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Restoration of 1899 store recalls building’s glory days

<b>Charlie Allen</b>, a general contractor, took his cue to renovate the historic space from a one-paragraph building plan he found in an 1899 edition of the Cambridge Chronicle. Photos by Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe/Globe Freelance

Charlie Allen specializes in restoring period details in old homes, so when the time came for the general contractor to move his business out of his Central Square basement, it made sense to find a historic property he could return to its former glory.

Charlie Allen.Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe

In 2002, he found what he was looking for in an 1899 flatiron building just blocks from his house. Allen, 67, and his crew spent 10 months renovating a space in the front corner of the wedge-shaped building, formerly home to, among other things, a leftist book seller — a fitting predecessor for the former Harvard student activist and antiwar protester.


But aside from what he could glean from a one-paragraph building plan in an 1899 edition of the Cambridge Chronicle, Allen knew few details about the original space, which was one of four stores on the first floor. So he set about recreating how the store might have looked in 1900.

Taking a cue from the Chronicle article, he made floors of reclaimed North Carolina hard pine, the same kind used in the apartments above.

He installed a front door with a transom window, modeled after a drawing from the article, using original hardware he found in a bathroom vent shaft. He put an 1874 cast iron wood stove in the tiny front lobby and installed a pressed tin ceiling.

The baseboard, wainscoting, and chair rail were replicated from the building’s main entrance, and the perimeter moulding along the ceiling mimics the Victorian motif on the copper work outside.

The idea was to give a “nod to history” and to have a showcase for clients, a few of whom have enlisted him for million-dollar remodelings.

He knows there’s no guarantee any of his hard work will be here 100 years from now.

“It’s nevertheless very satisfying,” he said, “to do something right and do it in a compelling way so it may stand the test of time.”


Katie Johnston

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