In Memoriam: The Cambridge (Mass) Chapel

The LDS Chapel on Longfellow Park in Cambridge, Massachusetts started on fire this morning. Various eyewitnesses have emailed alumni/ae of the wards that meet and have met in the building over the years. As of 12:34 EST, none of us knows anything about cause. While I’m sure that the details will soon be sorted out, I wanted to open this post as a space to remember that chapel. While I know this sounds melodramatic, I’m feeling really quite sad about this and suspect there are others mourning today. Go ahead and share your memories.

Updates: FPR had initial Blogdom coverage, the roof has collapsed but the brick walls still stand, many though not all of the library books are being preserved, area churches have graciously offered their support, and the current best guess is an electrical fire that started in the attic. One memorable moment was the retrieval, intact, of a painting of Jesus counseling with the rich man, by firefighters.


  1. I first arrived in late August 1990. Two weeks earlier, I had undergone a conversion experience that had jolted me from world-weary agnosticism to a fervent belief in God and the Restoration. Simultaneously I left the rural Rockies and arrived in the former capital of Massachusetts Bay Colony, the town of Cotton Mather, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, and the Loeb Classics Press.

    That first year will always be sacred to me. Bishop Clayton Christensen’s gentle demeanor, deep spirituality, and brilliant mind. The after-church dinner that seamlessly combined soup kitchen and social gathering, the homeless that I met there, the Andover Theological Academy across Brattle Street where Phil Barlow famously drew such strength in the 1980s (see his Thoughtful Faith on that point). The gospel doctrine classes that Steve Rowley taught in his droll monotone, at once playful and rigorous, the baptismal font behind the kitchen where a trickle of converts shared our community and beliefs and the Relief Society room where we often met afterwards to celebrate that new life, the Institute library where we read uncorrelated books and debated Mormon identity late into Sunday nights, the sacrament hall with its circular window playing the light from shimmering trees across the way, singing Longfellow’s plaintive hymns 50′ from the house where his wife met her own doleful end by fire, the testimonies on fast Sunday brimming with passion and eloquence and fear and glory and uncertainty and conviction. The musician who, when I was ward mission leader, asked me to give him blessings of strength at least twice a month, an impetus to maintain my own spirituality that I don’t think he ever fully comprehended. The godparents of all of our children, my wife, many of my dearest friends and favorite people–I know from that wardhouse.

    That church will forever be the emblem of my spiritual home in Mormonism. I am desperately sad to see it go.

  2. I enjoyed that ward when I was there (2001-2005), but I wasn’t there much because I lived down in Rhode Island most of the time. Plus, I was going through tough times. But I enjoyed that building.

    I wonder what they are going to do now.

  3. I was in Cambridge just yesterday for my Mother-in-law’s funeral and walked past the chapel four times on my walks to and from the square My fondness for that space — and don’t say buildings are inanimate — is unspeakable. I never felt more at home in Mormonism as I did during the six years I walked the redbrick sidewalks to Longfellow Park. I will miss it dearly.

  4. We attend at one of the Boston suburban chapels and before our broadcast was over we had cell phone news and pictures.

    I met my husband there; he served as a bishop there; we sang in amazing choirs; all those good meals on Sunday afternoons; it’s a huge loss.

    Sam MB, we must have overlapped, I have a lot of your same memories.

    I heard it started near the chapel which suggests electrical?

  5. I hope they rebuild in the same style. Great design.

  6. Kristine says:

    Sam, I remember you bearing your testimony of that conversion experience, with sun streaming through that gorgeous round window.

    When I first got there, I was in charge of dinner, but didn’t know anybody with a car well enough to ask for help–I did all the grocery shopping on the bus, then stayed up all night in the kitchen by myself, making homemade graham cracker crusts for cheesecake. 4 years later, I remember making dinner again, this time surrounded by the dearest friends I’ve ever had. At one point, we were cleaning up and singing hymns–I remember singing “Nearer, My God, To Thee” into the open refrigerator while trying to figure out where to put the leftovers :)

    I remember completely over-the-top attempts at choral music, including trying to do double choir stuff with one choir in the balcony (pre-Plexiglass), assigning some poor soul to read an incredibly bleak ee cummings poem in an Easter program (no time ago/ or else a life), and hours and hours playing piano and singing hymns in the chapel, watching the seasons change by the leaves on the tree behind the round chapel window.

    I’m so sad.

  7. Kristine says:

    jeans, I’m crying about practicing “Like As a Father” with you!

  8. FPR posted some pics and info a few hours ago:

  9. Deborah says:

    We drove by the church on the way home today and saw the huge water streams going into the building. The damage will be extensive. I am resolved to work hard to make sure that when they rebuild on that spot they go outside the approved architectural plans of the church to respect the history and the love of that place.

    It wasn’t your typical mormon space- in both the physical architecture and the spiritual composition. When you meet with people who were in some part or fashion associated with that space, there is an immediate bond, a recognition of experiencing something different. The departure from the typical mormon church building layout was a catalyst for a departure from the culture of the mormon west that was all that I had known before- challenging, wonderful and deep. The creaking floors in the hall, shifted door frames in the upstairs classrooms and settled walls spoke to the history of the building that grounded me to a past that wasn’t really mine, but felt important to me. I was one of those people that walked on that worn carpet, sat in the balcony and contemplated as a young person, what their commitment and faith would be.

    My husband and I met there and several key pillars of my testimony were acquired there. I’m glad I showed my kids the spot. I was hoping they would someday attend there. I hope by then it will hold the same trust and promise.

  10. I first visited Longfellow Park in 1994 when I was investigating colleges, and I immediately fell in love… in love with the architectural symbolism of the building… like the tiered round window in the chapel that seemed at times to me like a depiction of the three degrees of glory or like the scope of a rifle suggesting the need to stay on target and keep the goal in our sights, a window that simultaneously lets in light and yet doesn’t clearly display all that is on the other side… in love with the unique faith, personal conviction, expressiveness, humor, optimism, and testimony of the members who met there… in love with the rich history of the place itself, its conduciveness to meditation, and its proximity to the Charles. Spending four years in its hallowed halls learning, growing, and communing was a blessing, a privilege. I, too, mourn the loss.

  11. Here are more pictures.

  12. Well, shoot. I have fond memories of the place. I have not been back in a while, but lots of significant things happened to me in and around there. Great place. I hope it is rebuilt. Shucks.

  13. Latter-day Guy says:

    Served my mission in Boston. I have many fond memories of that chapel. Though I was never assigned to that area, all the missionaries I knew went there fairly frequently for P-day activities, etc. I’m really hoping that they rebuild according to the same plan and that they don’t just turn it into another McChapel.

  14. I remember attending many events in the Cambridge Chapel during my time as a counselor in a bishopric back in the 1960’s. This was when Boyd K Packer was the Mission President. He gave us very valuable instruction during our Bishiopric Training sessions. I pray that the many valuable records there were preserved.

  15. Kristine says:

    David, one happy accident is that the stake held a reunion a couple of years ago and a lot of records were gathered and preserved and digitized (and hopefully archived somewhere besides the chapel!) at that time. Also, hundreds of people returned to Boston and Cambridge for that event so they’ll have had a last happy memory there.

  16. I was baptized in that church. I was a member of the University and Longfellow Park I ward. This is such sad news. I am glad to hear everyone is ok, I am sad to know that such a beautiful, special, building is lost. I am grateful for all the memories: lessons, programs, conferences, meetings, and spiritual experiences I had there. My prayers go to the ward members who need a new spiritual home.

  17. Boston Globe has some more pictures, including of some members watching the fire.

  18. Kenneth Brewer says:

    I just came from the scene of the fire.

    Stake Conference was being broadcast from Salt Lake City and so we about 300 members in the church when the fire alarm went off. We couldn’t see any smoke or see any flames so we all thought it was just a drill. We left the building expecting to come back in once we found out who had accidentally pulled the alarm. That’s when I noticed what the smell of fireworks in the air. Smoke was coming out of one of the attic windows. My friend John Sherwood, who is in the Coast Guard, made a sweep of the building to make sure everyone made it out safely.

    Soon afterwards, the firefighters began arriving. One of the firefighters climbed a ladder on to the roof, took out a chainsaw, and cut a hole into the attic. Smoke and flames began billowing out. Me and twenty other Mormon men in suits were asked to help carry the fire hose into the building. We did so and then rushed back out when the “clear the building” alarm was given. The roof and some of the upper floors began collapsing soon afterwards. The chapel was the first room to go. I gave a silent prayer for Heavenly Father to protect the Institute library and the several thousand irreplaceable books that our Institute director had been collecting. Eventually, with the combined force of 22 fire engines from Cambridge, Sommerville, Waltham and Belmont, the fire was put out.

    Miraculously, one of only a couple rooms that survived the fire was the Institute library. Some of the books were soaked by the 6 inches of water that covered the ground, but one of the Longfellow Park 2nd Ward members had invited two of her fellow students from Harvard’s Library Conservation Program to attend the services. The immediately put the congregation to work moving the books into the Society of Friends church across the street and doing what could be done to mitigate the water damage.

    My favorite painting in my two years of attending the student ward there has always been Heinrich Hoffman’s “Christ and the Rich Man”. The painting was in the lobby hanging on a false wall shared with the chapel. Since I roof collapse into the chapel I thought for sure this painting was lost. Imagine my surprise when two firefighters came out of the building with that painting in tact. I ran over to it and grabbed one side, and me and a friend grabbed the other. The painting wasn’t burned; there wasn’t any smoke damage; there were only a few drops of water on the painting and that’s it. As we carried it across Longfellow Park the crowed erupted in cheers. We had lost our dedicated church building, but the presence of God was still with us.

  19. As a member there from 1998 to 2001, I feel like this is a persoanl loss. That building represented one of the few wards I’ve attended where my approach to Mormonism wasn’t only tolerated, it was common. We have a watercolor painting of this chapel hanging in our home; it has suddenly become much more meaningful.

  20. My wife and I were in the Arlington Ward while we lived in the area. The meetinghouse in Blemont was destroyed by an arsonist before we arrived, and the community pitched in to build a truly unique building – one of a kind in the church.

    Given our situation, I never attended the Longfellow Park building regularly, but my wife worked at the undergraduate admissions office on Brattle Street – so she and I occasionally walked past Longfellow Park and marveled at the beauty of that building. It hurt to see the pictures, even though the personal attachment never was there for me.

    Although I love the unique building that was created in Belmont after the older building was destroyed, I hope the Cambridge building is restored faithfully to the original blueprint. Longfellow Park simply would not be the same without that exact meetinghouse there.

  21. El Greco says:

    I also served a mission in Boston a few years ago. I never was assigned to the Longfellow Park chapel but we missionaries would often go there for P-Days. We made good use of the basketball court (of course) and the pool tables in the basement. Lots of good memories of P-Days there… I hope they rebuild to a similar design, it was a really neat and big chapel.

  22. woodboy says:

    I started attending the LP building in the fall of 1993 as a new student in the University Ward. I didn’t know a soul. I still live in New England today, and this church has been my spiritual home for most of the last 16 years. It has seen me through countless friendships, wonderful shared experiences, and two marriages, on a long strange journey that I wouldn’t have believed would happen to me if someone had told me so on the day I first walked in there. I have many happy memories of my time in that church–playing the organ, DJing church dances, rehearsing and performing with various groups, hiding out up in the balcony watching people scratch each others backs, distributing copies of the late great Juvenile Instructor. Many of the closest friendships of my life were forged in that building. Lots of things have changed over the years, but that building was always my rock, a focal point of my adult spiritual life. It was a wonderful building too, full of nooks and crannies to explore, like that weird passageway between the gym and the RS room. It was wonderfully unique, and like others I hope that whatever ends up there eventually will not lose that character.

