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Lionel Spiro Papers

 Collection
Identifier: P-1032

Scope and Content Note

This collection contains business records, correspondence, news clippings, photographs, meeting minutes, memoranda, architectural plans, promotional materials, publications, and reports documenting the personal, professional, and charitable work of Lionel Spiro. This collection contains materials related to the founding and management of Charrette, an art and architectural supply company he established in 1964 with Blair Brown, and its growth into a major national supply company with stores throughout the Northeast and in Puerto Rico. The collection also describes Spiro’s professional life before the founding of Charrette, including his work at the Boston Redevelopment Authority and his manufacturing of the Playdome, a geodesic dome gym based on the Buckminster Fuller’s designs. Additionally, this collection documents Spiro’s involvement in numerous organizations, many of which he served as a director or a trustee, including the Boston Athenæum, Boston Society of Architects, Harvard Club of Boston, Harvard Alumni Association, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Also included is a small collection of personal materials, such as Spiro’s academic work at Harvard College and Harvard Graduate School of Design, as well as personal correspondence, photographs, and newspaper clippings. Some folders, and entire subseries, Series II, Subseries A: Boston Athenæum and Series II, Subseries G: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum) are restricted. Series I, Subseries M: Sale is restricted until 2022.

Dates

  • undated, 1909-2013

Creator

Language of Materials

The collection is in English.

Access Restrictions

This collection is open for researcher use. Please contact us to request access or to make an appointment to view this collection at jhcreference@nehgs.org

Use Restrictions

There may be some restrictions on the use of this collection. For more information contact jhcreference@nehgs.org.

Biographical Note

Lionel Spiro was born on March 5, 1939 in Fall River, Massachusetts to Harry and Caroline (Schapiro) Spiro. He graduated from B.M.C. Durfee High School in Fall River in 1956 and went on to attend Harvard College, earning his B.A. in Government and Architecture in 1960. He then went to the Harvard Graduate School of Design (HGSD), graduating in 1963 with his Master of Architecture. In the fall of 1960, while studying at HGSD, Spiro and fellow student John Dyer opened a small architectural supply store on campus, giving students a place to purchase various school supplies in a single location at discounted prices. In 1962, they turned the store over to students Blair Brown and Terry Schnadelbach.

From 1961-1964, Spiro was licensed by Buckminster Fuller, known for his geodesic dome design, to manufacture and sell children’s gyms, known as Playdomes, based on Fuller’s design. These structures were on display at various local events, such as Filene’s rooftop circuses in 1963 and 1964. Beginning in 1962, Spiro was hired by the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), where he worked on community rehabilitation projects.

In 1964, recognizing that the Boston-Cambridge metro area was one of the leading design communities in the country, and at a time when there was a massive increase in government funding for building and construction projects due to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society initiative, Spiro and Blair Brown founded Charrette, a supply store for architects, engineers, artists, and others in the design industry. The partners first rented a small storefront at 279A Broadway near Cambridge, Massachusetts’s Central Square. That year, Spiro left his job at the BRA to devote full attention to Charrette.

By the summer of 1965, with leading architectural firms purchasing supplies from them, Spiro and Brown opened a 1,600 square foot store at 10 Mount Auburn Street in Harvard Square, also in Cambridge. In 1966, Charrette merged with Stone Reprographics, a blueprinting and copying business. In June 1967, Charrette moved to 2000 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, and in July 1969 opened a warehouse at 2067 Massachusetts Avenue.

Charrette went on to expand its presence into a variety of cities in the Northeast, including New York City, where the company opened a branch in January 1970. Charrette also opened a branch in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1969, but closed it 18 months later. Over the years, Charrette acquired other design supply, distribution, and reprographic firms, and expanded further into Chicago, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.

In 1977, Charrette moved its headquarters to 31 Olympia Avenue in Woburn, Massachusetts. Over the next twenty years, through its three main divisions— commercial products, reprographic services, and retail sales—and its expansion into computer-based modeling and image display technology, Charrette grew into the largest independent provider of imaging products and services to the professional design industry in the United States. In 1997, Berkshire Partners LLC purchased Charrette. After its sale, the business continued to operate under the name Charrette until 2010.

