Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer
Association with brother Charles (Hank) in Spaulding & Slye, formation of Spaulding & Co. in 1975
Interest in and acquisition of Milldam properties- Main Street, Walden Street Renovation of Milldam properties
Acquisition of Virginia Road property for the development of Concord Farms (formerly the New England Tech Center initially for high tech companies like Digital). Move of Welch's in 1992 as a major tenant Underground wiring through CMLP, zoned limited industrial Donation of land to Concord Land Conservation Trust Sale of property to REIT (real estate investment trust) Attraction of This Old House as tenant to the barn
I became interested in the restoration of buildings along the Milldam in Concord Center I think because I grew up in a family business. My father had a small drugstore in southern New Hampshire and I worked there from the time I could reach the counter until I finished high school, and coming from a long line of entrepreneurs, my father's father was a general contractor doing construction in New Hampshire, and my mother's side were all farmers. Both New Hampshire and Vermont have meaning to me.
I remember my father saying one night when we just visiting and traffic was slow in the drugstore, what do you think you would like to do when you finish high school? I said' "I think I would like to become a pharmacist and work with you in the drugstore." He said, "I think you really wouldn't want to do that because we have to make our profit on the right hand side of the decimal point." He said I should be an engineer like my brother, there's a lot of opportunity.
My brother, Charles's company was Spaulding & Slye. He had development experience with Cabot, Cabot, & Forbes, and at the time I was working for AT&T and really wanted to get back to the Boston area or New England. So I was a minority partner when they founded the company. My brother is called Hank.
In 1975, I formed my own company, Spaulding & Company. I lived in Concord, and I became attracted to Concord property. I had always as a hobby restored antique American clocks, and I think that sort of gets ingrained in your mind with the satisfaction of saving some old piece of furniture or a mechanism such as an antique clock. In 1977, we had an opportunity to buy a set of buildings in Concord Center that were pretty well run down. They had been in an estate for many years, and the restoration challenge was very appealing. The location was a terrific location. The property runs along Main Street from the alley next to Brigham's (Helen's) and around the corner to Walden Street and down to the next alley. There are six buildings. We acquired four from the estate and the other two at different times. Today there are 21 to 43 Main Street and 1 to 15 Walden Street.
In the 19th century that set of buildings had been owned by the Milldam Company. At the time the Milldam Company purchased it in 1828 there was a Mill Pond behind those properties and that was filled in and then the Mill Brook was funneled under Main Street. Actually it runs through the basement of one of the buildings we own. Well known craftsmen of their day included Nathaniel Monroe, one of the early clock makers, had a shop in one of the buildings. There was also a blacksmith shop owned by Thomas Litch. The former site of the blacksmith shop became Richardson drugstore in 1873 (currently the Harness Shop).
Before we started the project, it was fortunate I had a civil engineering background because I immediately recognized that it was only the diaphragm or the skin of the building that was holding it up, at least a couple of the older ones. It had been renovated so many times, and people would take out columns so all the load from the roof got transferred down to the exterior. It's a wonder the second floor hadn't collapsed in one of the buildings. There was a drug store in one building. They rented hospital beds and so forth, and they were stored in one room that had it not been for the wood frame which was fairly flexible and was transferring the load to the exterior, the floor would have collapsed.
A friend of mine, H.H. Hawkins, that I had been in the Seabees with, has a construction company in the Boston area. His company for three generations has done a great deal of renovation of old buildings particularly in the Beacon Hill area of Boston. So it was very critical to have someone who had his experience in reconstructing the buildings.
We did a lot of historical research in the library with pictures of what it used to look like. The Concord Public Library has a wonderful collection of historic pictures so that was very helpful. The exteriors have been renovated and changed over the years.
I remember in one building we took a wall down and there was one of the original window sashes that was sandwiched between the drywall. From that, we determined what the windows originally looked like and we replicated those.
Around 1984, we did further renovations particularly to the corner building at Main and Walden where Richardson's Drug Store was. That was the point where we set up our own sign standards which at the time I recall the town didn't have sign standards as many towns do. So we unified all the signs, and they were gold leaf on black, and that really energized the town approval boards to set some sign standards. We worked closely with the Historic Districts Commission. Richardson's had to be closed for a time because of the structural problems. The flooring and the walls had to be entirely rebuilt. We had to actually remove the floor and that couldn't be done with a tenant in the building. They never ceased to operate. We just moved them around while we were working.
In a town particularly like Concord where there is a lot of history in the town, the boards and townspeople really rally behind an effort to preserve and to replicate the original look. There is a lot of satisfaction I think both for the public and for us to achieve it. I think there is sort of an instinct to preserve. There are a lot of people who do research and collect antiques and so forth, and there is a great satisfaction in preserving. There is a spirit of conservation and preservation all rolled into one. Some of these antique tools displayed on the walls here came from my grandfather's tool chest when he was a builder, and that got me started in collecting antique tools. We have others exhibited throughout the office here. They are both farm and building tools.
In the 1980s, I became interested in Virginia Road and Concord Farms because I think the tract of land was of pretty good size. It had been the Merriam-Wheeler farm, and I think the farm house which was part of the acquisition was built at the end of the 17th century. It was open land where we could do a planned phased development of six buildings and we actually sited the buildings to fit into the rolling terrain and to preserve as many trees as we could. We restored the farmhouse to the 18th century appearance. There were a couple of ancillary buildings that had been added on which we removed. So as far as we know from the research we had, it is as it was originally.
