On the fifteen-acre section of parkland between the banks of the Charles River and Memorial Drive, between the BU Bridge and the Riverside Boat Club, bird-watchers have identified no less than 94 species. This area, called Magazine Beach, also attracts a regular stream of walkers, joggers, bikers, boaters, and families using the state-run outdoor swimming pool. A powder magazine–built as a gunpowder storage facility in 1818 and converted to a bath-house in 1899—is slated for occupancy about two years from now. New landscape plans include a 10-foot multi-use path along Memorial Drive, a dock, two overlooks, stormwater-related improvements, and a splash deck and natural play features.
Cambridge Outdoors talked with Brian Conway and Cathie Zusy, members of the Magazine Beach Committee of the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association (CNA), who have worked in recent years to champion the park’s revitalization.
1. What is the history of the parkland at Magazine Beach?
“It was originally an island surrounded by marshes but was turned into one continuous piece of land. It was a park created by the city. The Olmsted Brothers created a plan for the park inspired by Charlesgate Park, where the Esplanade is now. The Cambridge “city fathers” wanted something just like that—a water park and a “play ground for the young.” It was inspired by envy. But a financial panic in 1893 got in the way.
All the parklands along the river were turned over to the Metropolitan District Commission in the 1920s for the purpose of consistent parkland management.
There’s a long history of people trying to make Magazine Beach better. There have been many different plans for the park over the years, most of which never were implemented. The last real improvements happened in the 70s, other than the 2009 city investment in new playing fields.”
2 What role has this (adjacent) neighborhood had in the history of Cambridge, and what is it like today?
“From the late 1800s to the mid-1900s, many immigrants lived in this part of Cambridge. There were many factories here and close by. Magazine Beach was created to provide a place where factory workers could cool off on hot summer days. Today, instead of soap, biscuit, candy, lantern and telescope factories, we have biotech and high tech companies. But the need remains: we all need “breathing spaces” to relax and revitalize along the river.”
3. Why is Magazine Beach an important place in your own mind?
“At 15 acres, it is Cambridge’s second largest park. It offers access to the river, old shade trees, cool breezes, the sky and the sunset. And it is the location of the oldest building on the Charles River Basin. As a community park, it represents the ideals of democracy—it is everyone’s green open space. It is a mixing ground.”
4. Are there animals at Magazine Beach? What can people do there?
“In addition to the 94+ bird species, there are rabbits and squirrels. It’s a favorite dog walking spot. Single and double shells launch from there at the Head of the Charles Regatta. It’s used by pick-up soccer players, Cambridge Youth Soccer, Cambridge Central Youth Baseball, Youth Lacrosse, the Boston University Academy Quidditch team, swimmers, and rowers (at Riverside Boat Club).” [Note: Click here for wildlife sightings at Magazine Beach]
5. What’s the more recent history of the revitalization effort?
“The CNA has been working on the project since November 2010. For the past three summers, we’ve had a full roster of outdoor events at Magazine Beach.The CNA has been working with Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation to revitalize the park and to restore it as a place of beauty. We’re committed not only to the revitalization of the park—we want to make sure its maintained. If there isn’t a “guardian” group, it may be forgotten.
With the help of Cambridge and private contributors, DCR has stabilized the exterior of the Powder Magazine. Cambridge just allotted another $100,000 to renovate the interior by adding public bathrooms and lighting, etc. (DCR will match this.)
The landscape is in design now. We hope to have “shovel-ready” plans by the end of the year. Then we need to find the money for park improvements.”
- Prospective community-oriented tenants for the powderhouse building should contact HCP.Requests@state.ma.us.
- For the Dept. of Conservation and Recreation’s Presentation on 10/20/16 regarding the landscape plans for Magazine Beach, click here.
- For updates, events, a bird list, and historical information, visit the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association’s Magazine Beach Committee website.