Massachusetts Historical Commission - 2014 Preservation Award Winners
Photo of Dexter Pratt House/Cambridge Center for Adult Education

Dexter Pratt House/Cambridge Center for Adult Education • Cambridge

Adaptive Reuse, Rehabilitation & Restoration

Built in 1808, the Dexter Pratt House and its blacksmith owners were immortalized in Longfellow’s poem, “The Village Blacksmith.” The Pratt House is one of Cambridge’s few extant examples of vernacular Federal architecture. The building is also significant for having been the home of Mary Walker, a fugitive slave who escaped from North Carolina in 1848, and whose family owned the house from 1870 to 1912. Soon after, the property became associated with The Window Shop, a gift shop, tearoom, and bakery that provided jobs and education for European refugees. The Window Shop was renowned both for its social mission and its European pastries. Since 1973, the nonprofit Cambridge Center for Adult Education has held classes and public programming here. The Pratt House was listed in the National Register in 1973 and became a local landmark in 1989. Though appreciated and well loved, the building saw considerable wear and tear from heavy pedestrian traffic and deferred maintenance.

In 2010, heavy rains caused water damage so severe that the 1976 addition’s roof required replacement. This event, along with the Cambridge Center’s need to improve accessibility to the building and courtyard, prompted a comprehensive examination of the whole property, keeping historic preservation in mind. Using partial funding from a Massachusetts Preservation Projects Fund grant, historic windows were restored, drainage and moisture problems were corrected, and the building’s exterior was made weathertight. The wood balustrade was replaced, and the building was repainted after historic paint analysis. The longtime commercial kitchen became a teaching kitchen. The team made every attempt to save historic details, including some that had long been hidden. The front parlor became a classroom, its historic wood floor refinished and hearth restored. Two new, accessible ramps brought the property to ADA code. The 200-year-old building’s rehabilitation and adaptive reuse have reinvigorated it. The Dexter Pratt House now stands as an oasis in the midst of the bustling commercial center of Harvard Square, illustrating and preserving the past while remaining a vibrant participant in the present. The project also ensures that the building and its courtyard will continue to serve more than 10,000 visitors each year and act as a popular gathering spot for tourists and locals, while enabling the Cambridge Center to fulfill its mission of allowing people to explore their interests and nurture their talent and potential.

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