Harvard Square: An Illustrated History Since 1950

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Saturday November 14, 2009

Harvard Square: An Illustrated History Since 1950

It's said (on a local T shirt anyway) that Cambridge posses "The world's most opinionated ZIP code." Be that as it may, Cambridge boasts Harvard Square--which is probably less prone to debate or interpretation, and which is steeped in history.

Mo Lotman's huge--in scope and in size--coffee table book Harvard Square: An Illustrated History Since 1950 is stuffed (sometimes a little too much so) with period photos, interviews about the layout of and businesses in and around, the square (all of which has changed over time), and the general culture of the place, a nexus where Harvard University and the city proper interface.

The book is divided into sections by decade. We start in the 1950s, with handsome black and white photos of the square's distinctive buildings (still recognizable, despite changes in business tenancy) and incongruous-seeming old-fashioned automobiles and people shown walking around in outdated wardrobes. The photos change to color and there are minor--and major--changes to the square as the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s roll by and the 21st century arrives. But Harvard Square--decried as it may be for the loss of cultural icons like The Tasty and the plethora of banks and other corporate entities that have moved in, as ever-higher rents force smaller businesses out of business or into other locales such as Davis Square--remains a vibrant cultural scene.

Burger joints, bookstores, Carullo's specialty foods (and the vanished Sage's grocery store, still a sore loss), the Out of Town News, located in a former train station, the Brattle theater and the American Repertory Theatre, Colonial Drugs, and decidedly contemporary spots such as Tealuxe and Dado (two tea shops) and Burdick's (arguably America's best chocolate) belong to Harvard Square as to nowhere else.

If we've lost a few beloved businesses along the way--Wordsworth books, both Tower Records and HMV, Ferranti-Dege photography--that's the sad price of time rubbing by. All those old favorites still have their lights burning in our hearts--and now we can visit them once more between the covers of Mr. Lotman's book.

John Updike, William Weld, Amanda Palmer, and others add their two cents to the book's text, but it's the photos--large, lush, even (and perhaps especially) the black and white prints that captivate. If you're a Harvard Square denizen, you'll greet this tome with glee; everyone else will page through this opus with wonder and, let there be no doubt, envy.

Publisher: Stewart, Tabori & Chang. Publication Date: September 1, 2009. Pages: 240. Price: $50. Format: Coffeetable Hardcover. ISBN-13: 978-1-584-797-470

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.