It’s not Torn Down Tuesday, but today we are going to talk about a demolished house - and the community garden built in its place. The Sacramento Street Community Garden at 21 Sacramento Street was once the site of an interesting Greek Revival home. Built in 1852, the house featured a gable-front roof, the later addition of a 2-story tower, and a mansard porch with a jigsaw baluster railing. It was also known for its beautiful garden, full of fruit trees, grape vines and flowering vines.
The house’s original owner, Michael Runey, purchased the land from Charles McClure, who struck it big in the California Gold Rush (hence the street name Sacramento). Runey was a marble worker with a business at Main and Washington Streets. From 1873-1916, a watchmaker named Sylvester Crosby lived in the house, adding on its distinctive tower in 1882. In 1916, Reverend Avedis Boole, an Armenian immigrant and Yale scholar, moved in with his family, living there until the 1970s. Barbara and Michael Brower lived in the house from 1974 until it was acquired and demolished by Harvard.
The house backed up to the Middlesex Bleachery Reservoir, now Sacramento Field. This was filled in by 1958 and purchased by Harvard.
In January 1975, and against neighbors’ wishes, Harvard demolished the house and gardens. A neighborhood uproar ensued. There was already a movement underway to turn empty lots and city land into gardens, allocating a 10 x 10 plot of land to any city resident. Harvard agreed to let the vacant Sacramento Street lot be used for this purpose, and on May 5, 1975, the Agassiz Neighborhood Council organized a meeting to discuss starting a community garden on the site. In 1978, garden members began instituting yearly dues for upkeep, and installed a bulletin board, common bed, and a compost bin.
In 1980, the City of Cambridge took the garden and Sacramento Field by eminent domain, and they both remain City-owned today, with strong activism from the Sacramento Community Garden members. The Sacramento Street Community Garden is one of 14 active community gardens in Cambridge.