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Background Information
Contact: Bill Cummings
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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.

Cummings Center is "the single most important, and generally unrecognized concrete landmark in this country," Pulitzer Prize winning architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable wrote in the October 2, 1997 issue of The Wall Street Journal. Her feature story on Cummings Properties' restoration of the sprawling Beverly complex is a resounding endorsement for this newly refurbished historic site.
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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."

Cummings Center, a 1.6 million square foot office, executive office, and research campus in Beverly, Massachusetts, was established when the 80-acre site was purchased from The Black & Decker Corporation, successor to United Shoe Machinery Corporation, on April 29, 1996. Completed mostly between 1903 and 1906, the huge facility was one of the earliest, and for 40 years was the largest, reinforced concrete structure in the world.
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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."

FORTUNE Magazine in a September 1933 feature story portrayed Beverly, Massachusetts as "dizzy with prosperity," from the legendary United Shoe monopoly.  By October 1972, however, FORTUNE described the whole aging complex in Beverly as "massive and antique."

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.

James L. McKeown, Cummings' successor as president of Cummings Properties Management, Inc., spoke very fondly of restoring Cummings Center as the "The Grande Dame" of New England's commercial buildings. Tragically, Mr. McKeown died very suddenly just a year after the transaction was announced, but he was the principal negotiator and prime mover of the redevelopment. He has since been honored and remembered by the city of Beverly in the new James L. McKeown Elementary School, adjacent to Cummings Center.
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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.


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All were totally replaced, as were the underground water, gas, sanitary and drainage lines, as well as the entire fire sprinkler system. All of the work took place while more than 100 individual business tenants continued to occupy just under 10% of the complex.

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.


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According to General Manager Gerard McSweeney, a 20-year Cummings employee, Cummings Center is the first site in Massachusetts to be cleaned up under this state's Brownfields Initiative legislation, and the so-called Covenant Not To Sue program. Cummings Properties has previously rebuilt 10 other major structures, including the former Choate Hospital in Woburn, a large public school in Woburn, and the 30-acre Madonna Hall School complex in Marlborough, Massachusetts, which is now the New Horizons at Madonna Hall retirement community.

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.

"A full 100% of the old interior buildout has already been removed, and in its place over 1.1 million square feet have been fully rebuilt and occupied as very nice office and laboratory space," McSweeney said. One new tenant, Orion Research, occupies 140,000 square feet, and another 15 firms, so far, occupy from 20,000 to 50,000 square feet each. McSweeney noted, however, that most Cummings Center firms occupy two to five thousand square feet or less.
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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.


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Now more than 3,000 new and rebuilt parking spaces support today's workforce at Cummings Center and a brand new four-story parking garage offers an additional 600 spaces for free parking. Over 450 new trees were planted among those spaces and along the site's two very attractive ponds. Additionally, there is now a major decorative fountain at the main entrance on Route 62, and a 560-car parking garage has been completed just south of Lower Shoe Pond.

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.

According to Cummings Properties' senior vice president, Michael Pascavage, AIA, the best opportunity to make a real statement with the exterior of the building was by constructing two new four-story curved glass additions on the south front, facing Elliott Street, with no visible concrete, in sharp contrast with the timeless Ransome curtain walls which constitute two-thirds of that elevation.
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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.


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All of the original windows on both ends of the main building and along Center Drive were kept at both their full height and width, using the dark bronze Duranodic aluminum with 15% bronze tinted vision glass, and the green spandrel glass above the ceiling lines. In other parts of the building, the full 10' width of all windows was maintained, with the top five feet of height infilled with dark brown stone epoxy panels.

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.

In his August 1997 visit to Cummings Center, then-Massachusetts Secretary of Economic Development David Tibbetts referred to the Beverly project as an industrial microcosm of the North Shore. With Cummings Center's designation as an official Economic Opportunity Area, Tibbetts predicted that the redevelopment of the property will attract new industry to the region and serve as a model for industrial development in the state. "It was a real blow to the fiscal health and ego of the city when USM left."
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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."

A rare photo of one of several special trains which carried workers each day from Boston directly inside the gate of the United Shoe property before there was any need for parking lots.



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