by Susan M. Danseyar
If you want to buy, sell or gaze at vintage furniture, learn about neighborhood history and city conditions or just enjoy a friendly chat, you’ll be interested in meeting a man who can do all of that for you at one spot in North Cambridge.
McCray with one of his few true vices inside his greenhouse shop.
Alewife Photo by Susan M. Danseyar
George F. McCray, owner of Cambridge Greenhouse Antiques and Collectibles located at 2301 Massachusetts Ave., said he is always available to talk to people who stop by his shop if he isn’t attending meetings and working for organizations of which he is a member.
“At one time, this place was open seven days a week and I had two employees,” McCray said. “Now, I’m open essentially by appointment and whenever my other duties in North Cambridge allow.”
But this extremely busy man – who you can often see walking around in his fully-stocked shop or moving furniture outside to clean it – will stop his work to smile at passersby, answer questions people he is never met ask or kiss an old friend, he said.
McCray, who knows the area quite well, has established relationships with customers, neighbors and officials from Cambridge as well as area towns and cities. He’s been living in Cambridge since 1968, where he moved from the Bronx in New York – where he grew up – to attend graduate school at Brandeis University. The first place he lived was on Norris Street, he said.
“When I first came here, I was living in what I would like to say was the first cooperative house in Cambridge,” he said during a break from helping and greeting people in his shop. “I lived with four other students and we functioned as a cooperative.”
When he was a college student at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, McCray said he started going to antique shows, flea markets and auctions. He continued to do that when he moved to Cambridge while he earned a master’s degree in social welfare with concentrations in urban planning, public administration and gerontology.
“When I arrived at Norris Street, I began to furnish my room with things I remember during visits at the home of my grandmother in South Carolina,” McCray said. “She was of an age and culture where people still had parlors with furniture from the Victorian era.”
McCray is the chairman of the neighborhood's Night Out against Crime event every August.
Alewife Photo by Susan M. Danseyar
What McCray said he remembers most poignantly about visiting his grandmother’s house is being lulled to sleep by the sound of her working the peddle of her old, non-electric Singer sewing machine. “When the occasion presented itself, I bought five at different times and then I began to buy other Victorian pieces that I liked and thus filled up my room, the basement and rented the neighbor’s garage to store the things I had acquired.”
McCray began to sell some of the things he purchased at flea markets and antique shows. “When this place came on the market, it became an opportunity to acquire permanent space to display and sell,” he said.
McCray, a licensed auctioneer, said he bought the property on Mass Avenue in 1980. It was built in 1936 and includes a three-story house, the greenhouse as well as a carriage house in the back where he stores a lot of his furniture.
McCray gave a year’s lease to the former owners of The Cambridge Flower Shop which operated out of the greenhouse and, in 1981, opened his antique business, he said.
He finds the furniture and collectables in the Greenhouse at estate sales, flea markets, antique sales and from customers who walk into the shop with items to sell, he said.
Before and after opening his antique business, McCray got involved in city and town government. In fact, he became active in citizen affairs soon after he arrived in Cambridge.
From 1970 to 1990, he undertook a wide variety of roles, including Health and Hospitals Liaison for Boston under former Mayor Kevin White, where he encouraged the various hospitals in Boston to work together and coordinate the purchase of large medical equipment; a mini-mayor of the South End of the Little City Halls – a program White created in the neighborhoods of Boston to bring government closer to the people; a consultant acting as a liaison between the city of Boston and what was called the Bureau on Aging (now the Executive Office of Elder Affairs) to help the city move toward a better array of services for senior citizens; the state-wide affirmative action officer for the elderly and disabled; transportation planner for the elderly on a state-wide basis in all 351 towns and cities in Massachusetts; regional planner for the Greater Metropolitan Towns and Cities on Aging Program which was part of the state Agency on Aging; and the energy planner for the elderly throughout the state.
Currently, McCray said he serves as the vice chairman of the Ward 2 Democratic Committee; the affirmative action officer for the Cambridge City Democratic Committee; annual chairman of the National Night Out Against Crime; and an executive committee member of the North Cambridge Crime Task Force of which he was a founding member.