    I only find myself in Cambridge on sunday mornings about once a month these days. This morning, I was up singing a service at Christ Church around the corner on Garden St. It is not unusual to hear sirens occasionally during services, but this morning they kept getting progressively louder and more numerous. It became clear that something unusual was happening, and near the end of the service the priest said a prayer for whoever was affected by the fire. I had no idea it would be me. When the service ended and the doors opened, smoke wafted in. As I walked outside, someone said the Mormon church on Brattle St. had burned down. We rushed over to the smoldering ruins of the church and watched for several hours as the firefighters worked to put out the blaze. It was strange to see water pouring into the charred remains of the chapel, to see the collapsed roof beams littering the gym, flames flickering along the rose window, and to see the upstairs hallway illuminated with bright sunlight, no longer shielded by a now missing roof. Several neighbors and ministers of neighborhood churches stopped by to talk. One remarked how horrible it was to see a place of gentleness consumed in such a violent manner. We moved around to the front of the building and watched the firefighters start to wind things down. Ward members had lined up and were busy pulling as many books as possible out of the library (which is now downstairs where the mission office used to be). There was a touching moment as two firefighters carried a large portrait of Jesus ministering to the rich man out of the front door of the church.

    I am glad that fate found me up in Cambridge this morning, and that I had a chance to say goodbye to the building that has meant so much to me over the years.

    The brick part of the building is still standing, but the roof is gone and most of the inside is burned out. There was some worry that the steeple was going to collapse, but as of a few hours ago, it looked like this was under control. From what I have heard, there will be an investigation that will take about six months to determine how the fire started and whether the remaining structure will need to be razed. Then six more months for new plans, and a year for construction, so it will be a minimum of two years before the church will be useable.

  23. Latter-day Guy says:

    El Greco, who was your Mission President?

  24. One of my favorite tidbits was the round window behind the podium. I remember looking at it during a (perhaps boring) sacrament meeting and realizing its panes were all equal area. Nerdy, but I’m sure I wasn’t the first nor last to have that epiphany.

    The chapel may be gone, but many fond memories and friendships remain. And chalk up another vote to rebuilding in the same unique style.

  25. Thanks woodboy. Wonderfully fond memories.

  26. Kristine: I remember the *high* anxiety of being a 17-year-old freshman tasked with planning dinner for 200, somehow thinking my mom’s chicken and rice casserole was the way to go . . . the results might have been slightly crunchy but the memories of scrubbing pans with my FHE group till 8pm are very sweet.

  27. This church building has been a part of a lot of important events for me and my family. 4 of us went there, 3 couples met there and are now happily married. I met my best friends there. There was a lot of weirdness there too, but they make great, great stories. I was in LP1 and LP2 and there was nothing better than chastity talks, or porn talks. Getting dating advice from bishops, or how to avoid “petting”.

    I worked across the street too (lots of Mormons did, thanks to EH) and passed by that church a couple of times everyday.

    I am so sad to not have it there anymore.

  28. Nate Oman says:

    No! No! No! I have many memories of attending church, working in the Family History Library, walking the halls with babies. One of the great chapels of the church. So sad…

  29. I attended that chapel for 8 years of my life. I met life-long friends there, planned and cleaned up many an after church dinner, made my first cinnamon rolls and my first (and only!) Haitian meal in that kitchen. My good friend Rick Hoyt was baptized there, and my first proposal of marriage was on the steps of that chapel. (It didn’t work out, but still…) I can’t imagine Boston without it. I’m at a loss…..

  30. I can’t believe it! I was back there two weeks ago house hunting after nine years of being away. I loved that building and that ward, it was the best version of Mormonism that I have ever experienced. I too hope they rebuild it as it was.

  31. Michelle says:

    I just got a call from a friend, sharing this awful news with me. I’m in tears. I have so many happy memories of that building (I attended there from ’90 to ’96), and my parents met on the steps of that building, back in the early 70’s. I feel like I just lost an old friend.

  32. Kiri Close says:

    I can’t believe it. I’m so sad, & in shock. A year ago, we moved outta Boston, here to Nebraska. But my heart, I find, still beats in Beantown.

    This incident, & all the news photos, videos, articles–in a very surreal way–make me feel like I’m still there. I have so many memories in that building, that sub area of Cambridge itself.

    My heart is broken today.

  33. Mary Johnston says:

    This church building has heard so many songs and souls. It has witnessed so much painful and redemptive spiritual journeying. Freud and Darwin were welcomed right along with the Three Witnesses. In the chapel I sang “Amazing Grace” Aretha Franklin- style while Brandon Ingersoll accompanied me on guitar.
    I met so many dear friends in this building–worshipping, praying, dancing, doubting, loving… I cannot think of a building save my childhood home that means more to me.
    Thank you to everyone who has written and who has anchored this beloved space with so much meaning.

  34. I started attending the church at 4 Longfellow Park in 1969 when I began attending as a freshman at Wellelsey College. It was my introduction to Mormon life (being a convert from Illinois and waiting for two years for my parent’s permission to be baptized when I was 19.) I had so many thoughtful spiritual mentors there. I thought the whole Mormon church was just like my experience in those University Ward years.

    My first Mormon Sunday School teacher was Tony Kimball who quoted CS Lewis all the time and gave articulate, intellectually and spiritually rich institute lectures. That was my introduction to CS Lewis; it was the perfect segue for me – a committed Protestant Christian who God had just tapped to become Mormon. Others here have mentioned the large round window in the chapel and its changing hues, “target” design, etc.; I always enjoyed finding a kind of cross in it, a comforting hidden treasure to my way of thinking.

    I remember plays on that stage; watching “Wait Until Dark” on a movie night in the gym; dances in the dark cultural hall (including one with a tune I recognized as “Sympathy for the Devil” although I don’t know that anyone else knew what it was. :-). I experienced Relief Society for the first time in that room with the lovely bay window. I attended meetings with missionaries at the mission home just a few doors down (at the time). I remember black carpet with a floral pattern in squares in the foyer. I remember confiding in my bishop, Richard Bushman, that I’d been thinking about attending a different college for my senior year and his telling me that he thought that the answer to that decision would have something to do with meeting my husband. I asked him if he were speaking as a guy with a hunch or a bishop under inspiration. He said he thought it was as a bishop under inspiration. I stayed at Wellesley and, although it took 4 more years for all the pieces to be in the right place, I met my husband in that building. Eventually our first child was blessed in that chapel by our then bishop Roger Porter. After a 13 year absence while we lived in Chicago, we returned to Massachusetts for my husband’s work. That brought an entirely new Longfellow Park ward experience to us as he served as bishop for a couple of life-changing years. When our son attended Brown University many years later (and after we’d moved back to Chicago), he traveled up from Providence to Cambridge on Sundays for church in that building and taught Gospel Doctrine class for a while.

    So much of my shaping as a Latter-day Saint Christian was nourished by the generations of friends and mentors I met in that building. This is stunning news. Happily the experiences and memories, wrestlings and witnesses that effected me in that building are worked well into the marrow of my bones by now.

    Please send all your mighty prayers upward that whatever replaces that building fits in harmoniously with the neighborhood and that it will in all ways “grace” the neighborhood – and without all the kerfuffle that attended the building of the Boston Temple.

  35. My husband and I met in that chapel in April 1989 at a YSA conference. We have fond memories of that weekend spent around that church building, and always have wanted to go back and show our children where we met. At least we can show them the photos that others have shared, and we can still show them the area. I’m just thankful that no one was injured in the fire!

  36. Mary I remember your amazing grace, Linda I remember your husband’s bishopric. So many wonderful people for so many years. What a melancholy day.

  37. How remarkable that a building can be so important to so many–spanning generations. My husband (Harvard grad, so well acquainted with the chapel) just called to check in. I told him about the fire. His response, after a stunned second, was “Oh my gosh! That’s a historic building! Oh no!” He wants to contribute to this thread as soon as he has time. I remember being there with him during a summer in Boston, and listening to him wax poetic about great moments of grad school life which happened inside that chapel. It has been home to so many.

  38. MIT undergrad from ’58 – ’62. Quite an experience. I had a key and got to practice on the organ late at night. Now, where did all this liberal Mormon thinking come from?

  39. Natalie says:

    Hello all — it’s nice to hear your thoughts and feelings.

    I’m presently a member of LP1 and have been here since 2006. I know it’s just a building, but the Longfellow Park Chapel was one of the reasons I knew Boston was my home. For at least the first six months I lived in Boston, my heart was full of comfort and a general feeling of “rightness” when I entered that building every Sunday.

    Far from the hub of church activity out West, chapels in this area are hard to come by. The Longfellow Park chapel was the oldest in Massachusetts, boasting a rather unusual history and design. All of that’s gone now — the roof collapsed, windows broken, and a charred brick shell a ghost of the lively activity historically housed within the walls. So many many unknowns for the members of our wards–where we’ll meet, if our wards can stay together, if we’ll be disbanded during the rebuilding–and the magnitude of the situation is still surreal and hard to fathom.

    The fire today has destroyed the physical facade, but for hundreds of members of the Church currently in the LP wards, the Spirit of what we felt within those walls will now be spiritually housed within each of us, as a physical facility no longer exists. Maybe this is the chance for us individually to help rebuild the building that rebuilt so many of us.

  40. Natalie says:

    I created a photo collage from today’s fire:

  41. Anne Snarr says:

    I was baptized in that chapel in 1966. Met my future husband in that chapel in 1970. Any one of many beautiful memories associated with the chapel bring tears of joy to my eyes. I am so very sorry about the loss.

  42. My wife and I attended church at the Longfellow Building for the first few years of a 7 year stint in Cambridge that came to a tearful close last summer. Although we attended church elsewhere for the majority of our Cambridge years, it is at the Longfellow Building that I discovered that love, unity, and Zion could thrive in a church community with widely diverse opinions and feelings on all manner of subjects. My thoughts are filled with memories of dinners, baptisms, celebrations, funerals, rehearsals, conferences, etc. and the dear friends we shared them with; we feel the sense of loss deeply.

    Two specific experiences come to mind. First, this is the chapel where my wife and I wept on each others’ shoulders as we said goodbye to President Hinckley. Second, our oldest son was baptized in the font last June. I had sort of developed a romantic notion that life would lead us back to Boston and that the rest of our children would be baptized in the font. I recognize that it was unlikely to play out as scripted in my mind, but this disaster somehow leads me to mourn a lost opportunity. Thanks to all for sharing; we remember many of you fondly.

  43. Mary, I remember your Amazing Grace as well, and Linda, I remember being in the RS presidency during your husband’s tenure as Bishop. Lots of good memories. Melancholy day, indeed.

  44. My fond memories stem from the fact that I was baptised there my sophomore year (it was in December, and boy was that water cold). Like the other JD and as many have stated, I too looked fondly on the rose window – my appreciation for it only increased after worshiping in the “McChapels” of the 80’s and 90’s. As an architect, I sincerely hope that the replacement lives up to the sterling architectural pedigree of Cambridge. Anything less would be a disservice not only to the neighborhood, but the church as well.

  45. Kristen says:

    Today I live in Seattle, but my heart is (and always has been) in Boston. When I got the text, in between Sunday meetings that the Longfellow Park chapel had burned, the tears sprung so rapidly and I found it difficult to explain to my Pacific Northwest ward members the depth of the loss to the Church and countless members around the world.

    My first memories of Church are in that building, as is my first experience with repentance (a fellow Primary classmate convinced me to stuff grass through the mailslot into the bishop’s office, something that haunted me for days until I confessed to my mother and then had a very pleasant visit with Bishop Gordon Williams). Years later I had the privilege to return while attending graduate school and starting my career. During that time I learned to serve and love in ways I could not previously have known without the people, places, and events that I believe could only have come together in a magical place like Cambridge.

