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Town Center Civic Buildings

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Massachusetts Ave. and Academy Ln.
  • Robbins Memorial Library (Keith Morgan)

At the turn of the twentieth century, Arlington constructed an especially fine group of public buildings in the town center. Hartwell and Richardson designed the substantial brick Romanesque Revival Center School (1894) at 20 Academy Street to serve as the town high school. Cabot, Everett and Mead added the Robbins Memorial Library (1892) at 700 Massachusetts Avenue as an Italian palazzo with a magnificently decorated reading room, showing the influence of McKim, Mead and White's design for the Boston Public Library (BB42), then under construction. Gay and Proctor added a wing to the south in 1931 to house the first, continuously operated children's library (founded in 1835) in the nation, and Wallace Floyd designed a 1993 addition of sympathetic massing west of the original. The Classical Revival ideal soon influenced new commercial blocks opposite the library, including two built for the 21 Associates, a group of civic-minded businessmen, at 659–665 Massachusetts Avenue (1901) and 667–671 Massachusetts Avenue (1905, Prescott and Sidebottom). The continuity of this civic core was crowned in 1912 with the construction of R. Clipston Sturgis's Robbins Memorial Town Hall at 730 Massachusetts Avenue, a two-and-a-half-story limestone edifice somewhat inspired by Mangin and McComb's New York City Hall of 1803–1811. Between the library and the town hall, Sturgis laid out the Robbins Memorial Garden (1913), completing the complex funded by this prominent family, who lived in the adjacent Whittemore-Robbins House (AR7). The gardens were relandscaped by Olmsted Associates in 1939 and ornamented with The Indian Hunter (1911) by Arlington's resident sculptor Cyrus E. Dallin (1861–1944)—who also designed the Arlington flagpole west of town hall. Few communities in the Boston area can boast such a sophisticated and coherent group of public buildings.

Writing Credits

Keith N. Morgan

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