The ghosts of the Company F. State Armory
The building is haunted by its own murky future. Boo!
The Company F. State Armory, located on Sharon Street in Waltham, is a gorgeous, vacant brick shell of a building. It contains three crumbling floors, and Watch Community Development Corporation reported it to be roughly 8,000 square feet internally. Sometime in the late fall of 2022, I entered it for a second time (the first had been with a friend) through its open basement. I brought a backpack containing a flashlight, pepper spray, and a bag of plain Lays chips, just in case I was struck by the urge to have a crunchy little snack somewhere amid the splinters.
“You get a feeling about the character of a building when you look at it,” my dad’s partner, Melissa Hung, told me in an Oct. 18 text correspondence. She’s an architect in the Bay Area. “You know, a friendly building, a stand-offish building, a weird but interesting one…and then the insides might be completely different.”
In the case of the armory, her statement holds up: The inside of the armory is completely different from the haunted mess one might envision from looking at the solemn brick exterior of the building. It's airy, open, and cobwebbed, with boxes of nails and tape scattered throughout the second floor.
But the calmness is unsettling. It feels like a space that wants to be alive, but is stuck somehow.
“There’s no graffiti,” the friend I had first entered the armory with said, in testimony to the building’s silent effect. How did a historic, state-owned building — that for decades stored guns and other weapons for the state of Massachusetts — become decrepit and abandoned, untouched by community members and government officials alike?
According to several news articles from the early 1900s — provided by Dana Hamlin, an archivist at the Waltham Public Library — the armory was planned in the late 1800s and completed in 1908. It cost $30,000 at the time to create (equivalent to approximately $950,000 in today’s dollars) and was designed by Hartwell, Richardson & Driver, a highly-regarded former Boston-area architecture firm.
Hamlin explained in a Nov. 18 email correspondence that while information was hard to find, “Company F. was the Waltham company of the 5th Regiment in the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia … It was organized in 1874, with its headquarters first at Armory Hall on Main Street, and then moving to the actual Armory. Company F. mustered for the Spanish American War, leaving Waltham in June of 1898, and also fought in World War I.” Upon the building’s completion in 1908 and immediate acceptance by the state, the armory became a place for members of Company F. and others involved in the Massachusetts military scene to keep office, store weapons, and host social gatherings.
The armory was most in use from 1908 to 1924, according to landmarkhunter.com. From there, details of its use became murky, though the building was deemed a landmark by the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.
In November 2003, the empty armory — at this point found to contain toxic levels of lead and asbestos — was auctioned off by the state to a Northeastern professor named Mohammed Taslim for approximately $900,000. The auction was an upset, according to several newspaper articles from the Daily News Tribune. “I’m shocked,” said former City Councilor Michael Squillante in a Nov. 20, 2003 article, referring to the estimated 1-3 million dollars that would need to be spent on renovations to make the armory habitable. “[Taslim] cannot possibly know what he bought.”
In an Oct. 26 email correspondence about a separate project, Taslim explained that he was the former executor of a trust that purchased the armory, rather than the building’s landlord or sole proprietor. He referred me to Habib Aminipour of Otis Realty, a firm that currently manages the property. Aminipour did not respond to email requests for comment.
During the summer of 2020, Meander Studio Collaborative Design for Metro West Collaborative Development and Watch CDC joined forces to create a report on the feasibility of converting the armory to affordable housing. Watch CDC argued that a lack of affordable housing was a major issue for families in the Waltham area and that with a little care, the armory could contain up to 30 affordable housing units. However, the proposal was struck down by Waltham mayor Jeanette McCarthy in 2021. McCarthy cited a lack of adherence to the Community Preservation Committee’s set rules. "It is unfortunate that the mayor has injected herself into the workings of the CPC and Council," Tom Stanley, a former city councilor and proponent of the project, told Patch in 2021 about the decision.
As I ate my chips on the Armory’s third floor and pondered the asbestos I was probably inhaling, I remembered a Patch article I had read some time before entering the armory, about an incident that occurred in 2017. A police officer had entered the armory, chasing after two people suspected of committing break-ins, and in the process fell ten feet through the second floor into the basement. He landed upright, obtaining minor injuries in the process.
Similarly, I hope the armory can stay on its feet for a while longer, too. Habitable or not, the building is beautiful, and its history is significant. It deserves to have the legal and communal support to be turned into a space that is appreciated and loved.
DISCLAIMER: The Justice does not condone entering abandoned spaces. Please do so at your own risk.