Concord Farms took shape in the early 1990s. We eventually restored the barn that went with the house and enlarged it for office space, where we have our offices now. The barn is of a later time period. We had done the first underground power and utility line installation in suburban Boston to my knowledge at New England Executive Park that we developed along the circumference along Route 128. I was the project manager of my brother's company and that resulted in such a unique look without poles and lines. We were fortunate because a lot of utility companies have the policy that you do it our way with poles and the lines run aerial. But Concord has its own power company and does all their own distribution and utility installations. At the time the Superintendent was Dick O'Neil and he was a terrific man. He embraced the idea of going underground with all our utilities at the office park, and was very helpful. After that, a lot of developers started putting the utilities underground. Part of it was the advances in technology of power lines and particularly cable development that permitted it.
Before we called it Concord Farms, this area was mostly high tech companies. We called it New England Tech Center. Digital was one of our anchor tenants. I think at one point they had two or three buildings. They kept their fleet of airplanes that transported their executives and customers at Hansom Field which the property abuts, so that was very convenient. At that time, many companies had their own corporate jets, and they kept them at Hansom at least those that were in this area.
When the Welch juice company became interested in locating their eastern division in this area, we decided to call the area Concord Farms. Welch's actually moved the company from Westfield, NY and were initially at 100 Main Street and outgrowing the facility. I think they liked the open space as they had come from a rural setting in NY and the setting here appealed to them. I remember the president saying to me, "You've got to change the name. We don't want to be in a tech center." So I asked what they would suggest. He suggested Concord Farms, and it has stuck and they are still here.
Virginia Road in the early days was the only way to get across to the Mill Brook from the town center around by this road. The high tech companies at that time were expanding tremendously and because of the development of the transistor and other inventions that were coming out of universities in the greater Boston area, those developments were leading to a whole new industry. For companies that were associated with the universities like MIT and so forth, it was a natural location for them. Sybase is still here as well as Welch's. They represent two of the largest employers in Concord.
In terms of zoning, this has become a limited industrial park. That has been an advantage because there were towns that prohibited these types of companies. I think Concord has been farsighted in their zoning.
We've attracted some interesting tenants. Currently, This Old House, which many folks regularly watch their programs on television on how to be a home tinkerer and do your own renovations, is now headquartered at Concord Farms. They're just wonderful people. Their popularity and reputation help enhance the location.
We deliberately try to create a mix of stable tenants in our buildings because we've gone through the experience of some of the high tech companies that have taken entire buildings and then their niche would disappear in the marketplace and they would go out of existence, so you're left with a see through building. That's pretty risky. So recently we have stuck to multi-tenant buildings even though we from time to time have some vacancy as tenants turn over, but it's enough that we can cope with. On the Milldam, we're dealing with small businesses and likewise in Lexington Center. We have a lot of smaller tenants at Lexington Square and in Concord on the Milldam. We have retail on the street level, and a number of smaller office tenants on the second floors both in Lexington and Concord, and for the same reason, a tenant leaves for whatever reason, you're not left with a lot of exposure until you can again lease the space.
In the late 1980s at 37 Main Street, we created a link from Main Street to Walden Street. That's pretty much over where the Millbrook runs through an underground tunnel to the other side of Main Street. So in that stairway we put windows on two sides so you can look down at the brook as you're going up the stairs. It's much more inviting for visitors because particularly they feel safer in a transparent situation. I don't recall the details as to how we did that but it had to be all waterproofed with a double foundation with a membrane between the two layers.
Here on Virginia Road, we donated something in the order of 40 acres to the Conservation Land Trust in 2002. We wanted to maintain the views and the open space. We could have done some building on that land, but a lot of it was being invaded by the Mill Brook downstream where it started to dam up from runoff deposits. So the wet area was creeping through it anyway. Both the restricted use of land from our business in terms of developing it further relented, so I think it worked to the advantage to the town and to us as well to conserve it.
Altogether we developed five office buildings here. We sold the larger building and a developer developed it which is next to where we are now. That was Hamilton, Brooks, Smith & Reynolds, who are also a large company in Concord. When we sold the buildings, we sold to a Real Estate Investment Trust, REIT. The advantage in our case was we had owned these properties quite a long time and depreciating them and the remaining basis was getting quite low. We did a tax free exchange whereby we swapped the real estate for stock, and the stock assumed the low basis and then we could sell it in small increments and deal with the capital gains tax on an incremental basis. This has become popular with developers and landlords. We were fortunate to have our public accountants and one of their partners, Tom Goodwin, who has done a lot of work with Cabot, Cabot, & Forbes and their retired founder, Jerry Blakely. He was very helpful in structuring the tax free exchange. We still have a fair amount of stock in the REIT which has done quite well probably better than the real estate would.
The ups and downs of the real estate market such as in the late 1980s was a tough time. Fortunately, we preserve our sanity by not thinking back on the down sides.
We're also a management company. The management really is our principal business now - property management. Not only the retail properties we have in Concord and Lexington centers, but because of the skill and interest in management of my daughter Sharon Spaulding, it has become our main business. That's expanded to include not only our own properties, but a number of others that include a family business that have owned real estate, and they want to phase out of the management parts and can retire from the day-to-day management responsibilities. We dealt a lot in the early days with Mark Moore in Lexington. His daughter and son-in-law now manage their investments particularly in the Lexington and Bedford areas. The next generation has retired from the day-to-day management, so we do a lot of work for them, as well as two or three others.
I don't think of the vision part of all this other than when I think about my dyslexia which wasn't discovered for many years because they didn't know what it was. There are other advantages to the disadvantage to being a slow reader, and one of them in many cases is being able to visualize in three dimensions. I look at a set of plans and elevation of a building design, and I have a pretty good idea of what it's going to look like.