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Lesley University moves 188-ton Cambridge church for new arts center

Posted by Brock Parker  December 5, 2013 03:03 PM

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Time-lapse video of the move from Lesley University

Almost 150 years after the North Prospect Church was moved about a mile up Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, Lesley University moved it back about 80 feet Thursday as part of a plan for a new arts center.

In front of a small crowd of onlookers, construction workers said they used a hydraulic system to push the 188-ton church along steel rails about three feet at a time for almost three hours Thursday morning.

The church, which was moved to Porter Square in 1867 using a team of horses, is now resting on crib boxes about 18-inches off the ground until next week when it will be moved another 24 feet forward onto a new foundation.

“If the church could talk, it’s probably saying: ‘Oh my God, I’m moving again,'" said Tom McDermott, a project manager for John Moriarty and Associates that Lesley hired for the arts center project. Davis Building Movers handled the church move Thursday.

Lesley University is moving the church as part of a plan to build a new Lunder Arts Center at 1797-1803 Massachusetts Ave. and enable the university to move what has been known as the Art Institute of Boston to Cambridge.

The Art Institute of Boston is located in Kenmore Square and has been part of Lesley since 1998. The university purchased the church in 2006, and will restore the building and convert the interior into a library and design studios. A three-story, glass-enclosed common area will connect the church to a new four-story building for art galleries, studios, and art-making spaces.

Marylou Batt, the vice president for administration for the university, said that she watched the entire 80-foot move of the church Thursday and everything went fabulously. Now the university will watch for the final move next week.

“It’s a simple move, although moving a church is not simple,” Batt said.

The church was originally known as the Old Cambridge Baptist Church and was built in 1845 on the site of what is now Harvard University’s Littauer Center. It was moved to Porter Square in 1867 over the course of 21 days and renamed the North Prospect Congregational Church.

The new foundation for the church has been designed to rest the building at its original height and a new steeple closely resembling the steeple atop the church in 1910 is also being built as part of the restoration work.

Cambridge-based Bruner/Cott Associates is the architectural firm hired for the project and Jason Forney, a senior associate for the firm said fine detailing and stained glass windows will also be restored.

Forney said when the church moves forward into its final position next week, it will directly engage Massachusetts Avenue and will finally become a vibrant part of the Porter Square streetscape.

--Brock Parker can be reached at brock.globe@gmail.com

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