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.