The life of towns, much like those of their residents, often turns on dreams and aspirations. Sometimes they come true; all too often they fall short. Andover’s evolution from an agricultural settlement to an industrial center to a commuter-oriented suburb is marked by dreams realized and near missed.
In the mid-1940s through the 1950s, America was in the midst of a post-World War II urban renewal. Foremost, its mission was to build affordable housing for vets returning from the war. Throughout the country, millions of homes were built and by the end of the 1950s, the Federal highway system was rapidly expanding. Interstates 93 and 495 opened, easing commuting through the suburbs and in and out of Boston. The revitalization also inspired Andover to build its economy through offering incentives for companies and organizations to move to the open spaces, especially west of town.
There are two Andover courtships, however, that decades later still boggle the mind.
In December 1942, a United Nations conference in London debated on whether to locate its permanent headquarters in Europe or the United States. The U.S. won and the race was on. Cities and towns across the country, including Andover, threw their hats in the ring.
On January 3, 1946 the Board of Selectmen sent a letter to then Governor Maurice Tobin regaling the merits of locating the UN in Andover. Two weeks later the Townsman wrote, “Some gentlemen are coming here Saturday — and we hope they like us. They are delegates whose duty is to select a home for the United Nations Organization. We’re a pretty nice town and we think that the United Nations Organization wouldn’t do wrong at all to choose Andover as their permanent home.”
The town’s site evaluation went well but the competition, especially Philadelphia, New York, San Francisco and Chicago, remained fierce. The French claimed that Boston was the frontrunner. The prize was ultimately awarded to New York City following an eleventh-hour intercession by Nelson Rockefeller who arranged for the purchase of the land. His father, John D. Rockefeller Jr., provided the funding. The cornerstone was laid in 1949 and the permanent headquarters opened in 1952.
Fast forward to 1978. On January 19th, the front page headline in the Townsman blared “Trade Center Officially Recognized.” A month later, the Townsman proclaimed that a $50 million New England Trade Mart, “the largest trade mart center in the Northeast,” was in the works. The article went on to say that the town was only looking at preliminary drawings and the proposal would need to be fully vetted prior to breaking ground.
With the gauntlet laid by then Acting Town Manager Sheldon S. Cohen, negotiations began. The proposed trade mart would be located near the junction of routes 495 and 93 about one-half mile from route 495, the site of the old Shattuck Farm. It would be a showcase for the fashion industry and an inventory display and storage facility for travelling garment sales force. The 35-acre site would be located next to the existing Hewlett-Packard plant with the new building offering 200,000 square feet display space, 460 permanent showrooms, a 125,000 square foot exhibition hall, and a major hotel and restaurant complex.
Big plans, however, don’t always come to fruition. By April, 1978, the planned size of the trade mart had begun to shrink. Questions arose as to how committed the developers were to the original proposal. Concerns arose among residents, too, about the cost to taxpayers and preserving the historic character of Andover neighborhoods. The trade mart never materialized.
The Shattuck Farm, dating back over 250 years, and the surrounding area were ultimately developed including the Chateau Restaurant, commercial office parks and several hotels.