The Cape Cod House in Cambridge and Nearby | Centers And Squares

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The Cape Cod House in Cambridge and Nearby

dormered-cape-divinity-neighborhood-cambridgeThe Cape Cod architectural style or as we call it – the Cape – is very popular in Massachusetts and New England though not very common in Cambridge.  In Cambridge it is often an anomaly – the random Cape spotted here and there – a standout on a street otherwise lined with Victorians, triple deckers, or row houses.

This classic architectural style has roots going back hundreds of years and early examples from the 1600s through the 1800s will be found in many New England towns. William Morgan, in his book The Cape Cod Cottage describes the house as:

“The Cape Cod cottage is the nearly perfect house.  A combination of necessity and tradition, the Cape Cod has been a fundamental, iconic, and enduring expression of the American home for almost four hundred years.”

In style, the Cape is a one and a half story house with a steep pitched roof.  Early Capes often had a center chimney, others, particularly those built in the twentieth century, have an exterior chimney at one end of the house.  A variant is the “half cape” with the entrance door and chimney at one end and two windows to the side. Later many of these would be expanded to full size with the other half added on the far side of the chimney and door resulting in the familiar and symmetrical facade of a center entrance flanked by two windows on each side. 

Capes in Cambridge, Arlington and Nearby Towns

In Cambridge the lovely Colonial Revival cape seen above can be found in the Divinity neighborhood.  There’s also a Cape on Hurlbut Street that always catches my eye and another part brick cape on Huron Ave.  In Cambridgeport there’s a Cape built in early 1800s for a ropeworker and renovated at the end of the 1900s by David Aposhian.  There are other Capes in Cambridge of course but I think many early capes were replaced with larger houses or buildings over the years.

Most Cambridge neighborhoods weren’t part of the revival of Capes in the twentieth century because the neighborhoods had already been built up.  Arlington, Watertown, Medford and Belmont have far greater numbers of Capes built in the 1930s and in the 1950s to 1960s.

Twentieth Century Capes

Many Capes were built in the 1930s, often in a Colonial Revival style, in neighborhoods like Arlington’s Kelwyn Manor.  These capes often have very charming architectural details – archways, built-ins, nooks, and nice hardware.

Capes Built in the 1950 and 1960s

arlington-cape-built-in-19571The next big boom in Cape style houses came in the 1950s and early 1960s during a building boom that resulted in street after Cape lined street in new neighborhoods.  This was the last period when solid, quality building materials were a matter of course even in starter homes – plaster walls, hardwood floors, and fully tiled baths.  The cape at right was built in Arlington in 1957.

My parents’ first house, bought new when I was two and a half, was one of these capes so whenever I show one nowadays to a real estate buyer I know just what to expect.  Four rooms down – a living room, dining room, kitchen and bedroom and upstairs two good sized bedrooms, or every so often one large and two small bedrooms.

These capes almost always had a full bath on the first floor.  Upstairs the dormer or its absence determined whether or not there was a full bath, half bath or none.  A full shed dormer across the back expands the bedrooms and allows for a second full bath.  Sometimes a smaller dormer would be added just so a bath could be put in on the bedroom level.  An under the eaves crawlspace provides storage – and a good place for hide and seek. 

It’s always fun to see how today’s homeowners have updated the capes of the 1950s and ’60s.  Many have opened up the wall between the dining room and kitchen, installing updated counters, cabinets and appliances and transforming the space into an open, modern kitchen and dining area.  Many have made good use of the lower level and finished the basement for use as a rec room or office.  Add an updated bath or two and these houses are good to go for the next fifty years.

Capes Continue To Be Built

Capes remain a very popular architectural style in New England.  The capes being built today are usually larger than those of fifty years ago.  Modern capes often have features that are meant to appeal to today’s buyers such as an open floor plan, a great room, and a first floor master bedroom suite.

Resources for Aficionados and Owners of Capes

Here are some books about the Cape Cod architectural style:

Updating Classic America Capes: Design Ideas for Renovating, Remodeling, and Building New (2003) by Jane Gitlin has wonderful ideas for transforming an older Cape

The Cape Cod Cottage (2006) by William Morgan has an excellent essay about the Cape and a beautiful collection of black and white photographs of Capes through the centuries

The Cape Cod House: America’s Most Popular Home (1982) by Stanley Schuler is a well illustrated architectural history of the Cape style.

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Other Architectural Styles in Cambridge and Nearby:

The Greek Revival
The Bungalow
The Triple-Decker
Second Empire Mansards

 

 

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  1. Kimberley Madigan

    I’m interested in authenticating the outside railings and fixtures of my 1950 style one floor cape any help with this would be greatly appreciated Thanks Kim Madigan

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