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COMMUNITY SNAPSHOT

East Cambridge

The historic Middlesex County Courthouse. The historic Middlesex County Courthouse. (GRAHAM GUND ARCHITECTS)
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May 4, 2008

THE GOODS Long home to Italian, Irish, and Portuguese immigrants drawn by jobs in the nearby glassworks and furniture factories, East Cambridge had evaded the gentrification that swept through much of the city. But in recent years, this small neighborhood of old factory buildings near the mouth of the Charles River has been host to high-priced condo developments and high-tech offices.

Its ethnic foundation lives on in the food scene. Cambridge Street hosts many Portuguese eateries; others are sprinkled throughout the neighborhood. Helmand is the ever-popular Afghani eatery owned by the brother of Hamid Karzai, president of Afghanistan, while one of the region's best chefs, Ana Sortun, works her magic at Oleana on Hampshire Street. Though there isn't a large grocery store here, there is convenient shopping with the CambridgeSide Galleria, a mall with more than 120 stores and restaurants. The main avenues also feature small businesses with distinct offerings, as well as the unique Garment District on Broadway and the Cambridge Antique Market on O'Brien Highway.

PROS East Cambridge is so close to downtown Boston that you can see it across the Charles. The commute is short, even on traffic-clogged roads, and the MBTA's Green Line ends at Lechmere Station. The Red Line is available to Kendall Square. Here, you'll feel like you're living in an authentic neighborhood, not a cookie-cutter development.

Although housing in East Cambridge took off during the real estate boom, it's still less expensive than in many other sections of the city. And tax rates tend to be lower than those in surrounding towns. The neighborhood's proximity to downtown Boston has spawned a new crop of upscale condo developments, including One First, the Regatta Riverview Residences on the Charles River, and NorthPoint, a gigantic new development built on an old railroad yard that could transform the area. Two of the residential buildings, with 2,700 units, in the mixed-use project are nearly complete.

CONS Although East Cambridge is generally safe, it still has some of the city's higher crime rates, including auto theft and housebreaks. The neighborhood is densely packed, so if you're longing for a wide, grassy backyard, you may have a tough time finding a place to suit you. The houses tend to lie close together - and parking can be elusive. East Cambridge also doesn't have as much publicly held green space as other neighborhoods - despite the opening late last year of North Point Park.

KATHLEEN BURGE

More community snapshots

Median home prices Single family, $414,000; condo, $424,000
Residential tax rate $7.36
Average tax bill (citywide median) Single-family, $3,405; condo, $1,206
Choice location Middlesex County Courthouse, which was originally designed by Charles Bulfinch in the early 1800s, later enlarged and refaced by Ammi Young, and then saved from demolition by preservationists in the 1970s and restored.
Cocktail party nugget Dorothea Dix’s crusade as a social activist began in 1841 when she visited the East Cambridge jail and found mentally ill people imprisoned.
SOURCES: Warren Group, city of Cambridge, Massachusetts Foundation for Humanities

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