Famous Trees of Cambridge

[Originally published in the Cambridge Chronicle, August 2002]

Cambridge has been doubly blessed in terms of its natural architecture–both by a long history reflected in the trees and also by its progressive contemporary policies toward them. Take a walk or bike ride one of these summer days when the weather is warm and the foliage at its peak to learn about some of Cambridge’s most prominent trees.

The Houghton Beech

The magnificent but slightly claustrophobic looking beech tree at 1008 Mass Ave is the Houghton Beech, Cambridge’s only living landmark. 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, the tree was threatened but saved in the 1970s when MIT acquired the property and demolished the original buildings. Then in the 1980s, the tree was scheduled to be destroyed to make way for the sprawling apartment complex that now occupies the site. Neighborhood activists intervened and in 1985, the tree was declared a historic landmark.

Washington ElmThe Washington Elm

If you travel carefully across the busy intersection at Mason and Garden Streets, you’ll see all that remains of the most famous of Cambridge’s trees, a brass plate commemorating where the Washington Elm once stood. Born in the forests of pre-Colonial Cambridge, the elm is said to have sheltered George Washington as he took command of the American Army in July 1775. For almost 150 years, it was the most beloved of American elm trees–a prime tourist destination and subject of countless accolades. Its last decades saw it decline to a sad shadow of its former glory, and the remains were toppled by a storm in 1923. Today its scion lives nearby in the Cambridge Common.

Winnie-the-Pooh’s House

[Note: does this still exist?] Children will be delighted to learn that Winnie-the-Pooh keeps a city apartment on Hurlbut Street, between Harvard and Porter Squares for his trips away from Pooh Corner. Carved from the stump of a 100-year old silver maple by prolific Cambridge artist Mitch Ryerson and local resident Irven DeVore, the Pooh Tree has attracted thousands of well-wishers from around the world since it was created in 1998. Visitors are encouraged to sign Pooh’s guest book and inspect his tiny bedroom (complete with Hunny Pot) by peeking through the windows at the base of the tree.

Longfellow’s Linden

To the right of the poet’s famous house at 105 Brattle Street is the only living survivor of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s era—-a grand linden tree more than 200 years old and 110 feet high. Longfellow mentioned the tree in his diary: “Fanny sits under the linden tree and reads to me Heine’s poems…”

The Memorial Drive Sycamores

It’s only thanks to the efforts of two men, John Moot and Edward L. Bernays (aka the “Father of Public Relations” that the grand row of sycamores still lines the stretch of Memorial Drive near Harvard Square. In 1964, a proposed highway interchange project was approved that would have destroyed the trees. Moot and Bernays caught wind of the project and mobilized widespread support for the trees. The project was halted and the sycamores continue to grace the roadway as they have done for over 150 years.

Mount Auburn Cemetary

The first and greatest of America’s garden cemeteries is home to one of the world’s greatest collections of trees and other plants. With over 6,000 mature trees marked clearly with identifying tags, Mount Auburn Cemetery is the perfect place to learn to identify new trees or just admire the view. Many of the trees here were planted in the 1830s when the cemetery was consecrated and are now reaching their full maturity and glory.


Central Square to get a Target in 2017

photo-4Cort Furniture on the corner of Pearl Street and Mass Ave will become a Target sometime in 2017. But don’t fret the big box invasion exactly – this will be one of Target’s new CityTarget stores, smaller and more focused on the urban consumer.

I can’t help but worry that some longtime Central Square institutions like Economy Hardware and Pill Hardware might suffer with the new competition. What do you think? Is this a boon for Central Square or just another nail in the coffin in Central Square’s economic diversity?


Five interesting and random things to see along Mass Ave.

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

Before (via Flickr)

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.

(image via Wikipedia)

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.

(image via Bluestein Design)

Globe Corner Bookstore & Curious George to close

Harvard Square institutions Globe Corner Bookstore and Curious George Goes to Wordsworth are both set to close, leaving a huge hole in the city’s independent bookstore landscape. Curious George is also one of the only places in Harvard Square left to buy toys and great kids books.

Read more at Wicked Local.

Location update: Hollywood Express is now Life Alive

I had a sad in my blog when Hollywood Express closed down, but I have to admit, the new restaurant Life Alive is rocking Central Square. Food is great – fresh, nutritious, tasty.Vibe is spiritual-hip, with lots of wood, comfy seats, flower of lifes, Buddhas, wood and growing things. the place always seems to be packed. This is a good thing.

And it has a kids playspace downstairs.

And you can get beer and wine. No coffee though (thanks to a non-competition agreement with 1369 Coffeehouse next door). Hope you like dandelion tea.

OMG Boomerangs in Central Square

Have you been to the new Boomerangs that just opened in Central Square where the Attic once was? (563 Massachusetts Ave)

Go. Now.

Not only do your purchases support the AIDS Action Committee, but it’s shaping up to be a Central Square institution.

Treasures. Clothing. Furniture. Local Central Square celebrities (such as the “guy with the fence” on Brookline and Franklin, aka my neighbor).

Last week I found an unused full cowhide for $5 that I used to patch our leather chair.

Also, make sure you check out the stairway to nowhere and the old air conditioning sign that used to be the wall for the Central Square Movie theater that was most recently a Blockbuster video.

Happy Mass Ave: Artist & Craftsman Supply

Sure, there are plenty of banks in Central Square, but where do you go for things that are actually useful, like drawing pads, paint, and toys?

Artist and Craftsman Supply is hands down one of the best shopping destinations in Central Square – hell – in CAMBRIDGE. Not only do their art supplies blow the pants off of other art stores, like the now mercifully shuttered Pearl, they have actual, awesome toys.


Maybe you don’t care about toys, but I do. And my daughter sure as shakes cares about them. And not just any toys mind you, but interesting, well-crafted, often eco-friendly toys that make great gifts for, I don’t know, birthday parties and as a reward for going potty on the actual potty itself.

They have a ton of more grown-up toys, just in case the kid scene isn’t your thing.

Please go in and support them, or just say hi. The entire staff is very friendly and helpful, which might just be in part because the store happens to be worker-owned.