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Historic granite building may serve to revitalize Magazine Beach

Posted by Your Town  October 2, 2012 03:05 PM

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Few joggers or passersby know the history of a stout granite building at Magazine Beach in Cambridge, but the site is a fascinating one.

The 1818 magazine was used to store gunpowder for the militia and for ships docked in Boston Harbor. Later, the building served as a men's bathhouse when the Charles was used as a popular swimming hole. savey.jpg

Now, in an effort spearheaded by the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association, the building may be getting a makeover to serve as an anchor for the park’s revitalization. The state Department of Conservation and Recreation and city of Cambridge are paying for a historic report of the structure.

The state has awarded a contract to Clark & Green Architecture Design of Great Barrington, Mass., to document the physical condition of the building; its history and use; assess the building’s structural integrity; determine preservation priorities; recommend how best to stabilize, restore, and rehabilitate the structure; and propose reuse options.

The grants “marks a new beginning for Magazine Beach,” said Cathie Zusy, who has been leading efforts at the park. Since 2010, the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association has been working to reestablish the 15-acre park, between the BU Bridge and the Riverside Boat Club, as a signature one in the city.

The study will be funded by a $25,000 Community Preservation Act grant from the City of Cambridge and $50,0000 from the Department of Conservation and Recreation, the guardians of the park. The neighborhood association also raised $3,000 from the Cambridge Heritage Trust and private individuals to repair the roof.

Much of Magazine Beach was known as Captain’s Island, named after Capt. Daniel Patrick, a professional soldier hired by the colonists to drill their militia in the 1630s, according to a press release written by Zusy. In 1818 the State erected a magazine to store gunpowder for the militia, for merchants who dealt in powder, and for ships docking in nearby ports. In 1899, as part of a larger redesign of Magazine Beach by the Olmsted Brothers, the City of Cambridge converted the powder magazine into a bathhouse for men and boys. Magazine Beach became a popular bathing spot with as many as 60,000 swimmers in 1904.

In 1949 pollution and a polio epidemic prompted the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC, then guardians of the park) to close the beach, and, in 1954 the bathhouse was converted into a MDC utility shed and garage, according to Zusy.

UMass-Boston has also joined in efforts to uncover the history of the site by conducting a ground penetrating radar survey of Magazine Beach. This, combined with the use of GIS-mapping software, will reveal the boundaries of the original marsh and mudflats (now mostly filled) and the location of early roads, wharves, and outbuildings.

“None of this would have happened without the support of State Rep. Marty Walz, Executive Director Charles Sullivan and Assistant Director Kathleen (Kit) Rawlins of the Cambridge Historical Commission, the Cambridge City Council, the Charles River Conservancy and the Riverside Boat Club,” said Zusy. “We are incredibly grateful to them for their support, guidance and collaboration and look forward to working with DCR to improve our park. It’s a tremendous opportunity. And, yes, we will need more funding to realize our dreams.”

For more information go to www.magazinebeach.wordpress.com.

This post first appeared in the The Green blog.

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