Harvard Square Historic District
Harvard Square in 2009
|Architectural style||Colonial Revival, Greek Revival, Other|
|NRHP Reference #||82001944 (original)
|Added to NRHP||April 13, 1982|
|Boundary increase||July 28, 1988|
Harvard Square is a large triangular area near the center of Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue, Brattle Street, and John F. Kennedy Street. It is the historic center of Cambridge. Adjacent to Harvard Yard, the historic heart of Harvard University, the Square (as it is sometimes called locally) functions as a commercial center for Harvard students, as well as residents of western Cambridge and the inner western and northern suburbs of Boston. These residents use the Harvard station, a major MBTA Red Line subway and bus transportation hub.
In an extended sense, the name "Harvard Square" can also refer to the entire neighborhood surrounding this intersection for several blocks in each direction. The nearby Cambridge Common has become a park area with a playground, baseball field, and a number of monuments, several relating to the Revolutionary War.
Although today a commercial center, the Square had famous residents in earlier periods, including the colonial poet Anne Bradstreet. The high pedestrian traffic makes it a gathering place for street musicians and buskers, who must obtain a permit from the Cambridge Arts Council. Singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman, who attended nearby Tufts University, is known to have played here during her college years. Amanda Palmer, of The Dresden Dolls performed here as a "living statue". A small bronze statue of 'Doo Doo,' a puppet created by Igor Fokin sits at the corner of Brattle and Eliot streets, in honor of Fokin and all the street performers.
Until 1984, the Harvard Square stop was the northern terminus of the Red Line, and it still functions as a major transfer station between subway, bus, and trackless trolley. Automobile traffic can be heavy, and parking is difficult. Most of the bus lines serving the area from the north and west run through a tunnel adjacent to the subway tunnel. Originally built for streetcars (which last ran in 1958) and still used by trackless trolleys as well as ordinary buses, the tunnel lessens bus traffic in central Harvard Square, and lets buses cross the Square without encountering automobile traffic. The tunnel also allows safer and covered access between the subway and the buses.
Discussions of how the Square has changed in recent years usually center on the gentrification of the Harvard Square neighborhood and Cambridge in general.
The Square also used to be a neighborhood shopping center, including a grocery store (Sages) and a Woolworth's five and ten. Although a hardware store (Dickson Hardware at 26 Brattle Street), drug stores and bank branches remain, the Square is mainly a regional rather than neighborhood shopping destination, attracting students and commuters.
In 1981 and 1987 the Harvard Square Theater was converted into a multiplex cinema; it later became part of the Loews Cineplex Entertainment chain and then closed on July 8, 2012. During the late 1990s, some locally run businesses with long-time shopfronts on the Square—including the unusual Tasty Diner, a tiny sandwich shop open long hours, and the Wursthaus, a German restaurant with an extensive beer menu—closed to make way for national chains. Elsie's Lunch, a long-popular deli, has also closed; what remained of its small corner storefront space facing Lowell House on Mount Auburn Street is now occupied by an ATM. Another long-time restaurant, the 64-year-old Leo's Diner, closed in December 2013 when the landlord of the property terminated their lease. The owners are hoping to reopen in a new location.
The student co-op, the Harvard Coop, founded in 1882, is now managed by Barnes & Noble. Schoenhof's Foreign Books is owned by the French Éditions Gallimard. Paperback Booksmith and Reading International closed by the end of the 1990s. The independent WordsWorth Books at 30 Brattle Street closed in 2004 after 29 years as a fixture in the Square. In the same year, the famous Grolier Poetry Bookshop announced that it would be sold (although it survived under new management). Globe Corner Bookstore transitioned to an online business, serving its last bricks-and-mortar customer on July 4, 2011.
Following national trends, the former Harvard Trust Company has been absorbed into the national Bank of America through a series of mergers. The iconic Out of Town News is owned by the UK-based Hudson Group. Still, several establishments remain as longstanding, locally-run businesses with unique styles. Examples include Leavitt & Pierce tobacconists (est. 1883), Laflamme Barber Shop (est. 1898), Harvard Book Store (est. 1932), Cardullo's Gourmet Shoppe (est. 1950), Charlie's Kitchen (est. 1951), the Brattle Theater (est. 1953), the Hong Kong Chinese restaurant (est. 1954), Club Passim (est. 1958), Café Pamplona (est. 1959), Mrs. Bartley's Burger Cottage (est. 1960), Dickson Brothers Hardware (est. 1961), Algiers Coffee House (est. 1970), and Grendel's Den (est. 1971).
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (July 2011)|
At the center of the Square is the old Harvard Square Subway Kiosk, now a newsstand, Out of Town News, stocking newspapers and magazines from around the world. A video of it appears in transitional clips used on CNN. A public motion art installation, Lumen Eclipse, has been introduced at the Tourist Information Booth showing monthly exhibitions of local, national and international artists.
In the southwest area of the Square neighborhood, on Mount Auburn St, stands the Igor Fokin Memorial. This memorial, created by sculptor Konstantin Simun, pays tribute not only to the late "beloved puppeteer," but to all street performers that are an integral part of the square, especially during summer months.
The office of NPR's Car Talk radio show faces the square, with a stencil in the window that reads "Dewey, Cheetham & Howe," the fictional law firm often referenced on the show. The popular show references this by asking its viewers to send in answers to the "Puzzler" to "Puzzler Tower, Car Talk Plaza, Harvard Square, Cambridge (our fair city), MA 02138".
