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CAMBRIDGE EYESORES: Derelict, Dilapidated or Just Ugly

By Karen Klinger

NeighborMedia is launching a new feature we're calling "Eyesores" in which we intend to shine a spotlight on buildings and other structures in Cambridge in various states of disrepair, abandonment, dilapidation and decomposition. We also want to highlight construction that could kindly be called architectural mistakes, or not so kindly, just plain ugly. While it might seem Cambridge has no shortage of any of these, we can't be everywhere, so we need help. Send us your comments with suggestions and nominees for inclusion in our "Eyesores" series. We may even give out prizes for "Top Eyesore" or "Eyesore of the Month." Bottles of eye drops, perhaps.

To start off, we're celebrating the mother of all Cambridge eyesores, the former nightclub called "FACES," which has stood for a quarter-century as a lonely, deteriorating sentinel on Concord Turnpike, bordering Route 2, welcoming motorists driving into the city. The ramshackle building and the tall "FACES" sign are the first sights drivers see of Cambridge as they head in the direction of the Alewife "T" station and they make an impression, to say the least.

A generation has grown up since the last time anyone danced or played music in FACES and it's not easy to find someone who can remember the club when it was operating, let alone anyone who hung out there. But the building's continued existence and prominence on a major commuter route has given it a peculiar landmark status. A while back, Cambridge city councilors briefly discussed what might be done about FACES, but quickly seemed to lose interest and turned to other matters.

And so, FACES endures, but not just in its desolate isolation in a vast overgrown and pot-holed parking lot. Film buffs can see the club in its prime (if it ever had a prime) in the 1981 film "The Dark End of the Street," in which it made a cameo appearance. The movie, filmed in and around Cambridge, was director Jan Egleson's depiction of teenagers living in what the New York Times called "a place of unadorned housing projects and of small, rundown one-and-two-family houses, where blacks and whites form uneasy alliances that can fall apart with any random slight and where a carefree, rooftop beer party can as easily end in violence as lovemaking."

Needless to say, that was before gentrification, the end of rent control and soaring property values transformed much of Cambridge. FACES closed not long after the film came out, but it remains frozen in time, a derelict throwback to a grittier city. Through its role in the movie, the crumbling nightclub also can claim a lasting connection to another Cambridge icon: "The Dark End of the Street" was the first film featuring then eight-year-old Ben Affleck.

To get a glimpse of what FACES looked like on the inside, check www.abandonedbutnotforgotten.com/old_faces_nightclub_in_cambridge.htm. It's a website with an unusual sense of nostalgia.

Comments

This is great.
I started off along these lines a couple of months ago with a blog called urban defects. You can do stuff from there like map your siting of a rat or consider parking blight in the city. The blog tended to drift toward fantasy and megalomaniacal urban fantasy pretty quickly though, so Eyesores is much welcomed by me. Hope it stays on topic.

When I first moved to Cambridge in 1981, I used to get phone calls and when I picked up the phone, the caller would say "is this FACES?" Maybe I got their old phone number!

Great post, and interesting response from RSutton.

Here is a candidate for architectural mistakes: address 329 Elm Street, where Elm runs into Webster at Somerville border. This is an 8 townhouse development on which perhaps $3 million was spent. (The developer claims to have spent $4). Anyhow, the units were priced so high (and are so unattractive) that only 2 have sold in the past 9 months. This stands in contrast to David Aposhian's Union Place development across the border in Somerville. Those units sell as fast as they're finished.

It's worth looking at this bulding too, Vail Court, since the back side visible from Prospect St appears to be boarded up.

This was one of the first buildings I remember constantly looking at as a child. My family would sometimes drive by it during visits to the Cambridge area. I always wondered how such neglect could go on. To think it still looks this way after all these years. What an embarrassment for the community. We need an ordinance targeting long term neglect or abandonment at commercial sites, and at construction projects located in any zone type.

I am one of the rare breed of people who greatly enjoys derelict buildings. This is one of my favorites, because my parents actually remember it being in use! I find it to be a fascinating old wreck.

This building has been the topic of many a conversation when driving friends in from out of town.

I do hope it finds a new use some day, but I also hope the remnants of FACES will never be entirely gone.

Submitted by Tom on

I have great memories’ of Faces. My friends and I would go there almost every Friday or Saturday night. I remember there were three dance floors and they would play different music at each floor. I find it very hard to believe that you can’t find anyone that remembers this club was it was in operation. Most nights you couldn’t even get on the dance floor because the place was so crowded. It’s ashamed that the place has been neglected; I think if the place was resurrected it would be another great club.

This building has been the topic of many a conversation when driving friends in from out of town. I think if the place was resurrected it would be another great club.

Submitted by JEM on

Does anyone remember the name of the nightclub that was there before FACES? I remember seeing "The Happenings" and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons!"

Submitted by Sparky on

It was always Faces at least while it was a nightclub. Before that it was the Aku Aku restaurant which was destroyed in a big fire about 1972. When it reopened it became Faces which I think was because of the Easter Island statue replicas which were there from the Aku. Aku Aku moved down onto route 16 in what is or was until recently the SumerShack over by Alewife station (it might still be I don't get down there much anymore). I don't recall live acts there but I did not start going there until around 1984 when I was 20. When I was in high school there was another Chinese/Polynesian restaurant on the side called the Forbidden City which is the reason for the once ornate entrance way in the parking lot. There was also a small pub called Kings Pub to the right of the main entrance on route 2.

This is really interesting. I love hearing about the not so distant past of Cambridge...let's talk about Mass Ave - Central Square - I was thinking about how the Christian Life Center used to be a bowling alley - anyone want to join in here?

Submitted by Anonymous on

get your facts straight. Faces was open until the late 80's and, if you do some basic research, you can find hundreds of people who have been to faces, like me for example. It was well loved in its prime and helped me to foster relationships that i cherish to this day. Online alone, hundreds of people have posted nostalgic stories of a famed local nightclub. BTW: the reason that Faces is on abandoned but not forgotten is because it was a popular spot in its prime. Those pictures showcase the former beauty of the 70's and the disrepair that it unfortunately fell into.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I have pictures of parties past, of the glitz and the glammor. Great memories, when we ruled the world, or at least the dance floor. Thanks for printing a story on it, I just a few months ago parked outside and remembered friends past, some long gone, some still here, but at Faces in my memory we dance every night.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I do too. I still drive by FACES in Cambridge and remember going there with my friends on Fridays and Saturdays, and your right you could not get on the dance floor, it was packed. We had to wait in line to pay the cover charge just to get in. I wish someone would invest in it, there are not that many places for kids to go and dance and have a great time.

Submitted by Anonymous on

It was called Sylvesters ( from Sylvester and Tweety ) in the early 70s for a while. It was called something else before that. Maybe after also for a short while before Faces.