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Out of factory, off-campus housing

Published: October 14, 2011
Section: Front Page


Off-campus housing is getting a makeover. Investors are converting the Waltham Watch Factory on Crescent Street along the Charles River into office space, restaurants and loft-style apartments, transforming the building that began producing watches in 1854 into a modern cultural hub in downtown Waltham.

The renovations will create 96 loft-style apartments and two potential restaurants or cafes; the space is currently under construction and will be completed by April 2012. Operators for the two restaurants and cafes have not yet been determined.

The original phase converted and renovated 160,000 square feet of the factory to office spaces. This phase was completed in the summer of 2009 and currently 87 percent of the office spaces have been leased. Eric Ekman, project manager for Berkeley Investments, said that 98 percent of the space will be leased soon. Two such businesses that have leased office space at the renovated watch factory are Fresh Tilled Soil, a web design and marketing business, as well as the law firm, Cohen and Sales.

“The renovations serve to preserve the historic factory complex for generations to come and adaptively reuse as a vibrant mixed-use development, thus energizing the surrounding community,” Ekman said.

Officials are still designing and planning for the third phase, which involves the construction of 67 more loft-style apartments and the conversion of 7,300 more square feet of office space. This stage’s target completion date is for the spring of 2013.

The Waltham Watch Factory began producing watches in 1854 and soon after became the first watch business to mass-produce pocket watches using novel interchangeable parts during the time. The mass production of watches led to greater accessibility of watches to the general population, as these watches were affordable.

The watch factory eventually went out of business in 1957; however, it has never been deserted, as tenants have lived there in subsequent years.

In 2007, the First Republic Corporation of America and Berkeley Investments LLC, two investment firms, teamed up to create Watch City LLC. Since then, the firm has developed a three-stage plan for the watch factory’s renovations.

In the meantime, the watch factory is open as a historical exhibit, which is open from Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The exhibit contains machines that were used to manufacture watches—some of the women’s first watches—and much more.

“The watch factory is a cherished landmark for the city of Waltham,” Ekman said. It is also on the National Register of Historic Places.