issued a plan for redevelopment following the CTF recommendation. This plan contained 300,000 more square feet than the CTF plan did primarily for tax-generating uses.

O+ Neighborhood Plan

MIT, the East Cambridge Planning Team and the Kendall Square Business Association formulated the Neighborhood Plan. Their plan would have increased tax returns and expanded the mix of land uses compared to the CTF and CCA plans. It included industrial uses, but also proposed residential and increased office, hotel and retail space.

O+ Manager's Plan

Faced with conflicting views, the Cambridge City Council asked the City Manager to prepare a recommendation. He proposed a more intensive and varied land use plan than the CTF or CCA plans, but was less varied and slightly less developed than the Neighborhood Plan.

Forging ahead

In the fall of 1974, the city council endorsed the Neighborhood Plan. The Urban Land Institute, a consulting firm, reviewed the plans for Kendall Square.

Their efforts culminated in unanimous approval of an amended Urban Renewal Plan and a special mixed-use zoning ordinance for Kendall Square in October, 1977, which included:

O+ expanded objectives to reflect those expressed in the early 1970s by the City Council with respect to jobs, the tax base, transportation and the environment;

O+ zoning controls were revised to reflect mixed_use needs rather than industrial interests;

O+ permitted uses were revised to reflect those primary marketable uses which would fulfil the city's objectives for job opportunities at a variety of skill levels and provide the flexibility urged by the panel.

The ULI panel did not expect housing to be a major component of the completed development. The panel did not expect housing to be built until the primary uses were developed due to the infeasible economics of housing developed in Kendall Square;

O+ dimensional requirements of the project were revised to coincide with zoning requirements. Existing buildings in the square would limit the height of new structures to those in Technology Square or at the DOT complex. Market conditions would also dictate against overcrowding of the new square.

MIT fully "supported the plan amendment and ... [urged] its unanimous adoption by the Council so that Cambridge move ahead to realize all its many potential benefits," wrote Walter L. Milne, MIT's special assistant to the president and the chairman, in a letter to Cambridge Mayor Alfred E. Vellucci in February, 1977.

The council approved the Urban Renewal Plan in early 1977. It was "a very big vote," said City Councilor Walter Sullivan, in the Herald American. "Now things are finally turning around and going our way."

Remer, deputy executive director of the CRA, said construction in Kendall Square began in 1980. The project is scheduled to be completed by 1991, Remer said.

Status quo

The photographer captures the moment. It is lost in time. Pavement, its face, has been torn away to expose a new center. The tall structures rise from the foundations, building on the square's past.

High-tech companies, eateries and retail stores now dot Cambridge Center -- Kendall Square reincarnated.

In the five years since the beginning of construction, five buildings have been erected. Physical improvements have also been made to Kendall Square, including the elimination of the traffic circle.

The Urban Mass Transit Administration and the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority are extending and modernizing the subway station on the Red Line, according to Remer. The renovations, being completed at a cost of over $7 million, are well underway.

Legal Sea Foods, the Stride Rite Shoe Corporation's headquarters, Index Systems, Inc. and Computer Corporation of America are the primary tenants in the two building complex at 4 and 5 Cambridge Center. The Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research is also located in Kendall Square.

US corporate headquarters for Biogen N.A., an international biotechnology company engaged in the commercial application of genetic engineering research, and an R&D facility for Symbolics, Inc., manufacturers of artificial intelligence devices for computers, are also located in the Kendall Square urban renewal area.

"Boston Properties [Cambridge Center's developer] is moving faster than their contract obliges them to move," Remer said. He also said that the completion of a 431 room hotel in Kendall Square "should stimulate further development in the [Kendall Square] area.

"Like the old gray mare, Kendall Square at the easterly gateway to Cambridge ain't what it used to be. Not by a long shot." -- Robert S. Remer.

As the country changed in those turbulent years, so did the square.