Part I: The Rise of Eddie Crane
Power in Cambridge
Robert A. Jones is disgusted. The walls reverberate, the muzak is obscured in the slick real estate office as Jones sounds off about the do nothing city council: "It's been ten years since anything has happened. They know if they are going to build anything at Kendall Square they have to get some zone changes first and zone changes take a 6-3 count. What good is a 5-4 vote when a 6-3, 7-2 or 8-1 is needed. That's the function of a coalition, isn't it?" Jones, still enjoying his inaugural honeymoon as president of the Chamber of Commerce, wonders if he is already too late--whether he missed out on the gilded age of coalition makers.
"I'm not talking about a God or a Franklin Roosevelt stepping out of the wood-work either," Jones says. "What we need is another Eddie Crane. He could get the coalition together to get something going at Kendall Square."
But Jones is not alone. "Yes, if Eddie was still on the council," another business man recalls, "that complex wouldn't be just a pile of weeds--it would be out making money for the city right now."
Eddie Crane retired from the city council four years ago to return to a private practice as an attorney in Boston. He had lost his power five years before that. And yet say the name Eddie Crane to a Harvard Square businessman and his face lights up--it's like a code-word for action. They won't say whether it was beneficial action, but businessmen will admit it was progress just the same. "Crane was a catalyst--the person to whom people went when they wanted something done," Cambridge Trust President H. Gardner Bradlee '40 recalls. "He was a real leader. He had the respect of the whole community."
Edward A. Crane '35, poor son of a Cambridge cop, Harvard magna cum laude, successful Boston lawyer, director of Harvard Trust, Cambridge City Councilor for almost 30 years, was a power broker for as long as most Cantabrigians can recall. "He touched all the bases," says insurance man Jack Dyer, an inveterate political observer of Harvard Square.
"He transcended class differences," excouncilwoman and Coolidge Hillite Cornelia Wheeler recalls. "He knew Cambridge inside out, the bank presidents, university presidents, everybody."
And yet Crane was a product of his times. It took three hundred years before the political setting was ready for its cog and for the powerful interest that revolved around him. And it was with the Harvard Square bushings that he meshed best.
Under Crane that fieldon, stretching from the kiosk to the point where you couldn't get a New York Times at the corner newstand, was conveniently divided into powerful parcels with politicians, bankers, developers and a university monopolizing most of the tithes.
It wasn't always like that. There was a time in the early seventeenth century when the upper class, not yet concerted in its Brattle Street redoubt, ruled unopposed. In 1688, 16 of the 20 most prosperous Cantabrigians held elected posts. They were all alumni of Harvard but unlike Crane and many of his political cronies of a later day, being in the majority they didn't have to straddle the Harvard Yard fence. It wasn't political suicide if the politicians sided with Harvard.
After the Revolution the ascension of the working class in Cambridge port and the condesension of the old settlers towards the new split the Harvard Square town meeting house government and placed the City Hall in Central Square--a clear victory for the Cambridgeport squatters. As the Cambridge Book--1966 published by the Cambridge Civic Association notes of the social stratification:
Polite society kept aloof from the Porter and the Pointers, as the residents of Cambridgeport and East Cambridge were called. When a single high school for the entire city was opened in 1840, 74 pupils were admitted, all but one from the Port or the Point, and that was the mayor's daughter.
The immigrants and the industrialists swooped down on Cambridge in the late 19th century--with newcomers quickly filtering into elective office. What followed were rising taxes, cut-rate services, a jailed mayor and a business and industry exodus that pre-dated most of the nation's industrial suburbanization.
Finally, in 1938 the good-government knights, now a small minority, came charging down Coolidge Hill and in a sort of verbal fox-hunting pushed for the acceptance of a plan E form of government, a reformers' panacea that attempts to separate city administration from politics by hiring a city manager to make up the budget and execute city business. By forming the Cambridge Civic Association Brattle Street and Harvard University officials could then back hand-picked candidates in the city's new non-partisan proportional representation election system.
After all, Harvard, already the largest land-owner in Cambridge (and all of the land was tax exempt) stood a lot to lose from damaging town-gown relationships. As early as the nineteenth century rival Cantabrigians were wise to Harvard's moves as this wary campaign plea indicates: "Will you permit the CLIQUE of Harvard University and OLD CAMBRIDGE after their attempts to be set off from the town, to elect all the officers of the city from their own section, and RULE with aristocratic sway?
Although those Harvard administrators and alumni who led the Revolution of '38 may not admit it today, their reformist undertakings, left over from one of William Jennings Bryan's platforms, lay down a fertile field for disguised power plays and seemingly innocent maneuvering. For rather than fostering antiseptic government, the University-Brattle Street coalition spawned an amorphous council, a vacuum just waiting for a few bosses to step in.
And it was this vacuum that Crane decided to fill. The CCA backed candidate fought his way onto the council and with the help of political and collegiate pal Joseph DeGuiglielmo '29, a man with Crane-like credentials, wasted no time in manipulating Cambridge's first city manager, John Atkinson, into making 13 years of yes-man decisions.
At the same time Crane began to call the key business friendships needed to exercise the necessary influence that his title of mayor could not provide. Frank Townsend, Chamber of Commerce president in the fifties--a man about whom Dyer says, "When I was selling Chamber of Commerce memberships to the city I was really selling Townsend,"--full into the Crane fold. He and the rest of the Harvard Square businessmen--at that time native Cambrigians, residences in Cambridge being perhaps the most important prerequisite to community power--played ball with Crane. And through Atkinson, Crane reciprocated, cutting taxes when every other town's bills were skyrocketing.
