ARCHITECTURAL AND BACKGROUND INFORMATION
CUMMINGS CENTER... Beverly, Massachusetts
Note to all users of this document: please feel free to use any information on these sheets with or without attribution. All quotes include current information and may be used as if taken from a current interview. Additional information or quotes are readily available upon request. A variety of photos is also available, as are personal interviews with any Beverly staff by appointment or on short notice. These three pages are intended for use either intact or as general background. They may also be used in excerpt format, or as another source of quotes as outlined above.
Ms. Huxtable described Cummings Center as "a building of outstanding utilitarian beauty. Its stunning glass-walled simplicity, the pleasing proportions based on its structural system, foreshadow the later modular designs of Mies van der Rohe and one of the basic aesthetic principles of modernism -- the direct relationship of structure to style."
Designed and built by Ernest Leslie Ransome, it was also one of the first uses of glass curtain wall construction. In addition to its status as the longtime international hub of shoe manufacturing machinery, the facility was the birthplace of more than 9,000 U.S. patents during the 20th century. The complex reportedly boasted such modern innovations as the earliest time clocks produced by IBM, pop rivets used in the Supersonic Concorde, the hot glue gun, the pop top for soda cans, and the drive mechanism for the lunar module, to name just a few.
Cummings Properties' affiliate, Beverly Commerce Park, Inc. acquired Ernest L. Ransome's marvelous gem on April 29, 1996. On that date Beverly's Mayor William Scanlon stated, "This was the flagship of United Shoe Machinery Corp. ... and probably as such was as influential then as Microsoft is today."
The vast complex now contains a total of more than 37 acres of fully restored interior space. Over 400 tradespeople worked for three years on the very first major remodeling ever done here. In March 1999 Real Estate FORUM Magazine referred to the transformation to Cummings Center as "one of the largest rehabilitation projects in the country."
Although suffering greatly from decades of active neglect, all of the basic concrete elements of the former property of United Shoe Machinery Corporation were very sound. "Everything around, above, and within them was worn or decayed, but the essential structure and mass were begging only for restored dignity," said developer William S. Cummings.
With over a million and a half square feet of floor area at Cummings Center, workers said that merely understanding how everything worked was an enormous task in itself. An ancient electrical system was extremely fragile and cumbersome, as were several four-story-tall, barely functional steam boilers.
Although replacement of the antiquated mechanical systems was the most critical priority, to get through the winter of 1996 - 1997, it was necessary at the same time to secure the exterior surfaces through which water leaked seemingly from every direction. A full 19 acres of new roof is now complete, and over 200,000 square feet of windows have been replaced. Those windows replaced were mostly uninsulated steel sash which, in fact, were circa 1930 replacements for the original wood framed windows.
Another major challenge in Beverly was correction of many long-standing building code violations. Almost four miles of unprotected interior hallways, or the lack thereof, presented the biggest problem. These were rebuilt, while at the same time sophisticated electronic fire alarms and six major new egress routes were constructed. Seventeen brand new elevators are now completed as well.
New parking, paving, and landscaping were not a priority during the last decades of "The Shoe." Prior to that most workers walked to work or came by bus or train. In its heyday, USM actually had its own passenger trains running from North Station in Boston, and pulling directly into the front gate each morning and afternoon.
The rebuilding of Cummings Center has been an extraordinarily complicated evolving project," McSweeney said. There is, for instance, more than a linear mile of four-story-high exterior walls, all of them consisting solely of concrete and glass. "How do we preserve the essence of this historic structure which means so much to the entire North Shore? And how do we make it useable for today's businesses? How do we also tell the world that something has dramatically changed, without taking away from its architectural originality?" he asked.
The concrete walls had not been pointed up in decades, so many months of painstaking surface restoration were needed to correct extensive spalling. After that, the determination was made to apply a concrete stain resembling the original natural color which, as it begins to weather, will do so gracefully, back to the color of the old concrete beneath it.
A natural finish deep aluminum frame (from Kawneer) was selected for the new curtain walls, instead of the dark bronze which now typifies all of the replacement windows in the original elevation. A gray tinted glass was used for the vision panels in these two new curtain walls, instead of the bronze tinted glass of all replacement windows.
The dark green spandrel glass of the curtain walls, however, is the same as that in all of the new replacement windows, connecting the intentionally disparate styles. Pascavage explained that all of the new full height replacement windows were manufactured on-site, mostly by Cummings Properties' own staff members.
Cummings Properties' own full-time staff completed all exterior design work for this huge project, primarily under direction of Pascavage and company founder Bill Cummings. The general superintendent of all construction is Fred Wilbur, and the on-site architect is Bruce Oveson. The entire Cummings team includes over 300 full-time staff, with almost 200 subcontractor workers.
In his book A Concrete Atlantis, the late architecture critic Reyner Banham described the building, before its recent major renovation, as "...a very good old building [which] excites the admiration of its owners and keepers. After eighty years of heavy industrial use, it wears a rather attractive Pompeian air of elegant and antique decay." Banham described Ransome as "the great concrete pioneer," and referred to The Shoe as an "intermediate monument" to the rise of modern industrial architecture in the United States. The USM structure, Banham said, was "a concrete framed structure of strict and minimalistic rationality." It was "that ultimate masterpiece of Ransome's declining years," he wrote.
The Massachusetts Historical Commission certified Cummings Center on January 22, 1998 as eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. The extensive nomination documents have since been submitted to the National Park Service. In March 1999 the property was designated as the United Shoe Machinery Corporation Historic District.
Concluding her October 1997 Wall Street Journal column, Ms. Huxtable wrote: "In the end, there were small losses and enormous gains. For [Cummings Center] it has been a miraculous rebirth. For those who prize an architecture still invisible to many and treated as expendable by most, this is more than a success story; it is a dream come true."
|200 West Cummings Park|
Woburn, MA 01801
|Beverly 978-922-9000||Woburn 781-935-8000|