Campus & Community

Rediscovering the Square

The Former Out of Town News Stand is covered in snow.

Harvard Square after an early snow.

Photos by Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

4 min read

New businesses emerge and old favorites awaken after a long pandemic year

By May Harvard Square will surely look terrific, having undergone major transformations to the anchor buildings in its center island and surrounded by many new or newly reopened restaurants and stores. When members of the Class of 2025 come to the Yard in the fall, the Harvard Square they come to know will be a bright and shiny version of the last one, and the one before that, and the one before that.

For frequenters, going back through the years, the Square has always been a place of firsts, of coming-of-age moments that stay in their memories. Maybe it was the first job in the crammed poster department at The Coop. Or having their ears or nose pierced in The Garage. Or buying that first beer at The Boathouse, The Wursthaus, or Daedalus — or even, in the way-back machine, the Oxford Ale House. Were you a bystander or perhaps a participant in a performance in The Pit? Did you crane your neck to glimpse Bill Clinton when his impromptu visit shut down the Square?

Did you dress like the rock star Prince to attend “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” at midnight? Sit at the counter in the Tasty or eat the Tom Brady burger at Bartley’s? Have you bought poetry at Grolier’s? Watched the Sox at Charlie’s? Did ever go to lunch with your officemates at Casablanca? Delight in a movie at the Harvard Square Theatre or the Brattle, or an acoustic show at Club Passim? Find a treasured book in the Square? Or bought vinyl at Newbury Comics?

Often these moments are still vivid, formed at a time of wonderment in this place chock-filled with discoveries. We stand back and watch as the Square has shed its skin yet again, awaiting the wanderlust of new visitors and first-years to its beckoning streets.

Bundled-up pedestrians walk past an artist’s rendering of the Regency Centers Project in Harvard Square. It encompasses the work at the Abbott Building at 1‒7 JFK St., the Corcoran Building at 9‒11 JFK St., and 18 Brattle. The three buildings are going to feature retail, offices, and restaurants and recreations. Four other ongoing or future construction projects are in place, and several are recently completed, said Denise Jillson, executive director of the Harvard Square Business Association.

Bundled up pedestrians walk past an artist's rendering of the Abbot building in Harvard Square.
Masked pedestrians walk through Harvard Square.
A large photograph of Dunster House hangs above the entrance to the Charles Hotel.

Pedestrians walk through the center of Harvard Square. The Charles Hotel in Harvard Square displays a large mural of Dunster House and the Weeks Footbridge. The hotel underwent major renovations on the Bennett Street entrance side.

Harvard Square theater.
A pedestrian walks past a painted Charlie Chaplin on the Church Street mural.
The stairwell of the Harvard Coop construction project is pictured in Harvard Square.
John Ciancio is pictured at the Harvard Coop in Harvard Square

Views of the Harvard Coop construction zone. Work is expected to be completed by the end of April. John Ciancio met his wife at the Coop, where he has worked since 1975.

“Fridge in the Square” on Church Street is a mutual-aid organization driven by heightened levels of food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A refrigerator is filled with food as part of a mutual aid organization in Harvard Square.
Portraits are on display inside the former Out of Town News in Harvard Square.
Artist Lennie Peterson’s Nina Simone portrait shares space with Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Billie Holiday inside the former Out of Town News in the center of Harvard Square.
A patron watches tv inside Source a new restaurant on Church Street in Harvard Square.
A patron watches TV inside Source Restaurant, a gastro pub that replaced Cambridge One on Church Street. Other newcomers to the Square are: Dig, a healthy eating chain; The Smoke Shop BBQ; Stoked Wood Fired Pizza, which will be at Harvard Law School; Commonwealth Wine School in the Garage; and Spyce.
An outdoor pod is pictured on Eliot Street outside Charlie's Kitchen.
A woman parked on the sidewalk and street and holding up traffic apologizes with a hand wave as she exits Pinocchio's with her pizza.

Outdoor pods on Eliot Street outside Charlie’s Kitchen in Harvard Square. A woman exits Pinocchio’s with her pizza. The Harvard Square fixture has been in business since 1966.

The Abbot Building in the center of Harvard Square is pictured at sunset.
The Abbot Building, center, is part of the Regency Centers Project, where the facade is expected to be completed this month. Interior construction is ongoing. “Businesses will come and go, even beloved ones,” Denise Jillson said. “And while we lament the loss of those that close, there is an unmistakable air of excitement around the opening of new businesses.”