Historic Cambridge, Mass. church moved down the street

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December 5, 2013, 5:56 pm
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(NECN: Greg Wayland) - You had to look closely.

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, a 188-ton Greek Revival mountain of history was being moved. And one neighbor had to admit, a little ruefully, "It's fascinating to see it go."

Fascinating and sad for that same neighbor. And Kathy Dalton was among dozens of people who stood along the chain link fence on Cambridge's Massachusetts Avenue, watching the massive engineering fete transpire.

"There were a lot of people here with mixed feelings,"she said.

Standing near her was Silvain Bromberger, who added, "we're going to miss it. It changes the whole feel of the street."

But the North Prospect Congregational Church wasn't going far -- 80 feet south down Massachusetts Avenue from its old street corner location astride Cambridge's Porter Square. The move took just a few hours and was, as noted, a huge engineering undertaking.

"The church is moving pretty slowly because it's on rails and a piston which is actually pushing it across these beams," architect Simeaon Bruner said.

Beams, wooden pilings and plenty of watchful hard-hatted workers were on hand.

The paint is peeling off the old church building which will be restored and will be the library and design center of Lesley University's expanded $46-million Lunder Art Center, which will marry the wooden church structure to a multi-story glass entry commons and terra cotta structure , but, say Lesley officials, all designed to harmonize with the neighborhood.

"We're just very excited that we're going to be able to have a new art school and train all new artists, but also have this mix of the new building and then the historic building," Lesley College Vice President Mary Lou Batt said.

But somewhere in the lofts and belfry of that 168-year-old shell of a house of worship, devout ghosts may have been stirring, and mixing with Kathy Dalton's more contemporary memories.

"My roommate was married here. I held her train, came across the avenue with her," she said.

Built in 1845, once the Old Cambridge Baptists Church, it had once been moved by horses, or oxen, from Harvard to Porter square in 1867.

"Lesley did a lot of community process and that was -- they did a good job of that. they did a great job. You can call that PR but you can also doing, you know, handling the neighborhood right," John Howard of the Porter Square Neighbors Association said.

Thus a stately historic landmark could be moved, but not re-moved.

"It's kind of exciting that they can do this instead of just tearing it down," Silvain Bromberger said.

Tags: massachusetts, Cambridge, Massachusetts Avenue, Greg Wayland, Lesley University, North Prospect Congregation Church
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