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640 Memorial Drive

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1913, John Graham; 1992, Tsoi/Kobus.
  • 640 Memorial Drive (Keith Morgan)

This building was originally a Ford Motor Company factory and warehouse for the manufacture of automobiles and farm tractors. An experiment in the vertical assembly line rather than the horizontal proved impractical for Ford, which moved to a one-level facility in 1926, at which time deliveries of parts and shipments by rail of Model Ts to this building ceased. MIT purchased the building in 1956, as a speculative venture to generate income. The exterior of the five-story, 450-foot-long building is red brick with glazed terra-cotta trim, articulated by seventeen broad arched mullion windows, framed by red brick piers, with patterned brick protruding elements, white stone lintels, and dentils below the cornice.

Today, pharmaceutical companies occupy the building. The main entrance facing the parking lot opens on the reception lobby, replete with palm trees and a 1930 Model A Ford deluxe sport coupe on display, a loan from the MIT Museum (see CS6). A caption states, “This car [was] not produced here since production was moved to the Assembly Square plant in Somerville in 1926. It does evoke the image of its Model T predecessor. Only 29,000 [were] produced at $500.”

Set within the framework of the former train shed, the new skylit lobby of steel and aluminum is dominated by the central atrium featuring some of the original trusses, now serving as a decorative rather than a functional element but evoking the original industrial use. Railroad tracks, a requisite in the manufacturing plant for deliveries and shipments, extend south over the Charles River and north along Vassar Street to East Cambridge. Restoration approaches included installing fiberglass windowsills and lintels to simulate the original terra-cotta and lead-coated copper flashing placed over steel angles on windows to minimize water seepage.

Writing Credits

Keith N. Morgan


What's Nearby


Keith N. Morgan, "640 Memorial Drive", [Cambridge, Massachusetts], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of Massachusetts

Buildings of Massachusetts: Metropolitan Boston, Keith N. Morgan, with Richard M. Candee, Naomi Miller, Roger G. Reed, and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009, 296-296.

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