Work began Monday cleaning out and around the long-decaying Faces nightclub building on Route 2, although owner Anthony Martignetti would say nothing about his plans for the property.
He did, however, suggest the work was not just part of a city order to care for the site.
“We have a lot of things in the works,” he said during a seconds-long interview in the lobby of the Cambridge Gateway Inn, the motel that shares a sprawling parcel with Faces. The businesses are the first you see approaching Cambridge from the west, with the club’s portion recently being overgrown with weeds and surrounded by objects fallen from a once-prominent and distinctive blocky façade.
The club, once known as The Empire Room and host to such talent as Ike and Tina Turner, may have been closed for more than 25 years, according to a commercial review appraiser in the city assessor’s office. Charlie Sullivan, executive director of the Cambridge Historical Commission, doubted it had been closed that long, but — like apparently everyone else in the city, most of whom place its closing between 15 and 20 years ago — could not pin down how long the site had languished.
Martignetti would say nothing else and even dodged a request for a business card, reflecting the secrecy surrounding development of the site. His manager at the Cambridge Gateway Inn — strangely claiming to be the owner of the businesses — said Oct. 7 that “there is a plan” for Faces, then lapsed into repeating “no comment” even for publicly available details about the site. Martignetti’s lawyer, Bernard Shadrawy of Boston, did the same to comical effect, even declining to confirm he represented Martignetti (although in declining to answer he cited “attorney-client privilege”) and saying at one point “No comment no comment no comment” before hanging up the telephone.
A worker at the site Monday said the cleanup would take about 11 business days, meaning the site would be ready to begin a potential demolition process as of Nov. 9, although Cambridge’s Inspectional Services department said later that there was no demolition permit for 223 Concord Turnpike, Faces’ formal address.
The 24,994-square-foot property — the inn covers another 17,472 — is zoned for a variety of uses, including office space, research and development and housing, but retail uses such as a nightclub were written out in 2001, said Lester Barber, assistant city manager for community development. Although there was never a formal application to his department, Barber said he was aware members of the squabbling Martignetti family — also owners of Boston’s Martignetti Liquors — were in talks with partners to develop Faces into some 200 units of housing. But the plan collapsed mid-2007, “not surprising, given the market,” and community development officials “haven’t heard from them in months.”
“Everyone is concerned with the site’s state of disrepair,” Barber said Oct. 7. “We know the city manager’s office is concerned whether it’s safe, whether there’s any avenue for the city to clean it up.”
Dave Byrne, senior building inspector for the city, sat in on a recent meeting during which Martignetti was told to clean or demolish the structure, and believed health officials had separately obliged the owner to take care of the overgrowth of weeds.
Faces’ history goes back to 1936, when the site first hosted a restaurant and motel, Sullivan said. That structure burned in 1970 and was rebuilt the next year.