With Harvard being at best naive, or reluctant to throw around the financial weight that its property ownership and endowment allowed, Crane and all other entrepreneurs looked across the street to Harvard Trust for fiscal leadership. Robert R. Duncan, president of the bank during the fifties, a man whom business people in the Square still remember as a "mover and a shaker," proved to be the perfect spearhead. Insurance man Dyer grumbles about the current leadership scene saying that if you asked him who could move things in Harvard Square today, ten minutes later he still wouldn't be able to come up with a name. But, Dyer points out quickly, "If you had a problem in those days--then you went straight to Bob Duncan" Current Harvard Trust President Ernie Stockwell explains that Duncan's power base lay not only in his position with the bank, but his address. "He was a Boston attorney," Stockwell said. "But more important he lived on Brattle Street and was very closely involved with the local business interests."
But even while Duncan was exercising considerable power as a native banker interested in the community. Brattle Street's Phil Eisemann, as president of the Bay State Holding Company, was maneuvering his way into majority ownership of Harvard Trust. En route to making Bay State the third largest banking conglomerate in Massachusetts with $1.8 billion in assets. Eisemann first got 51 per cent control of the bank's stock during Duncan's reign, and later expanded it to the present 98 per cent ownership.
Although the retired Eisemann now claims to have exercised no interest in Harvard Square politics and never held a position in the Chamber of Commerce, several Cambridge reformers insist that he was a force even Crane had to reckon with. He still exerts influence as treasurer for select CCA candidates on the Cambridge ballot.
When realtor John Briston Sullivan wanted to erect the Treadway on city land between Mt. Auburn and Eliot St. in 1961, he had to go to Crane for the needed parcel. And in a unique deal Crane engineered the sale of the "air rights" to Sullivan to build the hotel provided he leave some municipal parking spots underneath. The Boston Phoenix reported in 1971 Crane was duly rewarded with some legal business at the other end of the state. Although Harvard had at the time offered to build a much larger parking garage on the site and then give it to the city in the manner of the University's underpass deal between the Yard and the Science Center, the city council passed Sullivan's project without giving the Harvard proposal much thought.
"If Harvard made an offer, I never knew about it until after the vote," Wheeler, who voted for the proposal, maintains. "At the time it seemed like a logical proposal. The Square needed a motel and I didn't think it was all that bad."
Harvard's relations with Crane and the community were mostly colored by the president. And when Nathan Pusey '28 ruled, the administrators seldom packed out beyond the Yard's wells--unless there was some land to buy. Although University disciples would like you to believe that Harvard altrusticly scratched itself from the race to beat MIT to Central Square, actually Harvard did its best but was saddled with too meager a mechanism to buy, or just wasn't shrewd enough to deal with private land developers. When the banks of the Charles were covered with old coal storage dumps, only a few alumni had the foresight to buy the parcel and donate it to Harvard in the 1920's.
As city councilor Francis H. Duchas '55 recalls, the coalition Crane led was built around keeping taxes down and forcing unrestrained development, and was little interested in provided low-income housing that Cambridge's blue collar, poor and elderly could use. But MIT, under chairman James Killian, feeling the heat from MIT's bulging tax-exempt holdings persuaded Pusey to help form the Cambridge Corporation in 1965 university backed vehicle to support the building of low income housing.
Harvard flew in Dean Harvey Brooks's brother Oliver to decorate the Cambridge Corporation facade, and despite or because of Oliver's close connections with the administration, he never got anywhere in public housing. "Harvard has a bad record of efforts it could have made and to a degree it has suffered not inconsiderably," an embittered Brooks immediate progress in low income housing I asked for property to build low income housing before the revolution of 1969 but I received no answer from my letter to Pusey Six months later with students sitting in University Hall he gets me on the phone saying we are having a Corporation meeting down here in an hour and a half--can you submit a site so we can move ahead? Pusey selected one of the same ones I had submitted to him earlier in the year."
While Harvard was making attempts to grab property in the densely populated Square area, the Dow family was slowly amassing land on Brattle Street, Richard A. Dow '33 fell heir to most of Brattle Street and with it the potential to exercise power over a substantial portion of the Square. But Dow maintains now, "I'm not really involved, nor have I been involved in Cambridge relations today." And he is right, as few community leaders mention Dow as a man with influence around the Square.
Harvard's other land competitor, Bertha Cohen, a Russian immigrant who when she died in 1965 had properties that virtually ringed Harvard holdings, also stayed aloof from both Cambridge politics and her neighbors. Through land speculation and stock earnings Cohen became a millionare several times over. However, Bradlee recalls, "If you saw her on the street you would never have known she had a dime."
She slaved over the books under a 15 watt lightbulb, says Dean Whitlock, then assistant to Pusey for community and government affairs. When Pusey sent Whitlock to ask Cohen if Harvard could have a strip of land on Mt. Auburn Street where Tommy's and Cahaly's are now for a Bertha Cohen Memorial Park when the elderly widow died, Whitlock recalls "She cursed me out and told me that the last thing she wanted was a park named for her."
Former Mayor Edward A. Crane '35: "I'm not talking about a God or a Franklin Roosevelt stepping out of the woodwork either," Chamber of Commerce President Robert A. Jones says. "What we need is another Eddie Crane. He could get the coalition together to get something going at Kendall Square."
President Emeritus Nathan M. Pusey '28: Harvard's relations with Crane and the community were mostly colored by the president. And when Pusey ruled, the administrators seldom peaked out beyond the Yard's walls--unless there was some land to buy.