Disneyland Booth Comes to the Square

Cambridge Information at Your Fingertips

They won't sell you cotton candy or popcorn, but if you want guide books or maps of Cambridge, you can pick them up at a new pink and blue Disneyland-style booth in the center of Harvard Square.

Funded and operated by Cambridge Discovery, a non-profit group, the Information booth first opened its windows last Monday, and volunteers were busy all week dispensing answers and tourist materials to a steady stream of Square explorers.

The structure, adorned with tiny light bulbs, cost about $35,000 to build, is air conditioned and will be heated for operation during the winter, according to the executive director of Cambridge Discovery, Charlotte B. Moore.

"We wanted something fun and fanciful," said Moore. "Of course it also had to approved by the Cambridge Historical Commission."

Cambridge City Councilor Alfred E. Velluci, who came up with idea for the booth during his term as mayor several years ago, said the booth was "nicer than the one in the Harvard Yard, but I would have built it for less money."

The newest addition to the Square will be fewer than 100 yards from that similarly elaborate structure in Harvard Yard that the University erected two years ago.

The gate house next to Johnston Gate in the Yard cost Harvard $25,000 to construct and was chosen from more than 330 design plans. But rather than opting for the amusement-park look, University officials at the time chose colonial-style architecture, hoping that the small structure would blend as unobtrusively as possible into its Yard surroundings.

"Cambridge is really neat. I read about all this historical stuff growing up, about the revolutionary war, and now I just get off the subway and here it all is," said Hugh J. Murphy, a resident of Santa Rose, Calif who stopped by the new information booth one day last week, laden with backpack, to find out where he could stay while doing temporary work in Cambridge.

Guided tours of the area will leave from the booth three times a day during the summer. The tours, of the University and "Old Cambridge" historical sites, will run for an hour and-a-half and will cost $3 per person.

"There are a number of things that are fascinating about this area. The streets are laid out in a grid pattern that is highly unusual for a 17th-century town. In Boston the streets are really just cowpaths, paths that offered the least resistance to animals," said Moore.

Cambridge, or "Newtown" as it was called upon its founding, was the seat of government of the Massachusetts Bay Colony until 1636, when it was moved to Boston in return for the establishment of a certain private institution.

The cupcake-like information booth is just the latest in a series of face-lifts to the hub of the Square this spring. May brought the end of a $72 million extension of the Red Line to Alewife, and the end of six years of noise, dirt, and general confusion for Square travelers.

The gaping hole that occupied the Square while the construction took place has been replaced with a concrete and tree-filled park area, a new subway entrance and a spiffy new home for Out of Town News.