Porter Square

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Coordinates: 42°23′19″N 71°07′10″W / 42.3886°N 71.1194°W / 42.3886; -71.1194

Porter Square is a neighborhood in Cambridge and Somerville, Massachusetts, located around the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Somerville Avenue, between Harvard and Davis Squares. The Porter Square station serves both the MBTA Red Line and the Commuter Rail Fitchburg Line. A major part of the Lesley University campus is located within the Porter Square area.

In 2004–06 the principal intersection, including the area adjacent to the shopping center, underwent extensive construction both to improve access for vehicles, pedestrians, bicyclists, and mass transit users, and to improve drainage and storm water conditions. The artist Toshihiro Katayama[1] of Harvard University, in conjunction with the landscape architect Cynthia Smith,[2] designed a new visual look for the new circulation design, including contrasting light and dark concrete paving, stone walls and boulders.[3]


The Rand Estate, on site of what is now Porter Square Shopping Center, 1900 or earlier

Previously called Union Square, Porter Square was renamed in 1899 for the now-vanished Porter's Hotel, operated by Zachariah B. Porter, who also left his name to the hotel's specialty, the cut of steak known as porterhouse. The hotel was demolished in 1909.[4] The square, formerly flanked by cattle yards that used the Porter rail head to transport their beef throughout the US, was an important center for commerce and light industry as early as the late 18th century. A tunnel for moving cattle to and from the railroad without interfering with street traffic, known as the Walden Street Cattle Pass, was built in 1857. The tunnel survives under the nearby Walden Street Bridge, and in 2007–08 was preserved and restored. The "most dramatic loss" of early 19th century landscape in the square was the leveling of the old Rand Estate in 1952 to make way for the Porter Square Shopping Center.[4]

In 1984 the Red Line was extended from Harvard through Porter and Davis Square to its present terminus at Alewife, a project that also left Porter with its most visible landmark, Susumu Shingu's[5] 46-foot painted steel and aluminum kinetic sculpture entitled Gift of the Wind. Porter Square railroad history is covered in greater detail in the Porter Square station article.

Lesley University[edit]

Workers prepare to relocate the North Prospect Church, future home of Lesley University's College of Art and Design

Lesley University continues to expand in the Porter Square neighborhood, with the relocation of its College of Art and Design to the North Prospect Church and a new building built on the church's former site at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Roseland Street.[6]

In addition to University Hall at 1815 Massachusetts Avenue and the Lunder Arts Center at 1801 Massachusetts Avenue, Lesley also has administrative offices at 815 Somerville Avenue and parking areas across Massachusetts Avenue from University Hall.[7]


Porter Square Shopping Center[edit]

Porter Square Shopping Center, 2009

The Porter Square Shopping Center consists of two buildings and a parking lot. As of July 2017, it is home to the following stores & eateries:

Main Building

  • Dunkin' Donuts
  • Panera Bread
  • Porter Square Wine & Spirits (formerly Liquor World)
  • AT&T authorized retailer
  • Henry Bear's Park
  • Gentle Dental
  • Cambridge Naturals - natural health store
  • The Halal Guys
  • Porter Square Books - independent bookstore
  • Cafe Zing (in Porter Square Books)
  • TAGS Hardware
  • Michaels Arts and Crafts store
  • Star Market (for a while renamed Shaw's) - 24 hour supermarket
  • Cambridge Savings Bank

CVS Building

Porter Square Galleria[edit]

Adjacent to the Porter Square Shopping Center is a small mall called the Porter Square Galleria. In recent years it has lost several large tenants.[8][9][10] A Target is being built in the space formerly occupied by Walgreens. As of September 2018, it is home to:

The Shops at Porter and local "Japantown"[edit]

University Hall

A prominent feature of the Porter Square skyline is the tower on the Art Deco-style building located at 1815 Massachusetts Avenue. The building, now known as University Hall, was originally a Sears, Roebuck store from 1928 to 1985.[11] In 1991, Lesley University began leasing classroom space there, and in 1994 the university bought the building, which now houses its Graduate School of Education, bookstore, administrative offices, art and dance studios, and classrooms.[12]

Porter Square and The Shops at Porter have a recent history of being a center for Boston's Japanese community. In May 2009, Lesley University ousted Kotobukiya, a Japanese grocery store, from The Shops at Porter, after 20 years in business there. Lesley wanted the space to expand its bookstore.[13][14][15]

As of July 2017, The Shops at Porter is home to many Japanese eateries and businesses. Izakaya Ittoku and Shaking Crab are full-size restaurants, and the other eateries are located in a food court-like area with limited seating.


  • Shaking Crab - Shellfish restaurant/sports bar
  • Bourbon Coffee
  • Café Mami - Yoshoku Japanese style Western cuisine
  • I Love Sushi - sushi bar
  • ChoCho's - Korean cuisine
  • Yotopia - snacks
  • Tampopo - Japanese cuisine
  • Yume Ga Arukara - udon
  • Izakaya Ittoku - Japanese kitchen


  • Barnes & Noble / Lesley University Bookstore
  • Tokai - Japanese gift shop

Other businesses

  • Webster Bank
  • Vandernoot Gallery / Lesley University
  • Sora Total Health and Beauty - Japanese cosmetics

Other restaurants[edit]

Other restaurants in the area (as of July 2017) include:


  1. ^ "toshihiro katayama". People.fas.harvard.edu. Archived from the original on 2012-03-24. Retrieved 2012-02-26.
  2. ^ "Halvorson Design Partnership - People - Cynthia W. Smith ASLA Vice President". Halvorsondesign.com. Archived from the original on 2013-03-17. Retrieved 2012-02-26.
  3. ^ "Architecturally Speaking by Gary Wang". Retrieved 2008-04-15.
  4. ^ a b Survey of Architectural History in Cambridge: Northwest Cambridge, 1977, ISBN 0-262-53032-5, Cambridge Historical Commission, Cambridge, Massachusetts. pp. 164-65
  5. ^ "Susumu Shingu". Susumu Shingu. Archived from the original on 2012-03-30. Retrieved 2012-02-26.
  6. ^ Lunder Arts Center Archived 2015-04-16 at the Wayback Machine Access date 2013-12-17
  7. ^ "Lesley University Campus Map". Archived from the original on 2011-08-09. Retrieved 2011-08-14.
  8. ^ "Porter Square losing Blockbuster; first, though, a clearance sale!". Retrieved 2011-08-13.
  9. ^ "Pizzeria Uno closes in Porter Square". Retrieved 2011-08-13.
  10. ^ "Porter Square Galleria loses third large tenant in Jennifer Convertibles". Retrieved 2011-08-13.
  11. ^ WROBLEWSKI, DANIEL B. (July 9, 1985). "Sears Will Close Down Its Porter Square Store". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved June 15, 2018.
  12. ^ "Writing about a building is not easy". Archived from the original on 2011-08-09. Retrieved 2011-08-13.
  13. ^ "Farewell Kotobukiya". Retrieved 2011-08-13.
  14. ^ "Little Japan" to lose its center
  15. ^ "Digest of News Clippings 04/22/09 to 05/05/09" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 August 2012. Retrieved 2013-08-23.
  16. ^ "Bookings at Toad". Retrieved 2011-08-13.

External links[edit]