Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge is always morphing, and always interesting. Here are five kind of cool things that you may not have known about on Cambridge’s main thoroughfare.
1. The Porcellian Club (1324 Massachusetts Ave) The nondescript brick facade gives no hint of the centuries of power and money that this Harvard University men’s-only social club has nurtured. Founded in 1791, the pig-themed club is considered one of the most exclusive in collegiate history, even denying membership to the most elite Harvard students.
Barred from joining, future President Franklin D. Roosevelt remarked in his thirties that not getting in to the Porcellian Club was the “biggest disappointment of my life.” Kennedy clan patriarch was also denied entry, much to his bitter disappointment.
Be sure to check out the gate directly across the street from the club that erected by Porcellian club members in honor of Joseph McKean, one of the club’s founders.
2. The Houghton Beech (next to 1008 Massachusetts Ave)
The magnificent but slightly claustrophobic looking beech tree at 1008 Mass Ave is the Houghton Beech, Cambridge’s only living historical landmark. The tree was planted over 150 years ago on the estate of Henry O. Houghton, Cambridge’s one-time mayor and founder of the Houghton Mifflin Company and Riverside Press. MIT acquired the property in the 1970s, demolishing the original buildings. When a 1985 development threatened to destroy the tree, neighborhood activists fought to keep the tree standing by having it declared an historic landmark.
3. Central Square Movie Theater
There used to be two movie theaters in Central Square – the long-gone Central Square Movie Theater and the Orson Welles. Can you imagine how great that was? Maybe someone could start a Kickstarter campaign to bring back movies to Mass Ave. Maybe that person could also make it a family-friendly dinner theater that serves good food and beer. Just saying.
4. MIT Nuclear Reactor
There is a nuclear reactor on MIT’s campus, just steps away from Mass Ave next to the Metropolitan Storage facility. And it’s run by students. And it’s over 50 years old. Gulp.
5. Harry Houdini plaque (end of Mass Ave Bridge, Boston side)
In April 1908, magician Harry Houdini performed one of his famous escapes right at the end of the Mass Ave bridge on the Boston side. According to reports, Houdini walked from his nearby hotel to the still frigid Charles River, where he had himself bound in chains. The reporters asked him if he was afraid. With a loud laugh, Houdini responded, “Afraid? What do I have to fear? I am the King of Handcuffs. Nothing can hold me!” He then jumped into the frigid river where he remained before a spellbound audience of 10,000. He eventually surfaced.