Save the Historic Lexington Center

Newsletter

Author

Susan Bennett

Affiliation

Docomomo US/New England

In 1966, Hideo Sasaki, Norman Fletcher, and Walter Pierce, all renowned practitioners of modernism and residents of Lexington, Massachusetts, produced a “Plan for Lexington Center,” an elegant design to turn a drab suburban center into a series of “living rooms” in which the community of Lexington could congregate. This design, executed in 1967, has been highly successful and has stood the test of time, as evidenced by a 2008 Tufts University study designating Lexington as a “Model Town Center.” However, now this iconic streetscape is threatened.

Credit: www.joesretirementblog.blogspot.com

The aims for the 1966 re-design were lofty, as stated in the section of the plan titled: “The Center as a Work of Art:”

"The aspirations of this study and design effort are high, higher than just profit and service and symbolism. Higher, too, than additionally tidying up the Center by replacing old facades with new ones and sprucing up the signs…Higher, too, than inspiring those new facades each to be brilliantly designed, though hopefully including that as well. The aim of this effort is to guide development in such a way that the Center as a whole has artistic merit even beyond the sum of the merit of its individual buildings, as a result of the relationships among its buildings, movement channels, and furnishings."

 
 
Lexington Center 1938
Lexington Center was a crowning achievement of the mid-century modern architecture movement in a town which produced eight neighborhoods of modern houses designed by prominent architects and landscape and interior designers including Sasaki, Fletcher, Pierce, Chip and Sally Harkness, and Design Research founders Ben and Jane Thompson. In recent years, attention has been focused on the celebration and preservation of the mid-century residential neighborhoods. Now, the threat to the integrity of the Lexington Center design has focused attention on its distinguished pedigree and the need to preserve it as another icon of the modern design movement.
 
 
This iconic streetscape is threatened with degradation on the grounds that it is incompatible with road repairs, pedestrian safety and disabilities access. A citizens’ committee has been formed to save this mid-century modern design which was completed during the same era when The Architect’s Collaborative and other proponents of modernism were designing eight clusters of modern houses throughout Lexington. In response to the expressed safety and access concerns, an ad hoc committee appointed by the Selectmen, composed of design professionals and citizens, has brought in experts to show that minor modifications to improve handicapped accessibility and pedestrian access are goals that can be accommodated within the current design; but the threat of destruction remains.
 
 

The current plan to reconstruct the Town Center threatens to damage and perhaps destroy much of the larger, high-quality design that has made Lexington Center an attractive place for the entire community of Lexington to walk, shop, spend time, and use as part of everyday life.

WHAT'S AT STAKE

  • Destruction of thoughtful historic design that knits the center together, from the municipal complex to the Battle Green.
  • Elimination of careful visual separation of pedestrians from ever more busy traffic, making the Center feel much more like an automobile-oriented mall.
  • Removal of the existing tree cover and replacement with less effective, immature planting.
  • Introduction of inauthentic decorative elements that have no place in Lexington's history.

After celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Center plan this past fall, it is hoped that the town’s governing body of Selectmen will heed the recommendations of its own ad hoc design committee that strongly advocates for maintaining this jewel in the center of the community.

Visit the Save Our Center website for more information about these efforts and upcoming public hearings and sign the petition.