Harvard Square in Cambridge
Harvard Square is a large triangular area in 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 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; singer-songwriters Tracy Chapman, who attended nearby Tufts University, is known to have played here during her college years; Amanda Palmer performed here as a "living statue".
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 perceived 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. There does remain a small hardware store (Dickson Hardware), but the Square is now more of a regional shopping center, especially for youths and commuters.
In 1981 and 1987 the Harvard Square Theatre was converted into a multiplex cinema; it is now part of the Loews Cineplex Entertainment chain. 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 has also closed.
The student co-op, the Harvard Coop, 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 closed in 2004, after a tenure of 29 years as a fixture in the Square. In the same year, it was announced that the famous Grolier Poetry Bookshop would be sold (although it ended up surviving under different, independent management). Globe Corner Bookstore transitioned to an online business, serving its last bricks-and-mortar customer on July 4, 2011.
Following national trends, the local Harvard Trust Company bank 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, a few establishments, such as 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), Bartley's Burger Cottage (est. 1960), Algiers Coffee House (est. 1970), and Grendel's Den (est. 1971) remain as longstanding, locally-run businesses with unique styles.
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 Murray Turnbull, with his ever-present "Play the Chessmaster" sign.
A number of other public squares dot the surrounding streets, notably Brattle Square and Winthrop Square, 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 the Communist Party USA, Lyndon LaRouche and other non-mainstream political factions. It is also known for its large number of panhandlers; Tom Magliozzi has called it "the bum capital of the world".
"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.
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 1973 film The Paper Chase 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 Back Bay.
The 1994 film With Honors has a scene filmed in Harvard Square. The Out of Town Newsstand is featured in it. The scene is when Monty approaches Simon as he (Simon) is attempting to sell newspapers he took out of a vending machine.
The 2005 film Touching History; Harvard Square, the Bank, and The Tasty Diner chronicles the changing face of the square through the eyes of a small diner serving its last burger and closing its doors to make way for a large surface retail space.
Ben Affleck shot portions of his film The Town (2010) in Grendel's Den on Winthrop Street.
- National Register of Historic Places listings in Cambridge, Massachusetts
- Orson Welles Cinema
- William Brattle House