How the Holy Ghost Hospital for Incurables ate Magnolia Avenue
This one bugged me enough to set off an entire inquiry.
In 1970, I shared an apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with eight other young people. I was the only one who had my own room. I was 17, working two jobs, a regular day gig in an office and a night shift in a restaurant, where I also ate and socialized. I also had a girlfriend who was a senior in college and a car I bought for $100. Rent on the place was $40 a month. I was king of the world.
I remembered the address as 24 1/2 Magnolia Ave. I loved the idea of having a half address. Like what even is that? One of my good pals, Jim Wrathall, who also lived there, was reminiscing about it the other day and dropped the number 25 1/2. I was shocked. Had my memory failed me that badly? I really wanted to settle that number. I looked around. I could find no address book with it, nor any letters from anyone with it on the envelope, and no one among the people I knew then who are still around who could remember it (other than Jim). I had a feeling he was right, but wanted to track it down.
Now, here’s the thing. That address no longer exists. The block in mid-Cambridge that Magnolia was on is mostly occupied today by Cambridge City Hospital, which has been expanding over the years. Sometime after 1970, the last few houses on Magnolia were knocked down as part of an expansion of the hospital parking lot. Later, they were rebuilt, and on the corner where I’m pretty sure our apartment was today stands number 25. No half.
I called the Middlesex County Registry of Deeds, who passed me off to the Assessors Office, and a fairly brusque person there said, yes, there was a 25 1/2, and also a 37 1/2, and few other halfs on Magnolia as of 1952. I figured, the 25 1/2 was probably ours. Most people would have let it go at that.
But I hadn’t yet placed the number with the specific geography. It took Google Street Views for me to ascertain that, yes, that one on the corner was ours. My room looked out on Hovey Ave. I remember seeing people walking by.
I went back to the Assessors, and the person put me on hold indefinitely.
So, I reached out to the Cambridge Historical Society, and managed to talk with Marieke Van Damme, who sent the query to their archivist, who only works one day a week. She also recommended that I reach out to Emily Gonzalez, who is the archivist for the Cambridge Historical Commission. You got that? Society ≠ Commission.
Meanwhile, I managed to find online several historical maps myself. One from 1916, the lead image at the top of the story, shows Hovey Avenue dead-ending before it gets to Magnolia, and, surprise, the hospital is called Holy Ghost Hospital for Incurables. I think the marketing department was out the day they named it.
The map from 1930 shows that Incurables has expanded already, but Hovey is still a dead-end. It sorta looks like bringing the road through would leave 25 intact, taking out only 23.
At that moment, Ms. Gonzalez turned up with the definitive map, a Sanborn job from 1935 that was updated in the early 1960s. She sent a nice pic of it via email. On the Sanborn map, Hovey has come all the way through, and you can clearly see 25 1/2 there on the corner.
We were the downstairs unit. One of the other residents at the time, Warner Johnson, couldn’t recall the number, but did remember that we had the back yard to ourselves, which makes sense if you’re on the first floor.
Today, the block is all tidied up, and only 25 Magnolia remains as an address on the corner of Hovey.
And Google Street Views gives the picture on the ground.
Thus, after an epic journey, which was its own rich and rewarding odyssey, I now close the case (with a tip of the hat to Jim). 25 1/2 it is — or was.