In honor of Women's History Month, we are pleased to feature this story of the Irving House written by Rachael Solem.
Frances Shain had emigrated from Bessarabia (now Moldova) with her family when she was a young girl. She graduated from Cambridge English High School and went on to be an avid student of the sciences, attending night school classes in biology and nutrition as an adult. After she married Vangel Misho and they bought a seventeen room house at 67 Kirkland Street. Her entrepreneurial spirit led her into lodging, and The Kirkland Inn was born. This institution has gone on to be an inn, a fixture in the community and as a woman run business for the next 65 years and counting.
By 1943, Mrs. Misho acquired 24 Irving Street from her father. The property was already used as a lodging house and she first contracted with Harvard University to use it as a dormitory for Harvard freshmen. After two years she tired of their rowdy behavior, and agreed to take Radcliffe students instead. The women, according to her daughter Jeanne “were worse yet” and that arrangement ended after only one year.
The family home at 67 Kirkland Street, then served as both an office and occasional rooms for the overflow of hotel guests. Because Vangel Misho was a graduate of the Harvard Business School and the houses were so close to Harvard University, they both often hosted academics of all kinds.
Jeanne recalled that, as a child, she knew when guests from Irving House were coming to the family dinner at 67 Kirkland Street when her father would say: ‘Quiet now, everyone! I would like to introduce you to Professor so-and-so from somewhere-wonderful. He will stay to dinner with us and I am sure you will all be very pleasant to him.’
Frances Misho ran various promotions to market the inn. She paid cabdrivers one dollar for each guest they brought in. She ran contests with cash prizes. She printed small, pocket-sized brochures with a poem welcoming visitors to Cambridge, and a map to show travelers the way to their front door.
Frances Misho died in 1989. Her daughter Jeanne began the process of selling 24 Irving Street soon after. In the autumn of that year, a partnership of long time friends came together to buy the property. When my partners and I visited, there was no name on the door, no street number, no light. All indications of its being a hotel were absent, including the name. The house was a tad spooky.
On the day of the sale, knowing we could not use the name The Kirkland Inn, and not knowing any other, the name we had tentatively chosen was Enoch Beane House, naming it after the grocer who had had it built as a rental property in 1893. This may have been historically accurate, but was not a great commercial choice. Within weeks, we had renamed it Irving House.
It was only after this decision was made, the name Irving House Corporation filed, that we discovered some promotional materials using the name Irving House along side The Kirkland Inn.
An invitation dating from the 1950s goes on to say that The Kirkland Inn offered “country charm midst city comfort and convenience” and instructs travelers to “inquire at office 67 Kirkland Street; enjoy our rooms at 24 Irving Street” Several of these were found behind baseboards in guestrooms and in dresser drawers in the basement as we moved through the renovation process. They indicate rates of $2-$4 per person, but others have crossed these out, replacing them with rates of $25-$40.
It was thrilling to find these lovely bits of memorabilia expressing the same style of hospitality, with the same amenities (modern and neat rooms, parking without a fee!) after we had already begun to promote the house along the same lines.
Poem from the 1957 ‘invitation’:
‘Tis desperately hard in time of need
To find nice rooms here ‘bouts indeed!
Cease to frown and tarry no more
A welcoming smile attends this door
Home hospitality, a charming retreat
Wonderful rooms all modern and neat
Tile showers and baths shining and gay
A PERFECT END TO THE TRAVELER’S DAY!
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