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Cambridge City Hall District

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Massachusetts Ave.
  • Cambridge City Hall (Peter Vanderwarker or Antonina Smith)
  • Cambridge City Hall (Richard W. Longstreth)

Cambridge City Hall (1888, 795 Massachusetts Avenue, NR/NRD) represents a classic example of a well-designed, if not very original, product of H. H. Richardson's influence on American architecture in the 1880s. Local benefactor Frederick Hastings Rindge donated funds for the city hall, the design for which was awarded in a competition. Rindge's other two gifts to the city, the public library and the now demolished manual training school, were also designed in the Richardsonian Romanesque style. Trained in H. H. Richardson's office, Alexander W. Longfellow of Longfellow, Alden and Harlow based his design on Richardson's Allegheny County Courthouse, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Constructed of Milford granite with Longmeadow sandstone trim, the building has an entrance through a tall bell tower in the center of the symmetrical facade. The interior includes an elegant city council chamber. Adjacent to City Hall, the Cambridge Mutual Fire Insurance Company Building (763 Massachusetts Avenue) from 1888 also displays Richardson's impact. Local architect John A. Hasty combined quarry-faced sandstone and granite to create this striking local landmark with a corner tower, oriel windows, and a roof balustrade linking multiple stone chimneys. On the opposite side of City Hall, the Cambridge Historical Commission, the city's historic preservation agency, is located in the Lombardi Building (1950, E. T. P. Graham, 831 Massachusetts Avenue). Established in 1963, the commission administers the city's historic and neighborhood conservation districts, carries out an extensive publication program, and maintains a public archive of architectural, historical, and photographic information on every Cambridge building.

Across from the city hall stands the YMCA Building (820 Massachusetts Avenue), designed by Hartwell and Richardson in 1869 and extensively remodeled by Newhall and Blevins in 1910. Unfortunately, the extraordinary ornate terra-cotta frontispiece and rooftop loggia was removed before 1968. Adjacent to the YMCA and directly across from City Hall, local firms J. D. Leland and Co., and Charles R. Greco collaborated on the massive granite U.S. Post Office (770 Massachusetts Avenue), erected in 1933. Greco probably designed the symmetrical exterior, with vertical window bays topped by stylized classical ornament, typical of Depression-era federal architecture.

Writing Credits

Keith N. Morgan


What's Nearby


Keith N. Morgan, "Cambridge City Hall District", [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, 298-299.

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