The sunken region next to the newsstand and the subway entrance is called "The Pit." Its arena-like appearance attracts skateboarders and, more generally, young, high-school aged people from surrounding neighborhoods who are associated with countercultural movements such as the punk, hardcore, straight edge, and goth subcultures. The contrast between these congregants and the often older and more conservatively dressed people associated with nearby Harvard University and the businesses in the Square occasionally leads to tension. Harvard sports teams and clubs, including the track teams and all-male social clubs, are known to make use of this contrast through encouraging or sometimes forcing their newest members to engage in humorous or humiliating performances in "The Pit" as part of these members' initiations into the group. Across the street to the east of the pit, an outdoor cafe features always-busy tables for chess players, including US Federation Life Master Murray Turnbull, who has displayed his "Play the Chessmaster" sign here since 1982.
A number of other public squares dot the surrounding streets, notably Brattle Square and Winthrop Square,[note 1] with a wide variety of street performers throughout the year. Brattle Street itself is home to the Brattle Theater (a non-profit arthouse theater) and the American Repertory Theater. The John F. Kennedy Memorial Park, one block further down JFK Street, is on the bank of the Charles River. Cambridge Common is two blocks north.
The Square often attracts activists for unconventional political factions and has its share of panhandlers. Although Tom Magliozzi has derided it as "the bum capital of the world", it's also very likely one of the world's best places to people-watch, having many benches, terraces, and sidewalk restaurants and cafes dedicated for that purpose, and an affluent, ambient shopping population to sustain most anyone's interest.
"The Garage" is a small, multi-story shopping mall, named thus because it was formerly a parking garage. The original car ramp has been preserved, and is a central feature of this adaptive reuse project. One of the main attractions in The Garage is a Newbury Comics store.
The 1969 film Goodbye, Columbus takes place in Harvard Square near the film's conclusion, after the Richard Benjamin character learns that his girlfriend, Brenda Potimkin, an undergraduate at Radcliffe College played by Katharine Ross, left her diaphragm in the top drawer of her bureau at home for her mother to discover.
The 1970 film Love Story, by the late Harvard alumnus and Yale University professor of classics Erich Segal, takes place almost entirely in and around Harvard Square during its first two-thirds, while Harvard undergraduates Oliver Barrett and Jenny Cavalieri meet; finish college; get married; and Oliver goes to Harvard Law School while Jenny teaches school, living in a second-story walk-up in what looks like Watertown. The film continues to be screened annually to incoming freshmen at Harvard College during orientation week.
The 1973 film The Paper Chase, set at Harvard Law School, features Harvard Square landmarks of its era, including the old Out of Town Newsstand, the old MBTA Harvard station kiosk with its "8 Minutes to Park Street" sign, and the now-defunct Kupersmith's Florists.
The 1977 film Between the Lines features similar Harvard Square footage as well as aerial footage of the Back Bay.
The 1994 film With Honors has a scene filmed in Harvard Square in which the Out of Town Newsstand is featured. In the scene, Monty approaches Simon as he (Simon) is attempting to sell newspapers he took out of a vending machine.
Various parts of the 1997 film Good Will Hunting were filmed in and around Harvard Square, most notably at the former Tasty Sandwich Shop and the outdoor seating area of the square's largest Au Bon Pain café.
The 2005 documentary film Touching History; Harvard Square, the Bank, and The Tasty Diner chronicles the changing face of the Square, as a small diner (The Tasty) closes its doors to make way for a large retail space.
The 2010 film The Social Network featured aerial footage of the area near Holyoke Center.
- National Register of Historic Places listings in Cambridge, Massachusetts
- Orson Welles Cinema
- William Brattle House
formerLoews Movie Theatre, Church Street (now closed)
- Brattle Square, Harvard Square, and Winthrop Square are at the three corners of the triangular block formed by Brattle Street, JFK Street, and Mt. Auburn Street – Brattle Square is at the triangular intersection of Brattle and Mt. Auburn, while Winthrop Square is at the southwest corner of Mt. Auburn and JFK.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23.
- "Harvard Square Historic District - MACRIS Details". Inventory of Historic Assets of the Commonwealth. The Massachusetts Historical Commission. 1988-07-27. Retrieved 2011-01-07. "Old Cambridge; Harvard Square; Mid-Cambridge; Dana Hill"
- "Harvard Yard Historic District - MACRIS Details". Inventory of Historic Assets of the Commonwealth. The Massachusetts Historical Commission. 1986-06-23. Retrieved 2011-01-07. "Old Cambridge; Harvard Square"
- Lotman, Mo (2009). Harvard Square: An Illustrated History Since 1950. New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang. pp. 135 & 205. ISBN 9781584797470.
- Show, Jim. "The Igor Fokin Memorial Sculpture Project". Igor Fokin 1960-1996. Retrieved 24 June 2013.
- "AMC to close theater in Harvard Square in July". Boston.com. Retrieved 2012-12-31.
- Baldassari, Erin. "After 32 years, Leo’s Place closes". Wicked Local News. Retrieved 13 March 2014.
- "Ohio-state.edu". Omega.cohums.ohio-state.edu. Retrieved 2011-03-12.
- ""WordsWorth to Close on Saturday," "Book Selling This Week"". News.bookweb.org. Retrieved 2011-03-12.
- "Igor Fokin Memorial". Igorfokin.com. 2001-09-22. Retrieved 2011-03-12.
- "Createspace.com". Createspace.com. 2011-03-08. Retrieved 2011-03-12.
- Fennimore, Jillian. "Movie shoot at Grendel's Den". Wickedlocal.com. Retrieved 2011-03-12.
- Lotman, Mo (2009). Harvard Square: An Illustrated History Since 1950. Stewart, Tabori & Chang.
- Sullivan, Charles M., "Harvard Square History and Development", Cambridge Historical Commission
Media related to Harvard Square at Wikimedia Commons