    Even though I have been gone for over a decade now, I have spent the last five years traversing thousands of pages of oral histories regarding the Church’s growth in New England and in the Cambridge area in particular, hoping to produce, at the end, a manuscript that would have meaning and messages for many – not just those of us who have come to love Cambridge because it is a part of us. Having invested those years in this effort, I am flooded by the realization of all the things that have transpired in the Longfellow Park Chapel – the most significant of which were not publicized events, but the little life-changing interactions, moments, and bits of inspiration that have impacted thousands of people over the last 53 years. I know my life was changed there, and will ever be grateful for that.

  46. This is the first place my husband ever attended an LDS meeting. His friends who brought him almost ditched church when they found out a high councilor would be speaking. They were all Big Boy employees who came to open new stores. He joined the church in 1975 in Braintree. We went back together 2 years ago for the baptism of a convert who had been taught in our ward here. He drove me past this building. And if you are Elder Barker or Elder Broadhead, he is still trying to find you.

  47. Kristen, consider submitting an essay to Dialogue or JMH.

  48. John Taber says:

    I’ve never stepped foot in New England (strange for a NYC native, I know) but I have crossed paths with many members for whom I know that building meant a lot. And I know it meant a lot to so many of you – I really don’t know what else to put here.

  49. Natalie says:

    I don’t have any personal memories of that building, but as I read this post I can’t help but think how the friendships formed in that ward have gone on to touch the lives of so many people in the BCC community. It makes me sad to see this historic building lost, but also happy that such a vibrant ward existed to be a home for so many and a source of ideas that have spread far.

  50. The Longfellow Park building was as quirky and original as its congregants. I hope the church will use this as an opportunity to build a more orthodox, rectangular, “Mormon” building in Cambridge and hopefully stamp out some of the heretical leanings that thrive amid secret passages and peanut galleries.

    If you know me, you know I’m kidding. What a waste to lose something so special. Some of the best memories of my life are homeless now.

  51. Keri Hains Riker says:

    My husband, Tim, and I got engaged in the gym of this building the first Sunday in December, 1992. I also remember the first solo that I sang in Sacrament meeting when I was a first-year student at Wellesley. My heart was pounding so loudly with anxiety that I couldn’t hear what came out of my mouth! And of course, from 1990-1994, who can forget “Club Shane”?

  52. The Longfellow Park building was still quite new, when I arrived as a freshman in 1958. Descendants of Henry Longfellow still lived in the big Vassall house across the street. Went one time to tour that monument. The Longfellows charged me fifty cents for the privilege and wondered aloud how the crazy Mormons had managed to get that prime piece of real estate. When I let it drop that I was one of the crazies, they gathered about and urged me to get the Church to install some good New England ivy on the Chapel’s exterior. To soften the lines of the brick-work…

  53. Branden Morris says:

    I feel really sad about this, but also a little bittersweet. I’ve never been one to feel sentimental about buildings, but this news today has prompted a sweet little trip down memory lane. As is the case for so many of you, that building and all it represented is a critical part of who I am today.

    I was baptized into the Church in ’93 as a college freshman, after having had lots of LDS friends in high school and finding I missed their influence after starting school. I remember taking the missionary discussions with the AP’s from the mission office that was then in the meetinghouse – after cold-calling them and telling them I wanted the discussions.

    The couple of years I spent in the then-University Ward were amazing – I met some wonderful people (many of whom, thanks to the Internet, I’ve recently re-connected with), and had several amazing experiences that were not only a highlight of my undergraduate years, but also my spiritual development: my first temple experience, following an overnight ride to DC; my first opportunity to accept a calling and give service in the church; my first experiences with repentance and forgiveness. We had such a great community for so many of those “firsts.”

    This also brought to mind the several amazing young men and women in my FHE group and Institute class, including my first serious romance that, while it didn’t pan out, had left me with a close lifelong friend.

    So many great experiences I’m so happy to have had there. I’m very glad no one was hurt – and wish those wards all the best as they rebuild.


  54. I was overwhelmed as I read about this. Despite my only association with the building being my family’s relationship with the Bushmans, the pictures reminded me of a nightmare I had of seeing my home chapel in Delaware burn down. The memories and feelings associated with the ward meetinghouse of one’s youth are very powerful. We treasure our associations with every stereotype and standout in the ward. And I think most LDS have at least one pivotal moment of their life frozen in memory that took place in a brick and mortar building with half-carpet walls. (Not sure if the Cambridge Mass chapel had those silly carpet walls) I know it’s really just a building but my prayers will be for those affected by this fire. My testimony has been strengthened by the constant reminders at my home ward building of events in life. I would be rather saddened to see my second home in ruin.

  55. Mrs. H-B says:

    I attended church in the Longfellow Building from 2003 to 2005. Though I struggled a great deal with my testimony at the time, the experiences I had attending church there with other faithful member were a catalyst for personal growth. I am grateful for the wonderful visiting teachers I had, for the friends I made, and for the opportunities I had to serve in the church. The Massachusetts years were crucial in shaping the person that I am today and, I am sure, will continue to be important for the rest of my life.

    I am sad today for all of us that have many wonderful memories tied to such a historical building.

  56. John Taber says:

    Jim, what ward did you grow up in? Richard Bushman was my bishop (and later seminary teacher) in Elkton Ward. I’m now in Wilmington 2nd, formerly Wilmington West (1981-2004) and before that New Castle.

  57. erikapetersonmunson says:

    In 1967 when I was eight years old, my family moved from Salt Lake to Cambridge. The building on Longfellow Park quickly became a symbol for what I had brought with me from Utah: a traditional faith and a culture that at first seemed at odds with the strange new world I encountered.

    It took a little while to be proud of that place. I blamed some of the culture shock I was feeling on that colonial architecture. It wasn’t the warm contemporary building that I was used to in the Federal Heights Ward in Salt Lake (another meetinghouse rare in it’s uniqueness and beauty). I remember absolutely dying of embarrassment when at my mother’s behest, my carpool (not a churchgoer among them) would drop me off at the steps of the Cambridge Ward for Primary on Thursday afternoons. I was baptized there on a grey November Saturday afternoon, still homesick for Utah.

    But soon enough I figured out that being different was prized in the Harvard community of the late ’60’s. I could embrace mormonism as my personal brand of wierdness and be respected for it.

    I used the round glass window in the chapel to get me through sacrament meetings (remember when they were an hour and a half?!). You could count the squares, then divide them, rearrange them in your mind. There is a golden color of sacrament meeting light that came through the window that, in its own humble way was as unique as anything in a venetian painting.

    Blessed are the children that get to grow up in student wards. Sure, our numbers were often few but we got the very best teachers and role models you could ever ask for. I wanted to grow up and be like all those graduate students: loyal, smart and always asking questions. These busy people not only taught us the gospel but coached us through road shows on the stage, readied ungraceful teenagers for dance festivals, decorated the gym for dances……thank you Connie Cannon, Diane Wilcox, Hal Miller, Cheryl and Dean Mays, Kathryn Kimball, Sandra Buys, Val Wise. One of my fondest memories in the gym was my Beehive basketball team’s Billy Jean King-inspired challenge to the scouts. After several weeks of intense practice with coach Randy Wise we were sure we could beat the boys. The media was alerted. On game night we came charging out with Helen Reddy’s voice blaring. We lost. With honor!

    It was always special to sing “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day in the Cambridge chapel knowing that Longfellow wrote the text right next door. The choruses from The Messiah I have memorized were learned in the chapel choir seats under the direction of Judy Dushku. And who out there was lucky enough to hear the amazing performance of Bach’s Mass in B Minor on Easter Sunday in 1981 (thank you Paul Dredge!) In addition to filling every choir seat we squeezed a fine orchestra including two beautiful kettle drums around the piano and the sacrament table. Tympany (sp?) in a sacrament meeting! Only in Cambridge.

    I ended up being a Harvard student myself and no matter what chaos was going on in my life the Sunday walk along Memorial Drive from Eliot House to Longfellow park was always theraputic. When the guy I’d been dating for two years finally said “I think we’d better see the missionaries” he soon after was baptized in the Cambridge font. Our last calling before leaving Cambridge was Primary Music in that sweet little room upstairs with the teeny little pews. My favorite Sunday was re-enacting the First Vision where a little female Sunbeam was cast as God the Father.

    The church has an unfortunate record of abandoning prime urban real estate when the going gets tough. I dearly hope that this sacred ground will be kept, cherished and a new building will be reborn there.

  58. I wondered if you were the John Taber from my Ward! This is Jim Kelleher. (Sorry to thread-jack)

  59. I attended during the same years that Mrs. H-B and Dan did (and still count them among my friends from those years). This breaks my heart. My best memories of my years in Boston–and I have a LOT of good memories from that time period in grad school–happened in that building. I was actually thinking of relocating back to Boston in the next few years and looking forward to attending in that building again, making new friends and hanging out with those I’ve left behind who are still there. I’m just very sad tonight to see what happened.

  60. John Taber says:

    Not a problem, Jim.

  61. Even though I’m proudly serving as the Relief Society Secretary of the Heritage Park Ward, I still have the sweet special memories of attending church at the Longfellow Park Chapel as the Cambridge University Ward was the very first singles ward I attended back in 2002. I also remember the dinners, munch and mingle, and the other fun activities there. I also remember how I started driving to church there by myself and how successful I was in my first attempt of parallel parking. It is sad as the loss of the Longfellow Park Chapel is like the loss of a childhood home.

  62. Sam Brown says:

    Branden, are you the Branden Morris I am remembering from the late 90s mb attending Northeastern if memory serves?

  63. Branden Morris says:

    Sam – early 90s, but yes, that’s me :)

  64. My condolences to all of you. What a tragedy.

  65. Just today I was talking with friends who I met in this building and reminiscing about what “God So Loved the World” would have sounded like if the LPWards had sung it today. How very sad to see those pictures of the chapel full of flames. I loved the building. My testimony really solidified during the years that I attended church here (1998-2003). I remember sitting with a roommate as she knitted through the services from the balcony and gazing through the rose window. I hope that the chapel will be rebuilt with at least some of same details, because it is a symbol of the uniqueness of the LDS people in the Boston area, a group of people who are consciously-thinking and choosing to be faithful.

  66. My wife and I attended church in this building my first year of graduate school at B.U. in 1995. We were newly weds a long way from home, but had some wonderful experiences in the Longfellow Park Chapel. It was not the ward we were supposed to attend, but friends recommend it and we stayed almost a year before we were “invited” to attend our actual home ward. It was a long drive from our home in Dorchester, but we loved it. The building was beautiful and we always loved Cambridge. I am truly sad to hear of this loss.

  67. I was baptized there in 1964, attended numerous stake conferences and meetings there (before the Stake Center was built in Weston), and had my best game ever in the Boston Stake’s church basketball league on that tiny court.
    I haven’t been in the building since the early 1970s, but I’m sad to know that it’s gone.

  68. Woodboy,

    I was there with you in the choir this morning at Christ Church, although I’m not sure who you are (I’m one of the evensong baritones). But I hope that Christ Church and the music will be a support to you.

    To the rest of you, we did indeed especially remember whoever was being helped by the fire department this morning (as we didn’t know at the time) during the Eucharist, and I was glad to hear that you, your books, and some of the special tokens of the chapel were safe. And I will certainly continue to pray for and with you over the time to come. I know how important our sacred spaces are, and I’m so sorry you’ve lost yours.

  69. Sam Brown says:

    Branden, my memories are so blurry, but I know that they are fond when they apply to you.

  70. So many memories! It would take a book to record them all.

    I was there from 1976 to 1983 and returned many times, including a 3 1/2 month visit in 1997. I still remember thoughts I had while the sacrament was being passed, fine talks at church (one lasting 50 minutes the content of which I’ve forgotten, and much shorter ones that stirred me then and that I still remember), some of our more interesting ward members who bore their testimony of global conspiracies instead of the gospel, a visit by a Massachusetts congressman (if I’m remembering rightly; I think Linda may have arranged that–please correct me if I’m wrong), a memorable gathering during the blizzard of ‘78 when Cambridge shut down and we shared food storage treats in the cultural hall; dances, service projects, firesides, musical events, institute classes, crushes, long talks about the meaning of everything, and much, much more.

