A jailhouse has stood between Second and Third Streets in East Cambridge since the early 1800s. It sprang up behind the old Middlesex County Courthouse, not long after East Cambridge became a real place, rather than a swamp at the edge of the Charles River. The idea of a jail along Third Street is nearly as old as the neighborhood itself. However, the monster of a building that looms over the street now is something else entirely.
The former Edward J. Sullivan courthouse and jail soars 22 stories above a tightly packed residential neighborhood. It’s not a welcome presence. A classic piece of 1960s government construction, the building is massive in scale, plunked down without public notice or consent, and hugely disruptive to the neighborhood around it.