Longview History

"(T)he occupants are unusually well provided for."

That is how a 1922 article in Architectural Record assessed the four apartment buildings along the Charles River that today make up Longview Corporation, which runs from 983 to 986 Memorial Drive in Cambridge, Massachusetts, US.

At the time of that article, these buildings were just six years old. Memorial Drive was still known as Charles River Road. (It was renamed in 1928 to honor victims of World War I.) The 983 and 984 buildings, which surround three sides of a river-facing courtyard, were known as Radnor Hall. The buildings at 985 and 986, which surround a similar courtyard, were the Hampstead Hall apartments.

"The City of Cambridge, across the Charles River from Boston, has of recent years become an intensive field for apartment developments," noted Architectural Record. "The last few years have seen many of these lots being built up into apartments, at first to help out in housing the student body in Harvard College, and latterly to meet the more general demand for family living accommodations." (This was the era when Harvard students had to find their own housing, poorer students in rooming houses, wealthier one of the "Gold Coast" apartments along Mt. Auburn Street.)

As Architectural Record noted, Cambridge has "a peculiar city plan that results in a great many lots of irregular outline." These sites may be more difficult - and more expensive -- to build on, but those strange angles can be turned into assets." This is how the 1922 writer described today's Longview apartments, whose one-, two- and three-bedroom layouts have not changed:

The structure is arranged around and between two courtyards giving on the principal frontage of the Charles River, each courtyard having two entrances leading to two, and in the one case, three apartments on each floor. This method has made it possible, in connection with the deep indentation of the courtyards themselves, to open every apartment through from one to another side of the building, so that the matters of air, draughts, light and outlook for the occupants are unusually well provided for.

The Longview buildings were not the first courtyard-style apartments along this curving stretch of the Charles River. The first was the Strathcona, at 992-993, built in 1914. Ten years later, in between the Strathcona and today's Longview buildings, came Barrington Court, at 987-989. The year also brought the first building of the Episcopal monastery, located on the other side of Longview, at 980-982. Isabella Stewart Gardner was among those who gave the land and buildings to the Society of St. John the Evangelist, an Episcopal order of monks also known as the Cowley Fathers. By 1936, the church, cloister and other buildings of the monastery were complete. This was one of the last big projects of Boston architect Ralph Adams Cram (1863-1942).

The architect for Longview was Cram's near contemporary, Charles R. Greco (1873-1963). Like Cram, Greco was based in Boston but was commissioned to design buildings around the United States. Like Cram, Greco was prolific. According to the Harvard/Radcliffe Online Historical Reference Shelf of Cambridge Buildings and Architects, an extremely useful reference tool, in addition to Longview, Greco designed 70 more houses, churches and government buildings in Cambridge alone. These include the Central Square Post Office, the Thorndike School, the Cambridge Theatre, Elks Temple and Blessed Sacrament Church in Cambridgeport. In addition, Greco designed houses on Fresh Pond Parkway, Huron Avenue, Lake View Avenue and Garden Street, among many others.

From 1916 to the early 1950s, today's Longview Corp had several owners. The 54 apartments were rental units and tenants were often Harvard faculty.

Around 1954, the Longview Corporation was formed and the units were sold as cooperative apartments. . Although the co-op form of ownership had become quite popular in New York City, for instance, there are only a few dozen cooperative apartment buildings in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Longview residents still include many academics as well as people in other professions. Two residents - Mary Maguire and Jean Morin - lived in their apartments for more than 60 years. We hope that this website will become a place to tell their stories along with other tales of Longview.


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