Spiro was involved in various local organizations, often times serving as a director, trustee, or committee member. From 1987-2002, he served on the Board of Trustees of the Boston Athenæum, during which time he also sat on its various committees, including acting as chair of Architectural/Building Committee during the Athenæum’s major renovations in the late 1990s and early 2000s and co-chair of the Twenty-First Century Fund committee, which worked to raise money for capital improvements.

Spiro was also quite active in affairs related to his alma mater, Harvard University. He served as a director of the Harvard Alumni Association from 1983-1986, sat on the university’s National Major Gifts Committee and Committee on University Resources, as well as served as chairman of the Class of 1960 Steering Committee for the Harvard College Campaign. Additionally, from 1984-1990, Spiro sat on the Board of Governors of the Harvard Club of Boston, a private social club restricted to alumni of Harvard and other select universities, and worked as its membership chairman from 1987 to 1988.

From 1981-1984, Spiro was a member of the Board of Trustees of the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and served on the college’s President’s Advisory Board from 1979-1980. He also was on the Board of Directors of the Massachusetts College of Art and Design Foundation from 1985-1988. Similarly in the art world, Spiro was a Trustee of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and an Overseer of the Museum of Fine Arts.

Other organizations in which Spiro was active include First Night, Boston’s annual New Year’s celebration; Executive Service Corps, a volunteer consulting service to nonprofits; Brookline Community Foundation; The Trustees of Reservations, a land conservation and preservation organization; Boston Society of Architects, for which he received an honorary membership in 1991; and a number of other organizations devoted to philanthropy, environmental causes, and community affairs, many of which he continues to be involved with to this day.

Spiro married Joann (Rosen) in 1964, and had two children, Laura and Daniel. They divorced in 1977, and Spiro married Vivian (Kemp) in 1984, with whom he also had two children, Rebecca and Julia.

References

  1. Materials in the collection.

Chronology

March 5, 1939
Lionel Spiro is born in Fall River, Massachusetts.
1956
Spiro graduates from B.M.C. Durfee High School.
1960
Spiro earns his B.A. in Government and Architecture from Harvard College.
1960
Spiro and John Dyer open a supply store on Harvard's campus.
1961-1964
Spiro manufactures and sells Playdomes.
1962-1964
Spiro works at the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA).
1963
Spiro earns his M.Arch. from Harvard's Graduate School of Design.
1964
Spiro and Blair Brown found Charrette and rent a storefront at 279A Broadway in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
1965
Charrette moves to a bigger space at 10 Mount Auburn Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
1966
Charrette merges with Stone Reprographics.
June 1967
Charrette moves to 2000 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
July 1969
Charrette opens a warehouse at 2067 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
1969-1971
Charrette operates a branch in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
January 1970
Charrette opens a branch in New York, New York.
1977
Charrette moves its headquarters to 31 Olympia Avenue in Woburn, Massachussetts.
1981-1984
Spiro serves on the Board of Trustees of the Massachussetts College of Art and Design.
1983-1986
Spiro serves as a Director of the Harvard Alumni Association.
1984-1990
Spiro sits on the Board of Governors of the Harvard Club of Boston.
1985-1988
Spiro sits on the Board of Directors of the Massachusetts College of Art and Design Foundation.
1987-2002
Spiro serves on the Board of Trustees of the Boston Athenæum.
1991
Spiro receives an honorary membership award from the Boston Society of Architects.
1997
Berkshire Partners LLC purchases Charrette.

Extent

23.6 linear feet (22 document boxes, 1 oversized box)

Abstract

This collection contains business records, correspondence, news clippings, photographs, meeting minutes, memoranda, architectural plans, promotional materials, publications, and reports documenting the personal, professional, and charitable life of Lionel Spiro. It contains materials on the 1964 founding of Charrette, an art and architectural supply company he co-founded, and its subsequent growth into a national enterprise, as well as Spiro’s work with various organizations, including the Boston Athenæum, the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, the Harvard Alumni Association, and the Harvard Club of Boston.

Physical Location

Located in Boston, Mass.

Acquisition Information

Donated by Lionel Spiro, 2014 and 2015.

Processing Information

Processed by Lindsay Murphy, 2017
Title
Guide to the Lionel Spiro Papers, P-1032   P-1032
Author
Lindsay Murphy
Date
2017

Repository Details

Part of the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center at New England Historic Genealogical Society Repository

Contact:
99-101 Newbury Street
Boston MA 02116 United States
617-226-1245