The Central Square Theater had a lot to celebrate on May Day 2007. With more than 300 supporters and enthusiasts looking on, local officials broke ground at a vacant site at 450 Massachusetts Ave., marking the start of construction of a mixed-use development that includes a state-of-the-art black box theater. The new performance hall will serve as the permanent home for the Nora Theatre and the Underground Railway Theater, now combining their talents as the jointly run Central Square Theater.
The celebration was long in coming, and MIT has been at the table from the very start. The Institute is the owner and site developer of the project.
The 450 Massachusetts Ave. location currently looks like a construction site, but it has an impressive history. One of the two buildings that was previously located on this site was referred to as South Row and included structures from a group of Federal period row houses built in 1806. MIT purchased the buildings in 1979.
For many years, the buildings were occupied by the Bradford CafÃ© and the Day and Night Convenience Store. When the structures deteriorated with age, the two establishments could no longer safely operate in the buildings. In the early 1990s, MIT began to examine options for the buildings' recovery and reuse. It was then that the two theater companies approached the Institute about the possibility of locating a new black box theater on the site.
Working closely with the Cambridge Historical Commission and its executive director, Charles Sullivan, MIT set out to restore and rehabilitate historically significant aspects of the buildings in its effort to design the new theater. Unfortunately, the delicate condition of the structure combined with the contaminated state of the urban soil could not allow for the restoration of the buildings. Instead, MIT is developing a replica of the original building as part of a larger development that will include the theater and retail and office space. The designer of the project is Pfeufer/Richardson Architects PC.
At the groundbreaking ceremony, Steve Marsh, managing director for real estate in the MIT Investment Management Company, observed that the development "will be a vibrant tribute to former historic structures" and thanked staff member Michael Owu for his dedicated work in bringing the project to fruition.
Marsh was joined in the program by Cambridge Mayor Ken Reeves, state Sen. Jarrett Barrios, state Rep. Marty Walz, Central Square Business Association President Carl Barron and the Central Square Theater's Steering Committee chair, Marty Blatt. Reeves acknowledged MIT's role in the project as critical and thanked the Institute for its support of the community.
After the speaking program, attendees joined in a parade with puppets, streamers and costume-clad revelers, led by the Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society Brass Band, to a community reception including theatrical performances at the Cambridge YMCA.
Construction of the Central Square Theater is now under way, with the first production planned for winter 2008.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 9, 2007 (download PDF).