    Especially the friends. It’s as if we clung to each other, many of us far away from the homes we grew up in, others not that far from their geographical homes but having moved to a new spiritual home. I remember being delighted at one home evening to realize that I was one of the few “non-converts” there.

    My friends from the ward constituted most of my life at that time. My church experiences were far more important really than my graduate classes (though a few of my fellow graduate students became friends too), and many of my friends from church remain intensely dear to me still.

    Something that struck me while reading the responses in this thread: though the years I spent there seem a magical, unrepeatable time, it appears that many of those who came later feel the same way about their time there. And how about those who came before me? I know of some of them by reputation, and they seem legendary.

    One of those who preceded me, Carlfred Broderick, has spoken evocatively of his student days there. (See his essay in “A Thoughtful Faith” and listen to some of his tapes.) I can picture the stories he tells in those rooms and hallways that are now in ruins.

    But my own time there–and the people I know–have taken on something of that legendary stature in my mind too.

  71. I’m eager to hear the current status of the building. Did it collapse?

  72. I first entered the Longfellow Park chapel on September 4, 1977. It was fast Sunday. I was a new physics grad student at MIT, and a convert baptised only about 6 months previously. This pair of circumstances VERY quickly convinced me that EVERYBODY knew more, felt more, read more, did more, understood more, WAS more than I would ever be.

    Fortunately, the building was full of fascinating nooks and crannies. For example, there was a trap door in the ceiling of the 2nd floor restroom by the balcony — at that time the only passage into the attic above the chapel. Do you know how quiet the attic above a chapel is between meetings on a winter Sunday afternoon? Since I had no social skills to speak of, it was good to explore the building and try to figure out what the different rooms were for, how they felt, what people did there, why they cared. As it happens, they cared a lot. And I learned a lot trying to figure out why they cared so much.

    Everybody loved the rose window. At various times, the glass was various colors — even violent orange for a year or so, until unanimous objection to the color led to fears that a “midnight maintenance” team would perform an unauthorized vitrectomy. My favorite was the pale green shade of glass that changed with the sunset during our late sacrament services.

    Over time, I found some measure of community there. Another ponytailed, bearded, hippie liberal intellectual, more or less, was just fine. I had no real idea how unusual that was, since the limits of this building were nearly my only experience of the church. But in Cambridge, it was kind of normal; the extraordinary tolerance of the community reflected the gospel quite well. This was the place where I spiritually came of age, watching the examples of wise, kind people. And, of course, observing the occasional counterexample of a a few non-wise or non-kind people. And being non-wise or non-kind myself, on occasion, and meeting forgiveness.

    Once, somebody brought matzoh for sacrament, during Passover. Everybody was cool with that, which made a big impression on me. (Ok, there was the after-church meal of bagels & ham, but everybody had the grace to laugh about it.)

    I went to church there for 23 years. 23 years in a singles ward — probably drove several bishops nuts. For no particularly obvious reason, they made me a Sunday School teacher for 14 consecutive years. I could never quite figure out how that happened, other than that maybe they could keep an eye on the weird folk. Kept me out of the attic, anyway. Maybe they could confine to one classroom those who wanted to talk about the documentary hypothesis, nuances of almah vs bethulah, the Pauline themes of Alma, or Campbell’s hero cycle in the Book of Mormon and the D&C. Whatever: it was a place in the community, with meaningful work to do, acceptance by others. In some ways, that’s how I imagine the celestial kingdom. It’s also where I got to know my wife.

    Yes, I know it wasn’t the building that did all this. But the sense memories are hard to separate from the things that really matter: the community of crazy, mostly kind people. I still miss it terribly, even years after marrying and finding another ward. Yes, I hope we rebuild a nice, funky building. But even more, I hope maybe someday we can rebuild a nice, funky community. Maybe someday.

  73. I have yet to go to New England, but this is awfully sad for me. From the pictures, this beautiful building bears a strong resemblance to the Seattle North Stake Center, which was built around the same time.

    Much of what has been said concerning the unique architecture and (possibly related) unique community in Cambridge could also be said about the Seattle building, and looking at the pictures I don’t see the unfamiliar Cambridge building, but the one in Seattle, and my heart wants to break.

  74. Dawn Sewall Lease says:

    My husband, Mike and I got married in the Cambridge Chapel in 1982. We had our first daughter in 1983, and our second daugher in 1985.

    We moved to Utah for about two years, but we came back because we wanted to be back in Massachusetts.

    We made many friends and are still in touch with many LDS friends.

    Even though I left the Church, I still have respect for it, and am so sad about the chapel burning down. It is a sad day.

  75. Ed Guidry says:

    I grew up going to that building until I was 11, when my family moved in 1984. I have a ton of memories, particularly of the chapel. I went back with my wife about 6 or 7 years ago, and we both agreed that it is one of the most unique and beautiful LDS chapels we had ever seen. What a tragedy!

  76. To answer Margaret Young:

    The building did not collapse entirely, but the roof is gone. The institute offices were the least damaged; we spent hours at the church tonight rescuing whatever we could that was salvageable. We count our blessings that no one was injured and express profound gratitude for those who spent the day in our service, from the firemen to the church-going neighbors across the park.

  77. I am in mourning for the chapel and the fire.

  78. Paula Kelly Caryotakis says:

    I am so sad about this tragedy and cannot stop thinking about it! This building became a home away from home for me after I moved to Massachusetts from California in 1988 in order to work in Boston. For 3 1/2 years it was an anchor for me; jobs, addresses and housemates changed several times, but my membership and participation in the Cambridge University ward always stayed consistant. Before moving east, I had never lived more than 50 miles from home, so my move to Boston was the true beginning of my adult life. The Longfellow building was where my testimony solidified and my spiritual adventure truly began.

    I have so many memories of both the building and the many friends I met there. Kristine, I not only remember your fantastic Sunday School Music instruction (where I learned that a hymn is not always a hymn because sometimes it is a chorale!) but also remember your cheesecakes and thinking you were crazy for going shopping on the bus! I remember volleyball on Monday nights in the gym, Sunday district dinners, and how stinky the bathroom was by 3PM because of all the diapers left in the trash by Cambridge I Ward mothers. I remember men knitting in church, new freshman women looking a little wide-eyed in RS, and men trying to crash RS because they liked our lessons better. I remember feeling SO lucky when I scored a parking space on Longfellow Park or Brattle and feeling bummed when I had to walk several blocks – especially in the rain. I remember hanging out on the front steps on warm spring evenings, watching the seasons change through that beautiful round window and looking up at the brass chandeliers in the chapel. I remember some very memorable testimonies (Sam, I remember the day you gave yours even though you probably don’t remember me). Most importantly, I remember Bishop Christensen’s warm, gentle and welcoming leadership style, and getting to know some of the most remarkable people I have ever known. In many ways, Sunday was the best part of every week and it was because of the experiences I had in that building. I am so sad to see it go.

  79. I was there 2004/2005 and met the best people in the world there. I feel so sad right now.

  80. I made my husband repeat the news three times and show me the pictures before I could believe him. I joined the church a few months before leaving for college in 1995, and the University Ward became the place where I really learned about the gospel and developed a testimony. (And learned how NOT to cook tacos for 200 people!)

    I too spent countless moments pondering the symbolism of the beautiful round window. Enough years have passed that the exact layout of the building has faded somewhat from my mind, but the feeling of the window, the light, and the amazing souls that shared that sacred space with me still lingers.

    I’ve met in a variety of buildings as a member of the church, including converted warehouse space in the branch where I first joined in Connecticut, a farm house/barn in Guatemala, the historic 20th ward building in the Ave’s of Salt Lake complete with the only stained glass windows I’ve ever seen in an LDS chapel, and more than a few of the cookie-cutter 1970’s brick eyesores that seem to pepper the growing stakes of this country. I’ve worshiped in enough different buildings to know that it is not the building that makes the place special, it is a combination of the the spirit, the gospel, and the amazing people who share the space.

    Even knowing that, I still deeply mourn the loss of the Cambridge Chapel….I have so many wonderful memories—too many to mention. Suffice to say that my life has been forever touched by my experiences there.

    My prayers are with those of you who currently worship there—I hope the hearts of your neighbors in Cambridge will be touched and that somehow you will find a way to worship together while the building is being repaired / rebuilt.

  81. Ben, I’ve attended church in both chapels (Seattle and Boston) and you’re right–they’re very similar buildings. The LP chapel in Boston is bigger and has a basement, and I don’t recall the RS room being quite so freezing alternating with stifling, but it’s a very similar floor plan–but still quite unique. Imagine if the upstairs in the Seattle building looked down on the gym, instead of being in an L-shape from it–that’s more like what the LP building is. Was.

  82. I’ve been a longtime attender on and off… 1999-2005 in UW and LP wards plus lots of visits in the last four years since moving out of the city… That puts me at a decade there! Lots of memories, spiritual and social.

    Of course I’m sad, but the practical side of me is rejoicing: maybe when its rebuilt the relief society room won’t be 99 degrees… in both summer and winter! :) Maybe the toilets will flush completely. Perhaps the new chapel will be able to accommodate more pews, since there is so much overflow each week. Maybe the hallways will be wide enough to navigate to Sunday School classes, when the masses spill out of the chapel. lol The building sure had some quirks! I’ll miss them. And I hope the new one will be as instrumental in the lives of those who pass through its doors as its predecessor has been.

    My one final hope, as others have mentioned, is that somehow that wonderful round window from the chapel is saved or replicated in the new design. How can you not have pondered over it?

  83. While an undergraduate at Harvard, I attended the University Singles Ward from 1997-2000 and then the Grown-Up Ward from 2000-2001. I am overwhelmed with grief and sadness, but also grateful for Sam’s efforts to provide a forum to mourn together.

    I think I lived about 1/7th of my college years at the chapel. It wasn’t unusual for me to spend 6-8 hours at the church on Sundays with all the meetings, after-church dinners, choir, baptisms, etc. In fact, I have to confess…. I once even took a two-hour nap up on the balcony while everyone was in Sunday school/RS. Whew! I’ve confessed. I feel better. It was my home in Cambridge… the dorms we’re just temporary housing. I too remember being volunteered to head up the after-church dinners as a freshman (Agh!) and organizing countless skits and lip-syncs for those ward parties. Do you recall how during Christmastime the whole chapel would smell like pine boughs thanks to the RS’s annual wreath-making event and the fat pine trees in the front foyer? Also, there was nothing better than a Fast and Testimony Meeting in the Singles’ Ward.

    For four years, I walked 20 minutes to and from that church at least twice a week, and that is quite a task when you wear high heels on brick sidewalks. It was always a joy to finally reach the back door and come in to find the halls plastered with “flirting” singles (I sometimes wonder how any of us ended finding our spouses there… considering how socially strange most of us were). I loved being there alone, too… like to practice on the organ or to meet with Bro. Christensen… it was a unique building in that it was equally warm whether empty or full.

    I was hoping my kids would someday attend church there… and hopefully they will. It will always be a hallowed place, and I am sure the church (and the Cambridge City Council) will make sure the new building there will be appropriate and equally worthy of our adoration.

    RIP my old friend.

  84. Aaron Brown says:

    What a sad day. I attended church in the LP building from 1997-2000. While I don’t feel quite the attachment to the building that many of you do, some of my darkest and brightest experiences in Mormonism happened within its walls. Longfellow Park was a place, a set of experiences, that helped me understand and appreciate the diversity that can exist in the Mormon community if we let it, and respect it. I have particularly fond memories of various GD and EQ classes there. Sam Brown, Steve Rowley, etc. Oh, and one of my all-time favorite church classroom experiences happened there:

    Good times. So sorry this day has come.

    Aaron B

  85. Interesting how even though I only saw the building once (arrived just in time to watch people leaving the meetings I thought I would be able to attend on my way home from a trip in Boston), I am feeling the sadness, too.

