Tag Archives: central square

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)


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.

Oriental Dynasty Furniture is closing

Another venerable member of the old Mass Ave furniture row is closing. This time it’s Oriental Dynasty Furniture, which sold new and used Asian furniture and home accessories. I sensed the end was coming a few months back when I saw the “Now taking consignments” sign in the window, followed by a permanent sale sign. That and almost every other furniture store on the block has closed (closely watching Bo Concept and Crate & Barrel now).

Please excuse the lame photo. I am now working full time far, far from Cambridge and can’t get over to photograph that often. Or post for that matter!

Have any tips or photos you would like me to post? Let me know: lotuspadyoga [at] gmail [dot] com

Rodney’s Bookstore is closing

This one is really depressing. I love Rodneys. I love it for so many reasons – not only do they have one of the biggest and best collections of used books in the area, they also have an amazing selection of new books, toys, posters, and most importantly, kids books. Rodneys is one of the few kid-friendly retail destinations left in the neighborhood. And it is a destination, about as much fun to go to as the park for my daughter.

Apparently, they will be open through the summer. Everything is 50% off. Come fall, Central Square will shed a collective tear.

UPDATE: Rodney’s is most definitely NOT closing. When asked why, the terse clerk responded that the “city stepped in.” He clearly did not want to discuss it,  so does anyone else have the story?

What’s up, Cambridgeport Saloon?

I had a thing for dive bars right after college, but there was something about the Cambridgeport Saloon that didn’t really grab me. Maybe the bright lights and the fact that it frequented by many of the same skinhead girls from the Pit in Harvard Square who wanted to beat me up in high school (good times).

The place wasn’t one of those ironic dive bars (Think Model Cafe in Brighton circa 1994). No, this was the real deal. Stabbings, shootings, and brawls were pretty common, according to this lovingly maintained Myspace page. But a glance of Yelp reviews shows that the place had somewhat of a revival in its twilight years, and was a regular hang out for local skinheads, MIT students, and neighborhood folks.

As the creator of the Cambridgeport Saloon’s Facebook Fan page writes:

“A truly dirty den of evil and villainy populated by some of the most “interesting” people you’re likely to ever meet outside of the county lockup. Was the pool table truly level? How many degrees does the MIT grad student behind the bar have? Is that crazy old man in the corner fingering a knife handle and talking to himself?

Nothing will ever beat the Gay.com sign on the roof. There are too many martini bars catering to those with no credit limits on their platinum cards and not enough for those who feel that over $3 for a beer is highway robbery.”

No matter why, the Cambridgeport Saloon closed down years ago and shows no signs of rebirth or renewal.

So what’s happening there? Some reports say the property is owned by MIT, which is the process of evalualting all of its empty properties. A neighbor disagrees, saying the property’s situation is complicated.

Dive bar or not, the saloon’s absence leaves a hole in the Avenue. From descriptions of the scene there, it seemed to bring a wide variety of very different classes and types of people together into one room to share their love of beer and music, and where else are you going to find that on this stretch of Mass Ave (or anywhere in Cambridge)?

Mass Ave vs. Route 128

As a jobseeker, I’ve found that about 8 out of every 10 writing jobs are located in the suburbs, usually in Burlington or around Route 128. The idea of driving a half hour *out* of the city to get to work feels a little depressing, not to mention expensive and carbon-heavy. Isn’t is supposed to be the other way around? Aren’t the suburbanites supposed to be coming into the city to work?

I’ve been wishing there’s some way to repurpose these gaping retail spaces into affordable office space with shorter leases, luring businesses back to the city and providing more jobs right here in the city. I know, crazy.