Cambridge eyesore takes on a new face
The Faces discotheque sign, which outlasted disco, punk, and grunge music much to Cambridge’s chagrin, came down in a crunch of heavy metal yesterday just before noon.
The eyesore of a sign that greeted Route 2 commuters to the city for decades was razed and then crushed in what Criterion Development Partners said was the symbolic first step to tearing down the vacant old discotheque near Alewife T Station.
Jack Englert of Criterion, the new property owner, said demolition will begin in the next couple of weeks and an apartment building with 227 units will go up in its place.
More than 50 people, including city officials, developers, and neighbors, braved heavy rain to see the sign torn down. Some onlookers huddled under a tent.
“I thought I might cry I was so happy,’’ said Carolyn Mieth, 72, who lives in North Cambridge and said she has wanted the Faces sign and building down for years.
The nightclub has been vacant since 1990 and had been owned by the Martignetti family, which owns the neighboring Lanes and Games bowling alley and the Cambridge Gateway Inn.
Cambridge officials have been trying to get rid of the run-down building for years, but when City Manager Robert Healy inquired about the structural integrity of the building to see if the city could just tear it down, he learned that the building was still structurally sound.
Criterion Development Partners partnered with the McKinnon Co. and has been working to redevelop the property since 2006. A previous development proposal the group made derailed during the permit process.
But in March, Cambridge’s planning board approved the current development plan of one model unit and 227 apartment units, with about the same number of parking spaces and a pedestrian accessway to the nearby T stop.
Englert said Criterion Development Partners closed on the purchase of the property from the Martignetti family Monday.
In a short ceremony before the demolition of the sign, Mayor David Maher said that when he was in his 20s he spent many Friday and Saturday nights in Faces, and it was one of the best discotheques in the Boston area.
Others remembered the nightclub before it was known as Faces.
Lillian Orchard, 62, said she saw Ike and Tina Turner perform at the nightclub when it was the Empire Room in the early 1970s.
“We had a great time,’’ Orchard said. “They had the old crystal balls and they were live on stage and it was fantastic.’’
But Orchard, who is now an appraiser for the city of Cambridge, said the building condition has gotten worse over the years and she is not sorry to see it go.
Maher said the run-down sign and building had become an unsightly gateway to the city, and Cambridge residents often asked him what was going to happen next on the Faces site.
“Finally, today we are able to give an answer and a direction and a timeline and that is a very good thing for the community,’’ he said.
Englert said about a week of work has to be done inside before the old nightclub can be demolished.
The demolition work is expected to last about 30 days, and then construction on the apartment building is expected to take about two years.
But at least for yesterday, Englert knew that the main attraction to the property was seeing the symbolic start of the demolition.
“People were so excited to see the sign come down,’’ Englert said. “It was like the launching of a rocket. There’s just been so much pent-up interest in this site for 20 years.’’
Brock Parker can be reached at email@example.com