  86. My wife led me to the news and to this website. We met while we were attending the ward in 2001. I share the sentiment alike to most that left comments here.

    I clearly remember my first Sunday in the LFP building in August of 1998. Though I had a testimony, I was spiritually much more underdeveloped. I remember the trek I made with my father from the Harvard Sq red line exit, passed HMV, down on the ragged brick sidewalk, into the LFP building backway from by the kitchen. I was a freshman at Boston U, with my major yet undecided, freshly arriving to US for the first time that week from Zurich. We comfortably situated ourselves by the left back corner and the sacrament meeting convened. That week I was quite overwhelmed with new and different world that I was about to face, including the new ward in it. Then I remember hearing a familiar opening hymn sung in the language I never heard before. And right away that holy spirit lifted me and I came to a realization that, unlike all the new places I visited earlier that week, this place was not different from my home.

    That same year I was spiritually tested, and though I never lost my burning testimony, I never came out as a strong active member of that ward. I remember those that persistently helped me through the hard times, including my home teachers, my home teaching companion, those in BUFHE and the bishopric. I received my patriarchal blessing and my mission call.

    Upon returning from my mission, this time I was determined to give/return as much as I could to the Lord and get as much out from my church experience. The Lord changed me in two years, and I was determined not to let him down. The blessing I received in that ward in the next two years are immeasurable. I made some of the most dearest friends that I have, gained more testimonies and memories through service, met, dated, proposed and married my wife in the Boston temple in June 2003. It was one of the most happiest moments of my life.

    Like many of you I recall that circular window omnipresent during our sacrament meeting, counting how many possible pies that could be conjured out of it. When I saw a picture of what’s left of that window, I could no longer contain my emotions as I wept with feelings of gratitude. It represented everything that is dear to my heart that happened there. Even now I can close my eyes and remember the intricacy of that building, and how much time I spent there. I miss all of that, I miss all that Lord blessed me through it.

  87. Nancy Brooklyn Smith says:

    I attended the Longfellow Ward from 1989-1991 and enjoyed all of the wonderful experiences there. Bishop Christensen is such a compassionate leader and the ward felt like family. It is a sad thing to see the chapel burned to the ground. I have so many good friends that came from that time in my life. This was before the RS had to follow the manual and there were very many interesting approaches to the gospel. I now live 45 minutes from the Washington DC Temple. We used to travel all night from Cambridge to attend the Washington Temple for the day. It is a great loss for the church to lose such a unique and special building.

  88. Althought not consumed by fire, a 1950-era ward building (which I and my father helped build) in Short Hills, New Jersey was gutted on the inside and a “new” building was built within the masonry walls.

    I hope the Cambridge Chapel will be rebuilt within the masonry walls (with a sprinkler system). I have fond memories of 6 years (1957 through 1963) in that building.

    In building the Nashua, New Hampshire Stake Center, we retained the colonial architecture of the area. All chapels should reflect the indigenous architecture.

  89. jennifer west says:

    I have a lifetime of memories in this building. I grew up in the Cambridge II ward and attended there until the Belmont Chapel was built when I was a teenager. There were many fun days of basketball as a teenager and road show practices. And even more memories were created when I returned home for graduate school and made lasting friendships and met my wonderful husband there! I too hope they can build it much the same as it holds a special place in many of hearts

  90. Yankee Pilgrim in Utah says:

    I was deeply saddened to read and see the pictures of the University Ward Meetinghouse burning. In fact, I was brought to tears because this meetinghouse was the setting for one of the most pivotal events of my life. It was there that I met my best friend who was serving on President Paul H. Dunn’s mission staff when he was president of the New England Mission which was once headquartered there. My Bishop was Dr. James K. Lyon, who was at the time a professor of 20th century German Literature and one of the world’s foremost authorities on the works of Bertholt Brecht. The Institute Director was Steve Gilliland, another exceptional Latter-day Saint. My friend and I met after one Sacrament Meeting and developed a friendship that lasted for the remainder of his mission and to the day he died. I still vividly remember the afternoon we walked around Longfellow Park and he told me that his life would be very short and that he would die young. I also remember the day when he was released after completing his mission and we walked again in the park and he told me that his death was very close. Four months later it was one of President Dunn’s Assistants who called to tell me that he had been killed in a automobile accident. A person he was traveling with had fallen asleep at the wheel of his car. That was 38 years ago and I am retired now. I had planned to return to Boston for a visit and wanted to worship again at this treasured meetinghouse, but now that will be impossible. President Dunn told me that this exceptional man was like the son he never had and everyone who met him with any degree of spirituality could feel that. Even my own mother, who was not kindly disposed towards the Church commented, “What is it about him? It’s as if he doesn’t belong here. He’s like an angel.” All I could do was say, “Yes, I know.” His presence at our Thanksgving Dinner completely cooled my mother’s animosity towards the Church. When she died a few years after him I felt sure that she would be greeted by him and taught the Gospel. She wouldn’t listen to me, but she would listen to him. My life would have been infinitely more barren if I hadn’t had this and many other remarkable experiences at the University Ward. What a rare honor and privilege it was to attend a ward filled with some of the brightest minds of my generation and to feel their spirit and witness the depth of their faith. That meetinghouse was the center of my spiritual world in Boston and it was the location where the solid footings of my own faith and testimony were laid. Although made of cement, brick, mortar and wood, how can one not love such a place? And most especially, when it gave the greatest love your life has ever known.

  91. I attended that chapel from the time I was born, until the Belmont Chapel was built when I was about 12. I was baptized there and have a lot of really vivid memoried of the building: Christmas parties and nativity plays in the cultural hall, taking the sacrament in Junior Sunday school, attending primary on Wed afternoons, climbing up and jumping off the “huge” rocks on the lawn outside, the beautiful round window, hanging out in both the cry room and nursery, then later babysitting other kids in the nursery, really fun Halloween parties including the “haunted house” in the basement, and I have pictures of me as a two year old under the magnolia tree on the side lawn.
    It is a beautiful building and I hope it will be rebuilt in a similar way, especially the big round window. It is a loss, but mainly we’re glad nobody got hurt.

  92. #58 – erika, thanks for mentioning Paul Dredge. We had the great fortune of attending the Arlington Ward with Paul – and he filled in for me in a quartet at a Ward Music Program the night my second son was born.

  93. #53 – Andy and his wife, Valerie, were like surrogate parents for me and my wife – newlyweds in a strange land. Man, the memories this thread is bringing back . . .

  94. Arthur Shek says:

    I attended the University Ward from 1995-1999 as one of the MIT strong. Thanks to Sam for putting up this page, it really hits home.

    I too pay tribute to the building where I was baptized, amazed at the huge turnout from university students I had never met, where I spent many a spring day bonding with fellow students on the long walk to and from MIT along the river, the long-suffering winter walk from the T stop down the snow-embattled Brattle Street, the mediocre post-church dinners amongst students destined for greatness, and where I met my wonderful wife.

    I am glad to have walked through its empty halls and chapel one last time in 2006 when I attended Siggraph in Boston and left my fellow Disney employees for one night of nostalgia.

  95. Sam Brown says:

    Arthur I still remember your joining us there. Delighted for the update.

  96. Kristen says:

    Sam – Kristen from #47 is Kristen Smith Dayley. You and I share years worth of memories, many from Sundays spent together in PEC meetings. And for anyone confused by that, yes, in Cambridge it wasn’t uncommon for the R.S. president to participate in PEC meetings for singles wards where 2/3 of the membership was female. I’ll admit I still wonder why other wards don’t do that on occasion . . .

  97. Kristine says:

    Well, now at least we know the cause of the fire–obviously it was a lightning strike! ;)

  98. Sam Brown says:

    Kristen: many fond memories of your spiritual grace and power. All wards should be so fortunate as to have such a leader.
    Now I’m certain we need at least an article from you at jmh or dialogue on these oral histories.

  99. I was a student at BU from 92-96 and have many fond memories of meetings, music, friends, meals, and ward events here. I was very sorry to hear the news and hope that plans can be formed to build a suitable replacement. Hello to all of you who were there, then… The fondness I have for this building is largely because of the countless moments of sharing and friendship while I was there. I am glad I was able to visit there one last time in 2006.

  100. Michelle says:

    I showed up on the Harvard campus as a seventeen year old for “pre-frosh” weekend. I hadn’t planned to attend church as part of this visit; I figured I’d take a train home Sunday morning, so I didn’t pack any dressy clothes. But on Saturday, I happened to pick up a long floral skirt at a used-clothing store in Harvard Square. Sunday morning, I thought maybe I’d give church a try, and take a later train home. I got dressed, with only an oversized ugly old t-shirt to wear with my new/old skirt. I asked my roommate of the weekend if I could get away with this outfit, and she said I looked kind of funky and Bohemian (something I’d never been called before – nor since, for that matter). I wasn’t quite sure if it was a compliment, but decided to risk it.

    I set off on my own, without quite knowing where the church was. I wandered around, got lost, and almost gave up. I finally arrived, and the sacrament was already in progress, so I plopped myself down in the foyer. At that moment, I was overcome with the spirit. I was so relieved and grateful to have found this building; I felt like I had found my way home.

    I joined the congregation in the chapel after the sacrament had been passed, and of course, didn’t know a soul. But after the meeting, a sweet, smiley young (and very young-looking) MIT student, struck up a conversation with me. It was Tona Hangen (What was her last name back then? I forget.) I was so grateful for her small gesture of kindness, helping this painfully shy, awkwardly dressed, self-conscious newcomer feel welcomed.

    I was always incredibly intimidated by the collective brilliance of the University Ward, but I loved listening to Bishop Christensen’s wise and gentle and loving words, Steve Rowley’s fascinating lessons, and especially Collin Beecroft all decked out like Whitney Houston, singing “I want to dance with somebody!” at the ward talent show. Other memories: Preparing hundreds of baked potatoes with Bill and Donna and Ed in the kitchen; arriving at church red-faced the first day I wore my engagement ring, holding hands with Troy, thrilled to be engaged, but mortified at the attention we attracted; Sam’s long hair and cast and moving testimony freshman year; Elder Busche’s talk on God as a dyad; Kristine’s S.S. lesson that began with these words on the blackboard: “‘God is dead’ – Nietzsche followed by, ‘Nietzsche is dead’ – God”, which tickled my funny bone. Wonderful lessons by Marion Bishop Mumford, and Heather Pratley, and countless other people, whose names elude me at the moment. So many other good and loving and thoughtful and good-natured people – Mary Carol, Elaine, Cannon, Mike and Diana, and so many more. Bishop Wheelwright, whom I never saw without a smile on his face, and his wonderful, warm, friendly wife. Pouring out my pain and anguish and questions to God in quiet prayer while sitting in the chapel, and feeling his love and peace fill me from head to toe.

    Thanks for this trip down memory lane, everybody.

  101. Jim Johnston says:

    In 2002, when Richard and Valerie Anderson moved from Arlington to Utah after decades as members of the Cambridge Ward and several other wards in eastern Massachusetts, they bequeathed to us an original pew from the Longfellow Park Chapel. They had been the stewards of this surplus bench since the chapel was remodelled some years ago. Their nickname for it was Pepe Le Pew. We still have the bench and now cherish it in a new way. If you would like to see it and sit in it, let me know by email (see below).

    My own history with the chapel goes back to when I was 15, in 1970-71. Our family (my parents Peter and Charlotte, and siblings Jeff, Mary, and David) lived in Watertown and attended church in Cambridge. Gordon Williams was bishop, MaryAnn MacMurray was seminary teacher, and Dean and Cheryl May taught the youth Sunday School class. Some of the other families we knew were Bushman, Manderino, Clay, Bledsoe, Romish, Van Uidert, May, Ulrich, Dushku, Miller, White, Walker, Lyon, Merrill, Peterson, Horne, Gardner, Gilliland, Reiser, and many more.

