If being in Boston felt familiar, Cambridge and Somerville felt much more so. I was at Harvard for four years, and then spent two years living in Somerville while I worked for an architecture firm in Boston. In retrospect, I spent the vast majority of my college years on campus, as it was intense and time-consuming, venturing into Boston for frequent field trips and museum visits related to my major in art history. After college I spent a lot more time wandering around Boston, due to more free time, being in Boston every day anyway, and living in a crummy apartment in Somerville that encouraged one to get out more.
If Boston seems to change less than other places, Cambridge is even more extreme. Returning alums bemoan the loss of old standbys like Cronins or Elsie’s, but there were certainly more than enough nostalgia-triggers around to drive Greta crazy, as she had to listen to stories in front of each (although I restrained myself from breaking into Illegitimum non Carborundum). Random highlights follow:
While Joyce Chen’s was arguably one of the first restaurants to introduce authentic Chinese food to America, Yenching will always be remembered as the harbinger of the Great Szechuan Revolution in Cambridge, the place which inspired our subsequent lifelong predilection for excellent Chinese food.
Pinocchio’s pizza is still going strong, although it now has pictures of Mark Zuckerberg prominently displayed. I had forgotten how much Boston pizza differs from New York – not least in that it is made by Greeks – but I’ll leave the review of it to Greta. But perhaps the most inexplicable survivor was:
Charles Kitchen, purveyor of thoroughly mediocre double cheeseburger specials and cheap beer. I know that the culinary proclivities of undergraduates probably haven’t changed that much, but I was still surprised that it hadn’t been displaced by a higher-end establishment, until a local informant told me that it is owned by the Mafia and probably fills some other role in the underground economy.
Harvard Yard is of course the same, except for the now huge crowds of international tourists and the chairs scattered around. Crowd control has become an issue, and there are signs everywhere telling you not to enter the buildings or bug the students. But once you get out of the Old Yard, the Tercentenary Theatre and the small courts are still relatively sedate.
Architecturally, we went by old favorites to photograph them, as I just hadn’t taken enough slides back in the pre-digital days.
Becoming an architect has given me a new appreciation for buildings I didn’t particularly like as a student. I still understand their shortcomings as seen by laypeople, but as an architect I am bound to defend their architectonic qualities. First there is Sert:
Perhaps the most striking place was the pedestrian alley and courtyard at 44 Brattle Street, (behind the Design Research building designed by Ben Thompson). The buildings were by Sert, Earl Flansburgh and TAC, who all had offices there, and collaborated on the design of the passage to the interior of the block. I have never seen another pedestrian passage in this country that is this successful – the materials, the scale, the spatial sequence – all have combined to create a vibrant, pleasant and well-used alley. It has become a commonplace that modernist object buildings ignored the context and destroyed the city; it is instructive to see spaces like this and understand how the best modernist architects were highly sensitive to these issues.