Presentation of Powder Magazine History and Path Forward

17 May

Last night the team who are just completing the Historic Structure Report for the 1818 Powder Magazine presented their findings and offered ideas for the building’s next use. To see the presentation, go to:

Big News: DCR reported that the Historic Structure Report (HSR) will be released by the end of this month; and the roof repair design will be completed, reviewed, and ready for bid by the end of July.  So the old-granite block building at Magazine Beach Park will have a new roof by 2014 and, possibly, sooner.

DCR’s Director of Cultural Resources Patrice Kish, who is leading this project, introduced partners Charles Sullivan of the Cambridge Historical Commission and Cathie Zusy of the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association. Working together, the three groups are working to stabilize the Magazine.

The HSR provides a road map for moving forward. It documents the historical development of a building; identifies significant historical features; determines preservation priorities; and provides prioritized treatment recommendations.

Historical researcher Nina Cohen shared the social history of the building, including discussion of:

  • The need to store gunpowder in a secure location far from settlement;
  • The need for strict rules regarding its storage and transport;
  • The high pay Keeper Peter Tufts received;
  • The removal of powder from the Magazine in the 1860s and its becoming a ruin, thanks in part to young boys who scavenged copper nails there, contributing to the roof’s collapse;
  •  The conversion of the building into a bathhouse for Magazine Beach bathers in 1899, when it was a popular river swimming beach.

Building sleuth William Finch spoke about how the building has changed over time, with variations in walls, roofs, windows and doors as the space transformed from storage facility, to ruin, bathhouse, renovated bathhouse, storage shed and maintenance shed.

Architect Steve McAlister then explained why the old granite building was significant—that it was on the National Register of Historic Places and one of the oldest and most important buildings in the Charles River Basin Historic District.

The HSR proposes that the building be renovated to its 1919 appearance, when a roof was added to the northern addition to the bathhouse to cover showers, toilets, an office, and an area for swimsuit and towel rentals. Full drawings exist for this period and it allows us to keep the addition of the building and the windows and doors, allowing light into what was once a very dark structure.

Possible uses for the building include:

  • stabilizing the building as an historic feature of the park, with no use;
  • using it as a DCR operations support building;
  • rehabilitating it as an interpretative center;
  • leasing it to a 3rd party vendor, possibly as a concession, meeting area (for art, craft and programs), and/or rentals (for bikes and boats).

Once completed, the HSR will be posted on the DCR’s website. Paper copies of it will also be available at the Cambridge Historical Commission and at the Central Square and Main Branch of the Cambridge Public Library.

DCR’s Director of Partnerships Conrad Crawford closed the meeting, welcoming further collaboration.

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