    Now I’m 54. My wife Mary and I moved to Manchester, New Hampshire in 1985. In 1992 we moved to Lexington, Massachusetts and became members of the Arlington Ward of the Cambridge Stake. We’ve been here ever since. In September 2007, we attended the Cambridge Stake Reunion at the Longfellow Park Chapel. For more on that, including a history of places the Church has met in Cambridge over the decades up through the dedication of the Longfellow Park Chapel in 1956, and beyond, see I maintain a list of all who attended the reunion, but is incomplete. If you attended, please let me know by email.

    I saw the smoking ruin of the chapel yesterday about 2:30 p.m. and have felt sweet sorrow ever since. Such wonderful bonds we have with each other…. The bonds endure.

    Jim Johnston

  102. My heart aches for the loss of this beautiful chapel. Many of my treasured life experiences come from inside the walls of this chapel. I remember my first day attending church and being awestruck at the architecture (‘could this really be an LDS chapel?’). I, too, remember the many hours staring at the circular window, contemplating its geometry and meaning. I remember the strong bonds of friendship formed within its walls with my fellow students and with bishops and leaders. I remember phenomenal sermons and unparalleled musical numbers from the stand (and the wacky skits in the gymnasium!) that both challenged and strengthened my beliefs and faith. And I remember well the first time I saw the woman who would become my wife, sitting at the piano. What a beautiful stepping stone in my journey of life, one I’ll miss visiting dearly.

  103. I was very little when we lived in Belmont and went to church in the Cambridge building ….

    My memory is playing “chase” with a couple of other young boys after church – up one set of stairs and down another. Well, on sunday we were evidently way to loud, and L. Tom Perry came out of his office and stopped us, made us sit on our hands in the chairs by his office while he went to find our parents. That was a long drive home …..

    I remember lots of fun times in primary, I remember the big circular window in the chapel. I remember walking in the park. I remember how disappointed I was when we moved and found out that not all chapels were on a park!

    Such a great location for a church … I look forward to seeing the plans for a new building there and hope they keep some of the traditional styling…. (please don’t build just a regular building on the site!!)

  104. My mother just emailed me to let me know about the fire and I although typically a lurker on this site I have to write a few words simply because I associate this building with my Mormonism as much as any other single structure. First, it is good to see several familiar names from my time as an undergraduate from the fall of ’87 through ’91. I also fondly remember Steve’s Gospel Doctrine lessons, although until five minutes ago, I felt my experience might have been more unique – Steve, fourteen years?!
    Like others, I associate that building with intellectual inquiry that is found throughout the church – but seemingly never in such a concentrated form. It wasn’t just Steve’s lessons, although they set one heck of a tone. My freshman year at Harvard I joined into a study group populated with upperclassmen who I recall once spending two weeks (because one just wasn’t enough) discussing the Freudian interpretation of Lehi’s dream. We all agreed it was complete bunk at the end, but it wasn’t rejected it out of hand…which still feels right to me. I have lost track of the friends I made in that building, which is typical of me, but the conversations during the weekly University Ward linger-longers remain special to this day.
    I credit my choosing to remain in the church with the decision I made the first Sunday in that fall of ’87 when I elected to walk to that beautiful colonial building rather than stay back in Canaday Hall with my new roommates. Had I chosen differently, for all I know the decision would have been permanent. I distinctly remember making that walk with a profound lack of conviction or testimony, in that Building I moved from simply going and not really knowing why, to having the testimony that it was the right place for me to be – despite my occasional misgivings or gripes.
    Six years later, in my second tour of duty in that building, I baptized my wife in its font thanks largely to the tireless efforts of some of my graduate school classmates and the fellow member of the Cambridge Third Ward (called “Longfellow” now?) who couldn’t believe that a non-member spouse had fallen into their midst. I am eternally grateful for their efforts; as I hope will the three beautiful girls to whom we are sealed, and their children…
    Finally, tonight I will pray that it is rebuilt, with real bricks. I believe the church has made a grave architectural error over the last 50 years, cinder blocks are an abomination as they diminish the spirit of the Lord – but I claim no authority on this final point.

  105. Chris Kimball says:

    Heresy, I know, but . . . it was a quirky old building that didn’t work very well. While I would never have chosen to tear it down, after the fire the only architectural feature I would replicate is the window in the chapel.

    But the people, the music, the Sunday lessons. Those are priceless. In two different decades (70s and 90s), in several stages of my life, in multiple administrations, the Longfellow Park building was and remains the one Mormon place where I have felt comfortable and allowed. Where I felt I could speak without fear, and listen and sing and pray and learn. Not that everybody was like me. Rather that everybody was so not the same that there was room even for me without quibble or constraint.

    When I left the building in 1996, I spirited out a master key that opened every door. I know that was forbidden and I have no defense before the law or the Church. I never used the key; I haven’t been able to find it for at least a decade now; and anyway, in the ordinary course the locks were probably changed within a year or two. Furthermore, I didn’t really have any use for a key. The half-dozen times I’ve been in the building since the mid-90s, I found the Longfellow Park-side doors wide open.

    The point is that I wanted access. I wanted to sit in the balcony and watch the people and sing a hymn and see the light change in the window. And pray.

    The spirit of God–a very big God with wide welcoming arms–was in that place.

  106. mofembot says:

    Such a lovely building that fit in so well with its surroundings. — And perhaps that’s part of it, Chris: at the time it was built, there was a conscious and deliberate effort to ensure that this building would fit in with the larger culture and neighborhood, such a desire to be accepted — surely this had an impact on the level of acceptance you and others found within its walls.

  107. Christina Kimball Ingersoll says:

    My mother sent me the link to this blog site and she has posted here as well. Linda Hoffman Kimball and Chris Kimball met in the Longfellow Park building that fell yesterday. I am that baby who was blessed there some 29 or so years ago.

    My most powerful memories, however, are from the late 90’s when my dad, Chris, was a Bishop of the Longfellow Park ward. It was while he was Bishop that the ward first split by ages, but before that I had the luxury of spending quite some time as a high-schooler in the company of friends years older than myself. It was great for me to make connections with those who attended at that time, some of whom I stay in touch with even now.

    I remember wonderful small things from that time. My Dad and one of the congregants designed a physically beautiful program for worship. I remember one Easter or perhaps Palm Sunday (not a commonly recognized Sunday in Mormon Circles) there was a program that included hand made gauze-like orange paper and a poem about the balm of Gilead.

    And of course, I remember the window. Complete with all of its multiple meaning and ever changing colors as the season passed. I remember marking it as a sure sign of spring when the tree outside fleshed out with leaves enough to partially cover the lower left quadrant.

    I find myself once again back in Cambridge, but attending a church that feels very strongly like home to me about a block away, the UCC church on Garden Street. It was an emotionally charged, but powerful Sunday for me to be asked by my senior minister who knows me well to try to reach out on behalf of my UCC church community to offer our prayers and our meeting space to the LDS community.

    I’m very pleased to learn that First Church will be hosting some of the congregants that were attending Longfellow Park in the interim while the new building is worked out. (I echo the prayers for real brick, and strong nod to the lovely New England architecture of this area).

    I feel certain that there is a silver lining pending in the form of new friendships, the opportunity to show support, and the chance to build up the interfaith community in Cambridge, as I think Christ would have us do.

  108. I am currently a member of LP2 and was in the building yesterday when the fire alarms went off. What was initially thought by many to be a false alarm turned into something entirely different. I was shocked to see the smoke rising from the building as I was walking down the front steps. I cannot even begin to say how lucky I feel to have made it out safely especially after learning that the fire may have been burning for quite some time before the alarm went off.

    To address some of the concerns of those who have already posted. There was never a moment when the question was posed as to whether or not to rebuild. As far as I know the plan is to keep the existing walls and rebuild from there. The external architecture will remain the same due mostly to the fact that the building is part of a historical district and there isn’t a lot of wiggle room when it comes to architecture. There will most likely be changes made to the interior structure of the building to accommodates the wards currently attending. There are many of us who have spent a significant time staring up at the rose window at the front of the chapel- I too hope that continues to be a part of the building and I am sure it will. Right now it looks like it will take 1-3 years for the building to be complete.

  109. Christina, First Church housed in its basement the homeless shelter where those first shared suppers led me. For almost my entire freshman year, I spent Sunday nights serving in that shelter–it was a crucial part of who the Gospel was making of me. In some important respects our church on Longfellow Park was part of a larger space that included First Church, Radcliffe Yard (where I proposed to my wife), the divinity school across Brattle Street, the Longfellow House, the Charles River. I’m glad that the rest of those contours of our space remain.
    Michelle–you’ve never been anything but a Bohemian. In every worthy sense of the word.

    And incidentally, I think our fear of an architectural misadventure is about something else. Such a misadventure is so unlikely for a host of reasons (not least that the Church adopted red brick for the stake center under construction a couple miles from Longfellow Park) that I’m trying to think through why exactly we keep bringing it up.

  110. Christine says:

    I grew up in the Spanish-speaking ward there when there existed one in that chapel, until when I was about 20 years old. My mom and her siblings assisted church in that chapel since she came to the States from Guatemala in the early 60s. I have many dear memories there and was close to tears when I heard about the fire. I too remember the rose window in the front of the chapel and hope that will become a part of the new building.

  111. El Greco says:

    Latter-day Guy: Pres. Thompson

  112. Kristine says:

    “I’m trying to think through why exactly we keep bringing it up.”

    Two words, Sam: Coalville Tabernacle

  113. My mom moved to Boston in the late 60s following a trip to Europe with some friends. She didn’t know anyone in town or have a job, but she had the address for the Cambridge chapel, so after arriving at Logan Airport she hopped in a cab and went straight to the chapel. It turned out the singles ward was having an activity that night and by the end of the day she had a place to live. My father attended church at that chapel for 4 years while doing his graduate work in Cambridge, and that is where my parents met. I moved to Boston in the fall of 1995 to begin my freshman year at Boston University. I’ve had many wonderful experiences at that chapel over the years, and its been all the more precious to me because of the fact that it played such an important role in my parents lives.

  114. Latter-day Guy says:

    Hey, me too! Drop me a line, nicholasjordansherwood [at] gmail [dot] com. I was there from 2004-2006.

  115. When Leo said yesterday “The Cambridge church is burning down”, my first words were, “Oh, no. I hope they can at least save the organ” (a modest but serviceable pipe organ–always a treasure in a Mormon chapel). The pictures make it clear that the organ was one of the first things to go. It was my privilege to play it for many sacrament meetings between the fall of ’68, when I arrived, and spring of ’77, when we left.

    Leo and I met in this chapel in the fall of 1970 and were married a year later, so it will always have a special place in our hearts. Only two of our six children got to see where their parents met. All the people of our era who have been mentioned here–and more– are still so dear to us. After seven years of living in La Jolla, I thought I had finally stopped pining for Boston. Reading this blog and seeing the pictures of the Cambridge Chapel burning have made me realize, “No, I’d still move back in a hearbeat if I could.”

    A few of my most vivid memories of events in the building: Paul Dunn teaching (or speaking to) our Institute class, hearing George Romney as the guest speaker at a weekend singles conference, Juanita Brooks talking about her Mountain Meadows Massacre Book as the first Exponent-invited speaker, attending Richard Bushman’s Institute class where he talked about his beginning research into the life and times of Joseph Smith; oh, and this one: being present when Jack Anderson–the featured speaker at our Boston-produced Education Week in the spring of 1974 began his talk by pounding the pulpit and shouting in his loud booming voice: “There is a menace in the land, and his name is Richard Nixon!” (He had just gotten a copy of the transcript of the tapes, which no one else present had seen). I’ll never forget seeing our presiding local authority turn pale and afterwards stand up and try to make some conciliatory remarks. I knew Anderson was right (Nixon resigned in August of that year), but at the time of the talk almost everyone in the chapel still believed (at least hoped) their President was telling the truth.

