Cambridge Stained Glass Window Mural
415 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA

If you happen to visit Cambridge, and have reason to walk past 415 Massachusetts Avenue in the evening, after dark but before 11 PM, you will find yourself passing a series of sixteen large, beautiful, illuminated stained glass windows portraying activities in various small-business shops -- a Chinese restaurant, vegetable market, antique shop, florist shop, drug store, and pet shop. It's a remarkable experience.

The site was originally occupied, like most of Masschusetts Avenue in Cambridge, by small retail shops. At some point back in the '60s or 70's, their leases ran out and the landlord did not renew them, instead renovating the ground floor into a large office space. The City of Cambridge, however, had rules on maintaining the character of a commercial district, and required the landlord to in some way retain the small-retail nature of that block.

The solution to this problem was found in hiring the Lyn Hovey Studio, makers of fine stained glass, to create a series of windows to stand in for the vanished stores. These weren't necessarily representative of the displaced stores, although Mary Chung's Chinese restaurant moved across the street (460 Mass Ave.). The former Army/Navy store, for instance, is not reprsented in the windows.

The diagnostics company Bioran first took over the building, to be followed by its current tenant, Quest Diagnostics.



It may be a bit a stretch to imagine a connection between these gorgeous windows and what the earlier store fronts probably looked like, but it's no stretch that the end result was an unforgettable landmark for the city. Take a walk from West to East and see for yourself (click on any picture to see a double-size version of it):

















Note on the pictures -- I am not a photographer. These pictures were taken with a small, old Canon Powershot camera on automatic with flash suppressed, held above head level to try to center on each window. Although I did my best to keep the distance from the windows constant, the effort was by no means completely successful. After one set wasn't particularly satisfactory, I retraced my steps and took another set. These are the cropped versions of the better picture from each pair. The shooting angles were not exactly consistent, sometimes resulting in one or the other side shading into darkness. In one case (#3), this was serious enough to require combining the two pictures; fortunately, they were close to (though not exactly) the same size. It speaks to the beauty of these windows that, in spite of all this, they still make a lovely display.

Note on the history -- I cannot guarantee the historical notes. I got one story from someone on the administrative staff at Quest, and a somewhat different one from someone at Mary Chung's restaurant. But I think the basic point about the city requiring something to represent the storefronts is correct.