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September 24, 1998

Park closing ignites Kendall Square
Shuttering of historic office park has "Kenny" residents up in arms

CAMBRIDGE — Ask Louise Gregory, sitting on the stoop outside her apartment on Main Street in Kendall Square, and she’ll tell you what she thinks of the Fisher Development Group.

"Those people can kiss my ass, for all I care," she said. "They think they can come in here and destroy a piece of our history, just so they can put up more office space? They’d better think again."

The reason for Gregory’s ire: Fisher’s plan to tear down One Commerce Park, which at seven-years-old is believed to be the nation’s oldest continuously functioning office park. The developer plans to convert the Kendall Square landmark into a roomier, two-building office complex, to be called One & Two Commerce Park.

To Gregory, vice president of corporate development at online brokerage firm NetEquities.com, the plan would rob Kendall Square — or "Kenny," as Boston residents fondly call the tight-knit neighborhood — of its symbolic heart.

"I’ve lived here for nearly two and a half years," said Gregory. "I’ve seen five generations of Kendall Square residents come and go. And each and every one of them has flocked to One Commerce Park. With its panini stand, its Starbucks, its Legal Seafood and Breakers, a high-class billiards bar, that park functions as the hub of this vibrant urban community."

Gregory’s husband, software engineer Peter Dwyer, shares his wife’s anger at the Fisher plan. "I’ve got Kenny in my blood," said Dwyer, who explains that his sister lived in the neighborhood briefly before moving on to Raleigh-Durham, Austin and now San Jose.

"One Commerce Park is the living repository of our community’s memories," says Dwyer. "Heading over to Legal for a first date with a co-worker. Relaxing with pool and beers at Breakers to celebrate a Phase III trial at NIH. You can find people walking around there any hour of the day or night, at least until around 8 p.m. Destroy it and you destroy everything that brings this neighborhood together."

In their bid to have One Commerce declared a historic site, the couple has enlisted the help of Three-Fingers Crandall, the neighborhood’s unofficial historian. Crandall has lived in Kendall Square for nine consecutive years, leading the community council to declare him Kenny’s longest-standing resident. "We’re counting his time at MIT," the council admitted.

A shadowy, hermit-like figure, Crandall can often be found wandering alone at One Commerce after midnight, making copies at the Typotech, the only business open at that time. Other times he can be found lurking deep in the shadows at Characters, the Marriott bar and grill.

Crandall’s moniker springs from a run-in with an MBTA commuter train nearly six years ago. As legend has it, Crandall — a biochemist at Genzyme — was excitedly bicycling down Broadway towards work, steering with his right hand and carrying in his left the only existing genomic map of chlamydia trachomatis. When he saw the train approaching, he had to stop suddenly. He fell off his bike and broke two fingers.

Instead of heading to the hospital, he continued to the office and went on to work 10 straight months of 17-hour days. The fingers became gangrenous and eventually had to be removed.

In a rare interview, Crandall shared some of his memories of One Commerce in the early days.

"It was 1991," remembers Crandall. "Bush was in the White House, and democracy was winning across the world. It was right out of a Jesus Jones lyric — we were watching the world wake up from history.

"When they built One Commerce that year, I knew that they were building something special," continued Crandall. "The company I was working for at the time, Genentech, moved into the first floor offices there. And through thick and thin, I stayed there — through the merger with Genzyme, the buyout by BioGen, the bankruptcy and sale of assets to Genzytech, the LBO and recapitalization as GeneBioGeneGene. And that was just 1991."

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