    It’s not the building that I feel such nostalgia for–it’s all the people, and the things that happened in the building, and that remains unchanged. We will follow with great interest what the replacement will be.

  116. American Yak says:

    I started a blog over here for people to post memories:

    Please feel free to cross-post any stories you want.

  117. I remember:

    –leaving RS to go to Quaker meeting every once in a while for a break
    –picking up Haitian creole in the Sunday school class I attended
    –hearing farewell sermons as some friends said goodbye to the church
    –learning to say “no”
    –beautiful voices and music.
    –playing spot the PhD/business students with Eric
    –being with warm, wonderful, caring, intelligent and tolerant people: Brian B. doing temple recommend interviews; Marion teaching SS; Pandora relating her work to the gospel; Mary J. running a great RS; Erin/Margit/Annette/Linda/Kate/Kristen, etc. helping me understand that the gospel was big enough for people like me, and exuberant enough too. And so many others. I desperately miss the people I knew there.

    I’m still grieving over the chapel.

  118. Branden Morris says:

    Sam – drop me an e-mail ( if you’ve a mind to. I’ve been doing some digging through things from my time in the UW, and found something I’d like to send you.

  119. Weston Lloyd says:

    Adieu, rose window. Fare thee well, Longfellow Park. A place that embraced the cultural diversity, respected the intellectual curiosity, and strengthened the cautious testimonies of generations of New England Mormons, is no more. Sad day in Boston. Our minds are replete with precious memories.

  120. Kristine says:

    Hi Westy!!! (Does anyone still call you that?) How many Mormons from Tennessee could possibly have gone to Harvard, I wonder…

  121. I attended University Ward when I worked as a research assistant for a Harvard professor 1984-85 — then after 2 years spent across the country, I came back for my husband’s grad school. So many memories of formative experiences — Tony Kimball as bishop setting the organ stops for me so I (a pianist, NOT an organist!) could play for Sacrament meeting; lip-synching to Madonna for a ward party and Phil Barlow telling me afterwards that he didn’t recognize me on stage; day-dreaming while I let my mind be filled with the changes of light and color coming through that lovely window; bringing my husband there for the first time, so excited to show him this place that meant so much to me; nursing my first child in the tiny, cramped “mother’s room” while other women with babies snuggled and talked; the incredible warmth and service that so many people showed me and Frank when I was hospitalized and then homebound for months during that pregnancy because I’d developed tuberculosis; the faithfulness and patience and compassion I saw evidenced so many times. That is what really sticks with me. It isn’t the lovely architecture, as much as I enjoyed that. But the caring of the community that was there — and that will last, will even grow from this awful experience.

  122. Molly Bennion says:

    How I’ve enjoyed your memories, especially of the bright and beautiful people and the warm acceptance.

    I find myself thinking of the physical structure which no doubt cannot be replicated under current codes but which I pray will be rebuilt to model and honor that lovely church. I arrived in 1965 as a college student and an investigator and to a building that looked like a church, felt like a church, sounded (the organ) like a church and drew my heart and mind skyward through the rose window. The typical building where I first explored the gospel in high school never felt quite right and it has taken me some time to adjust to similar buildings since. It boils down to “Do architecture and beauty matter?.” Of course they do. By its very difference, the LP building nudged us to accept difference, be happily different and to seek more that was lovely. Had it not been for my years there, I not only might not have joined the church but I also might not have stayed in the church. I’m still gratefully running on fuel I stored within those walls.

  123. Jillaire (Wangsgard) McMillan says:

    I attended the University Ward from 1997-2000 and then the Cambridge 2nd Ward 2000-2002. My younger brother now attends the Cambridge 1st Ward and called me Sunday morning (my time) with the shocking news of the fire. He was standing there watching the hoses pour water in. I was brought to tears that day as I reflected on the loss of that building and all the memories I had in my years there.

    As I’ve read everyone’s comments, it has made me wonder why that building and that place had become such a part of all our lives. My mother works for the public affairs department of The Church and I asked her why the newsroom didn’t have a story on it. She was told they don’t usually put up those types of events. It seems hard to believe why it’s not news-worthy there, when it is so saddening to so many, as evidenced by this site.

    For me, the Longfellow Park building and that after-church dinner was the comforting place I went after my first few days as a culture-shocked freshman. Years later it’s where I sat shoulder-to-shoulder with shell-shocked Latter-day Saints for a special broadcast from Salt Lake City a few days after the September 11 attacks.

    Before I met him (at an after-church dinner), my husband Damon was baptized in that building, received both priesthoods there, and decided to go on a mission. I think he put it best when he said, “Whenever I read in Mosiah about the waters of Mormon and ‘how beautiful they are to the eyes of them who there came to the knowledge of their Redeemer,’ I think of that building and how my testimony of Christ, and every other good thing I have now, come from the years I spent there.”

    Some things do last forever, and I think many of us gained those things sitting in the walls of our beloved Longfellow Park Chapel.

  124. all the memories make me feel like going to the LDS Church.

    I left the Church years ago after I had a talk with Bishop Romney about one of my children. He told me I could be in trouble for helping my oldest daughter.

    I think I might start going to the LDS chapel in Belmont once and awhile. I am still friends with many members.

  125. I might try going to the Belmont Chapel, even though I am no longer a Mormon.

  126. Jillaire, hearing Damon’s name again was a wonderful treat. We all of us were wonderfully enriched by his presence in that church. Tell him Sam sends his best wishes.

  127. Clayton Christensen says:

    Dear friends: It has made me cry all over my keyboard to read these notes from so many of you with whom we’ve shared wonderful times in the Cambridge Chapel. I have the experiences in my mind and my journal, of course, but the building was like a filing cabinet in which they were stored and organized, and I fear many of them will be a lot harder to recall now that the cabinet has been gutted. I remember sitting on the stand in December, 1989 while Kristine Haglund led the magnificant ward choir in the Christmas program, accompanied by Jenny Atkinson. As they sang “In the Bleak Mid-Winter,” a spirit came into my heart that told me in the most powerful way that I wasn’t just the bishop of the University Ward, but had been given the inestimable privilege of worshipping with and learning from one of the most extraordinary groups of Latter-day Saints that had ever been assembled. From that time to the present I have had a deep reverence in my heart for each of you, and for all of the truth you taught me by your words and your lives. I will be forever grateful for the privilege it was to be your bishop in that sacred building. I pray that even though the filing cabinet has been burned, that you still will be able to feel my love and gratitude for you. – Clayton Christensen

  128. The Chapel on Longfellow Park held so, so many family memories and history that I feel as though a part of our family is gone. My Grandparents were some of the people who were instrumental in getting the building built and helping the church grow in the Boston area. Grandpa went to the neighbors in the area and explained what the church wanted to do by removing two homes to put the chapel up. They were thrilled about the chance to have chapel that belonged to them in this area and for people to feel welcomed.

    It was from this building that my mother gave her farewell and welcome home address from her mission. It was there that she met my father after his talk on the symbolism in architecture in the building. It was the place they were married prior to driving to SLC to be sealed. All five us children were blessed in LP and three of us were baptized there. (One against her will due to a bad experience in the basement.) My father was a branch president and bishop there. My brother received his Eagle Scout award there on one of those really hot summer evenings. Oh the memories of this building for the Romish family run deep!!! Making the loss of this building so heartbreaking.

    I remember the Sing your own Messiah and wreath making during the holidays. I remember primary and swinging from the trees out front. I remember the cry room, nursery and balconies as places to hang out. I remember wonderful friends who became like family to us since all of our relatives were in the West. I remember lots of happiness, love and strong spirits.

    I hope that it is rebuilt in the same style and that more people can share the memories of such a historic place.

  129. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    Although I’ve never been to the church, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your thoughts and having the opportunity to mourn with those who are mourning. What a testament to the fellowship one can receive through church experience. I hope also for you that the unique architectural features will be preserved or replicated. I remember when the old, historic Thatcher, Arizona church burned down. It had a unique theater style chapel with sloped floor from the back to the front. It was the boyhood chapel of Spencer W. Kimball. I remember it being gray and white and including some gothic features. It was replaced with one of the generic plans with orange bricks, totally changing the flavor of the area. It was unrealistic that it could have been rebuilt, but it certainly would have been a fitting tribute to use the same color bricks and trim rather than go to the 70’s orange. Hopefully the uniqueness of this chapel as well as outpouring of love expressed in these forums will get the attention of the building committees to do it right.

  130. Sorry to hear of the loss of the Cambridge chapel. Have they found out what caused the fire yet? There was a stake center in Abbotsford, BC Canada several years ago that burnt to the ground because of arson. Having my house catch on fire is my one fear.

  131. Jillaire McMillan says:

    I previously made a comment about the fire not being put on the Church’s Newsroom website. Here’s an update from my mother, who works in the Church Public Affairs Department. (Disclaimer: She is not in a decision-making position and just asked some questions of co-workers. This is by no means the authoritative/official word on the matter.) She was told that the Newsroom is generally used to get information out to the press. In this situation, the news was already out to local media outlets, so there wasn’t really a need for it to be put on the Newsroom or to have a press release issued. There is speculation that it will be in an up-coming Church News, so maybe we’ll see it there.

  132. Kristine says:

    Kellene, the cause of this fire has been ruled accidental, most likely an electrical problem, although the precise cause is still under investigation.

  133. Steve Griffith says:

    For those who don’t know, this was the first building built by the Church, in New England.. It was dedicated sept 10, 1956, by Pres Mckay, I got to shake his hand, a memory I will never forget, Most of the people involved in building of this Chapel are dead now,….I suspect there was a grat deal of sadness in the Spirit World this day…

  134. I’ve been moved by reading all the comments here. I’ve never been to the Longfellow Park Chapel, but I have read about it over the years, the Rose Window, and all of the great experiences many have had their. I’m jealous of all of you that have such strong emotional ties to this building

    Not many of us can ever claim the same fond feelings about our standard plan chapels, but I have had powerful experiences even in the most mundane buildings. I think that there is something about the combination of the intellectual and spiritual growth so many of you talk about that came about in relation to this building, that there is great lesson for all of us here. It’s not so much the building, as it is the people and the purpose that give it life. There are a few places in my life that also trigger powerful memories and emotions, and they are mostly centered on the people and experiences involved. Thanks to all of you for sharing your thoughts these last few days.

  135. My wife was introduced to the church and the gospel in that building. I casually mentioned the fire during a phone conversation and arrived home to find her quite sad. As we talked about the building and our days in Cambridge I became sad myself.

    I had a great bishop when I attended there, John Hoffmire. When Gigi and I were married, he flew to Utah and married us on a mountain above Park City. Bishop Hoffmire and I were out of touch for about three years and then, though we had both moved away, arranged to meet up back in the chapel in Longfellow Park. I flew up from New York and we talked for a couple of hours in the library. That was the last time I saw the building although happily I received an email from Bishop Hoffmire a week ago asking how we were enjoying Moscow.

    I baptized Gigi on January 20, 2002, her birthday, in that building. She was surprised and touched to see so many people whom she didn’t know, or knew only slightly, in attendance (I’m looking at you Nate Oman). Her journal entry from that day memorializes that something divine had occurred in her life.

    My older brother, who had not been inside a church in probably a decade, travelled down from New Hampshire to attend Gigi’s baptism. I have a picture of me and him standing in front of the picture of Jesus and the wealthy young man that was apparently saved.

    Gigi says she loved the large window above the stand.

  136. Neal Kramer says:

    I’m deeply moved by the way this sacred space has defined the spiritual lives of so many.

    I sense in a small but meaningful way the reason my friends who attended there have been so important to my mind and my heart.

    Special greetings to Chris and Linda Kimball and Jim and Mary Johnston. I miss you.

    Perhaps there needs to be a memorial service.

  137. Friends:

    It is wonderful to read others’ memories of our beloved building.

