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Onlookers brave the rain in Cambridge to watch 'Faces' sign torn down today

Posted by Brock Parker  October 19, 2011 01:39 PM

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The 'Faces' discotheque sign, which outlasted disco, punk and grunge music much to Cambridge’s chagrin, came down in a crunch of heavy metal today just before noon.

The eyesore of a sign that greeted Route 2 commuters to the city for decades was razed to the ground and then crushed by heavy equipment Wednesday in what Criterion Development Partners said was the symbolic first step of tearing down the vacant old discotheque near the Alewife T Station.

Jack Englert, a principal Criterion, the new property owner, said demolition of the building will begin in the next couple of weeks and an apartment building with 228 units will go up in its place.

More than 50 people including city officials, developers and neighbors, braved heavy rain Wednesday to see the discotheque sign torn down. Some onlookers huddled under a tent, and some endured getting wet to see the sign fall.

“I thought I might cry I was so happy,” said Carolyn Mieth, 72, who lives in North Cambridge and said she has wanted the Faces sign and building down for years.

The nightclub has been vacant along Route 2 since 1990 and had been owned by the Martignetti family, which also owns the neighboring Lanes and Games bowling alley and the Cambridge Gateway Inn.

Cambridge officials have been trying to get rid of the run-down building for years, but City Manager Robert Healy said when he inquired about the structural integrity of the building to see if the city could just tear it down, he learned that the building was still structurally sound.

Criterion Development Partners partnered with the McKinnon Co. and had been working to redevelop the property since 2006. A previous development proposal the group made derailed during permitting process.

But in March of this year, Cambridge’s Planning Board approved the current development plan of one model unit and 227 apartment units, with about the same number of parking spaces and a pedestrian access way to the nearby T stop. Englert said Criterion Development Partners closed on the purchase of the property from the Martignetti family Monday.

In a short ceremony before the demolition of the sign Wednesday, Cambridge Mayor David Maher said that when he was in his 20s he spent many Friday and Saturday nights in Faces, and it was one of the best discotheques in the Boston area.

Others remembered the nightclub before it was known as Faces.
Lillian Orchard, 62, said she saw Ike and Tina Turner perform at the nightclub when it was the Empire Room in the early 1970s.

“We had a great time,” Orchard said. “They had the old crystal balls and they were live on stage and it was fantastic.”

But Orchard, who is now an appraiser for the city of Cambridge, said the condition of the building has gotten worse and worse over the years and she isn’t sorry to see it go.

Maher said the rundown sign and building had become an “unsightly” gateway to the city, and he said there is probably no question that Cambridge residents have asked him more than what is happening to the Faces site.

“Finally, today we are able to give an answer and a direction and a timeline and that is a very good thing for the community,” he said.

Englert said about a week of work has to be done inside the old nightclub before it can be demolished. The demolition work is expected to last about 30 days, and then construction on the apartment building is expected to take about two years.

But at least on Wednesday, Englert knew that the main attraction to the property was seeing the symbolic start of the demolition.

“People were so excited to see the sign come down,” Englert said. “It was like the launching of a rocket. There’s just been so much pent-up interest in this site for 20 years.”

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