With CPA, Lexington Restores the Historic Cary Building, Keeps 86-year Promise

In 1928, the people of Lexington made a promise to keep their brand new Isaac Harris Cary Memorial Building a vibrant and well-maintained centerpiece of their town. During the building’s dedication, the then President of the Trustee’s Robert P. Clapp proclaimed that the building is for “the inhabitants of Lexington, for whose benefit it is has been erected.”

Isaac Harris Cary Memorial Hall from 1927 Pamphlet

“You and your successors in office are to be the custodians of the gift…” Clapp’s dedication continued, “we have tried to produce a building that will be a constant service to the community, and one not without simple beauty and architectural dignity … You, ladies and gentlemen, are supposed to have known just what kind of a building you were going to get, and so knowing you agreed to accept and maintain it.”

Recently, with the help of CPA, the town of Lexington made good on their 86-year pledge. In July 2014, the Cary Building restoration project broke ground. The project also represents one of the largest community preservation projects in the Act’s fourteen year history.

Over the course of fifteen months, the historic Cary Building, situated at 1605 Massachusetts Avenue, will undergo a complete restoration.  Local community preservation funds will pay for $8.24 million of the project’s total cost. The remaining $436,000 will be paid for from the town’s general fund and PEG Access (Public, Educational and Government Access services) that will cover costs not eligible under CPA, like the installation of furnishings and fixtures and the new AV system.

The building, established in the early 1900s, originally cost $400,000. It has served a variety of purposes throughout its history, operating as a Town Hall, election floor, and venue for lectures and performances.

The building was named for Issac Harris Cary, father of Eliza Cary Farnham and Susanna E. Cary, both of whom dedicated their estates to the construction of the original building in the name of their late father. As stated in Eliza and Susanna’s wills, the building’s purpose was to provide a structure “suitable for storing and exhibition of … treasures pertaining to the history of the Town, and to contain a hall adapted to lectures and public meetings … and generally to promote the moral, intellectual and educational advancement of the community.”

Cary Hall under constructionIn recent years, the building’s historic features had deteriorated and its use had declined. Residents worried that without restoration, the building’s potential as a vital cultural and community center would be lost. As a result, local leaders looked to CPA for support.

In 2010, the town voted to use $60,000 in CPA funds to review the Cary Building's building systems, safety codes and functional proficiencies. This review led to a proposal to rehabilitate its historic features and upgrade its structural, accessibility, safety, electrical, mechanical, and plumbing systems. Then, in June of 2013, the Lexington Board of Selectmen formed the Ad hoc Cary Memorial Building Renovation Design Committee to oversee the planning, design, and implementation of the project’s scope. This committee, funded with $75,000 in CPA funds, hired qualified consultants to draft the renovation plan with another $550,000 in CPA funds.

In 2014, CPA funds were again tapped to help fund about 95% of the actual rehabilitation and restoration of Cary Hall. The $8.67 million dollar plan includes three phases: life safety improvements to meet code and accessibility issues, building system improvements to upgrade the aging systems, and facility usability improvements to enhance and support use of the building. 

The Coalition will continue to track and report on this exciting community project as it progresses.