    If any of you are interested in doing a little something to assist those of us who currently call the LP chapel home, please consider donating a gently used 1985 version of the LDS hymnal. We want to sing the songs of Zion wherever we gather for services until the chapel is rebuilt, and a few hymnbooks will make a big difference in this matter. Send me an email at helplongfellowpark[at]gmail[dot]com if you would like to donate, and I’ll reply with a mailing address. And thank you for sharing your feelings about how special a place the LP chapel is to you.
    – Liz J

  138. Allison Pingree says:

    Dear Friends:

    I received the news about the fire from Mary Johnston while at work Monday morning. After clicking open a few images and reading Steve Rowley’s wonderful tribute, strong waves of grief welled up inside of me. I had to close down my e-mail altogether because I knew that if I didn’t, I wouldn’t stand a chance of getting any work done all day.

    Later, in the quiet of the evening, I gave myself over to reading the postings, poring over the photos–and cried and cried. Last night, sharing the narratives and images with a dear friend, more tears came.

    Like many of you here, I’ve been pondering what it is that I’m grieving in the loss of that building, and I think it’s actually many things: something about youth and tradition; fear and anxiety giving way to hope and courage; the right mixes of challenge and support, faith and reason, head and heart, legacies and new pathways.

    My parents attended church for two years in that chapel right after they were married; Dad was getting his MBA, and Mom soon became pregnant with my oldest brother. They lived in Holden Green, and drove a red Volkswagen bug. I grew up hearing stories of their time in Boston, saw Christmas cards every year from friends they made during that time, and wondered if I’d ever have the chance to go to that place that loomed larger-than-life in our family lore.

    I did get that chance, I’m grateful to say, in the fall of 1986, when I started my own graduate school journey. I attended the University Ward from 1986-87 and then Cambridge 1st after marrying in 1987. From then until we moved to Nashville in 1998, that chapel and that community formed my spiritual home–and has continued to be so, though in less obvious ways, ever since.

    It was there that I taught dozens of Relief Society lessons (adapting the manual to address issues that mattered — depression, parenting, grief and loss, community…), co-led Family Relations classes, and held the most glorious church calling ever: ward choir director. Rob and Cheri Hancock were the backbones for our group, and we made beautiful music together. I was pregnant with my daughter while in that calling, and still believe that she grew in my womb hearing heavenly sounds.

    That’s the only calling I’ve ever had where I felt I could bring my passion, full-on, without restraint or shame. I could move my body, command with strength, and let my emotions flow–smack dab at the front of the chapel–to make something holy. I remember Sibyl Johnston’s father, composer Ben Johnston, offering his pieces (hand-written) for us to sing in our Easter service.

    I remember Dian Saderup’s kindness and Keith Dionne’s spunk. I remember Pandora Brewer’s beautiful solo voice in “I Wonder as I Wander” and Marion Bishop’s gift for helping us see scriptures in new ways. I remember the study group that met monthly, on Sunday nights–newly married couples, young families, graduate students making our way into adulthood together.

    I remember Annie Hoyle, the sweet little woman from Yorkshire, England whom we picked up to bring to services every week and who became our adopted grandmother. When Annie died, Erin Burns and I helped to dress her body for burial–an experience that I count as one of the most sacred in my life.

    I remember all of these times and people and so many more, with both gratitude and yearning. In grieving the burnt building, I grieve the passage of time, the decay of all things physical, and the difficulties of finding and sustaining community that can truly embrace difference.

    May many phoenixes rise from those ashes.

  139. Leo Brown says:

    This post was titled “In Memoriam,” and memories are the heart of the matter, since a new chapel will be rebuilt in due course. The Cambridge Chapel held a lot of memories (see my wife Marilyn’s post, for example). Visiting the chapel again would have triggered some of those memories, and it will be harder to summon those memories now that the building is gone. Clayton Christensen has expressed that thought eloquently.

    Whole generations have passed through the Cambridge Chapel. Seeing these posts makes me wish I could have met and worshipped with all of you.

  140. What an unfortunate incident. I lived in Amherst in western Massachusetts for some time, but I had the chance to visit the Longfellow Park chapel occasionally and enjoyed it. My sister also attended church there when she lived in Boston.

    This story reminds me a lot of a script I wrote recently for a short radio show about the burning of the Box Elder Tabernacle. You can see it on the Beehive Archive blog at

  141. The Church News ran a short article here.

  142. The Dialogue Board is preparing a session for SLC Sunstone for reflections on the chapel. It will be august 14 or 15 I believe.

  143. That was my first church! My parents lived there from 1972-1979. I asked my mom if that was my first church, and she said, “Yes! That was your first church. The one where you ran into the front door and got that little horizontal scar on your head that is just to the right (your right) of the vertical scar you got when you hit your head on the fireplace of Jane O’Brien’s apartment. The one where I sat in the back row of weekday RS holding you 6 days after you were born, and no one even knew I had had you yet. The one built on the site where the mission home used to be, before it (the mission home) was moved around the corner to the present site when Grandpa Maughan was mission president. The one on Longfellow Park , just across the street from the Longfellow house. ” Even though I don’t remember the church, I feel bereft.

  144. Ron Scott says:

    Carrie Sheffield’s piece in The Mormon Times (5/27/09) captures the essence of the place and the people who made it a very special place to worship.

    I suppose there is a sad irony to be found in the fact that fire preceded Truman Madsen’s death by a few days. He was such an integral part of the meetinghouse, the congregation and practically everything that is Mormon in New England (first as a missionary, then a graduate student, then mission president, later as a visiting scholar).

    It is a shame President Madsen won’t be around to see the building rise from the ashes.

    Ron Scott
    Dover, MA.
    (New England missionary 1965-1967)

  145. In my dad’s declining days, it was sad news that the chapel had burned.

    I received my name and blessing from my dad in the chapel. When he was mission president (62-65), he baptized me in the font (I still have a Polaroid photo my mom took of my dad and me standing in white in the water just before he baptized me).

    It was a kind of extension of the mission home (a three-story yellow clapboard), just around the corner on Hawthorne. I walked past it every day on the way to and from school.

    I remember playing hide-and-seek in the hedges with Bobby Bowden. I learned to ride a bike (my older sister’s light blue girl’s bike!) going around the oval (Longfellow Park). I still remember the nursing/cry room off the chapel, the smell in the gym, the time “The 3Ds” performed there, and a fireside with President Hugh B. Brown in the Relief Society Room.

    The Y is having a symposium on “Sacred Space” next week. The Cambridge Chapel was that (and will be that again after rising from the ashes) for all the reasons people have mentioned here.

    Barnard N. Madsen
    Provo, UT
    (The “littlest missionary”, 1962-65)

  146. Ron Scott says:

    Barnard (if he was going to name you after a women’s college, you’d think a Harvard father Truman Madsen would have had the presence of mind and loyalty to have named you Radcliffe ) I remember you at the dinner table, while your dad tried to convince green missionaries that they too could memorize the lessons verbatim.

    We stumbled into each other again a few months later at a mission-wide conference in Cambridge – after we’d bequeathed those rusting, collapsing, bubblegum-and-a-prayer Romney Rockets to Back Bay Rambler. The day ended with an impromptu “after conference” in the mission home for those of us compelled to stay overnight, privileged, as it turned out. Into the wee small hours, your father held forth on various gospel principles, then painted lucid visions of the role parents will play in the resurrection.

    An excerpt from my journal dated 3/30/1965 reads: “President Madsen is going to become an apostle someday soon. Not only is he brilliant, but he is humble. The Spirit of God is with him always…because he commands it so. We left Cambridge filled with the Spirit. These were truly great days in my life.”

    In short, Barnard, many of us – even those you do not remember — mourn with you, your mother and the rest of the family.

  147. Ron

    I wasn’t named after the women’s college. I was named after my mother’s father (Barnard Johnson Nicholls) who died two months before I was born. Not sure who _he_ was named after. His dad was a missionary in _Old_ England.

    I think your journal entry was right — I think my dad was a “special witness” — though not as an Apostle, and not as a member of the Twelve.

    We’ve felt an outpouring in the past months, and especially the past two days. The faith and prayers of so many have made a tangible difference.

    We look forward to sharing in a wonderful service honoring our dad on Tuesday. It should be viewable live on the Web at beginning at noon (Provo time). It should be available later at the same website as a podcast. Please pass the word for those who would like to attend but can’t make the trip.



  148. Ron Scott says:


    I hope you know I was kidding around about the women’s college naming thing. Actually, I am partial to Wellesley, but that’s because my daughter is a student there.

    Thanks for the links to the funeral website.

    Many are “special witnesses.” Your father qualifies. However, his arrousing, arresting, precise and persuasive witness distinguished him from all the others.

  149. the ap coverage of the fire in cambridge was horrible.

  150. Kirk Dearden says:

    I, too, lament the loss of the LP building. My parents moved to New Haven, CT in 1967 and for a time, LP served as our stake center when there was only one stake in New England. It was my home ward again when I was a student in Boston in the mid-80s. Having grown up in an unusual ward and chapel in New Haven, I can fully appreciate the quirkiness of both. Recently, we lived in Provo and attended a very orthodox ward–little tolerance for folks who were at all different from the ‘mainstream.’ My family and I now live just outside of Boston and it’s wonderful to be in a place where I’m fully accepted for who I am in much the same way I was accepted in the Cambridge Singles’ ward. Thanks to one and all for creating such a strong sense of community and belonging for all of us.

  151. Ron Scott says:

    Kirk’s post triggers more memories and few minor corrections. He refers to the New Haven (in Hamden, CT.) meetinghouse that was completed in about 1964ish. The chapel portion is indeed very unusual, its soaring cathedral ceiling in particular feels downright Lutheran. The rest of the building, however, is your basic Phase 2 stuff.

    When the church acquired a building (now the Wilford Woodruff Building ) on the Yale Campus in the 1990s, it sold the building in Hamden to Korean Presbyterians. The chapel has not changed much, except for the cross attached to the front wall. I couldn’t post the interior photo.

    The New Haven Branch > Ward has its own roster of prominent “alumni.” off the top of my head: Former bishops/branch presidents include Elder Jeff Holland, Terry Warner, the BYU philosophy professor and honors program chief, and Byron Hunter, a very lively and warm Ph.D. chemist with a number of patents, including “white rubber,” to his credit.

    However, the New Haven branch was in a district that included all the congregations in Connecticut (except Fairfield County) and Western Massachusetts. I think District Presidents then (and now) reported to Mission Presidents, not to stake presidents.

    The architecturally ill-suited Boston Stake Center in Weston, MA. was completed in 1966ish. At that time, the wonderful building in Longfellow Park ceased to serve as the de facto stake center.

    New Haven was my first assignment as a missionary in February 1965 and it was a memorable way to begin, the stay there way too brief. Several months after I had completed my mission, I returned to New Haven for the summer (1967); three years later, I became a permanent Connecticut (Westport) resident, permanent until I moved to Boston in 1985.

    New England fits nicely and wears well.

  152. Kirk Dearden says:

    Thanks for the details Scott. You remember them better than I do! My father was at Yale when Jeff Holland was there and we knew Byron Hunter well…along with Joe Taylor who served as bishop for a number of years. One of the nice things about the ward–at least from a child’s perspective was the good mix of Yalies and locals. In later years I learned they didn’t get along that well. But I enjoyed my time there as a child. In my opinion, the sale of the chapel in Hamden became the death of the ward. The ward split up (if I remember right…by this point I was on my mission) and a stake center was created in Woodbridge…very much a cookie cutter stake center and the ward followed suit.

  153. Kirsten says:

    I came to the Cambridge University Ward in Spring of 2008, inactive and looking for something. I made friendships and met with the sister missionaries throughout that summer and by August 3rd I was baptized. My home ward was in Weston, MA, but I chose to be baptized where my love for the church really came about. That building held many wonderful introductions and was with me through a lot of my spiritual development. From baptism, to confirmation, to meeting best friends, to realizing the direction I want my life to head in, the Cambridge chapel was there through it all. It will be a symbol in heart even though it is gone.

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