Harvard Square Visual History Book Released

After four and half years of research and over 100 interviews, Cambridge resident Mo Lotman has published the first visual history of Harvard Square.

Lotman—also the voice featured in American Express and Chrysler commercials—wrote and designed a 240- page book documenting the last six decades of Harvard Square. The book, called “Harvard Square: An Illustrated History Since 1950,” officially launched on Tuesday.

“I love the area, and I have seen it change a lot over the years. I wanted to see it as I first remembered it, and as it was before I got here,” said Lotman.

While looking through local bookstores for up-to-date histories of Harvard Square, Lotman could only find “musty old things” and “children’s books.”

When he was not able to find what he was looking for, he decided to create one himself, he said. Lotman then conducted interviews with local merchants, street performers, and Harvard graduates, including John H. Updike ’54 and former Mass. Governor William F. Weld ’66.

When Albert R. LaFarge of the Albert LaFarge literary agency saw Lotman’s proposal, he said that he “instantly” knew that it should be published.

“I believe every great book begins with a community,” LaFarge said. “There is a component of oral history that makes [“Harvard Square”] more than just an art book.”

LaFarge said he quickly saw the book’s broad appeal. The Coop’s General Merchandise Manager Nancie E. Scheirer said she has seen tourists, locals, students, and parents purchasing the book.

“We love it when we have books that are relevant to the community. We really believe it will sell,” Scheirer said.

The Harvard Book Store set up a display in its storefront as well as inside the shop using photos from the book. Cambridge-centered displays are typically geared toward tourists, said Heather L. Gain, Harvard Book Store’s marketing manager. But Gain said she believes the display will attract Cambridge residents as well.

Lotman, who was raised outside Philadelphia, fell in love with Boston when he visited as a 13 year old, he said. He moved to Cambridge in the early 1990s.

“I felt like a relative newcomer [when I started the project], but people were impressed that I knew what I was talking about,” he said. “People wanted to share their experiences with me, and felt it was important that this book be written.”

Paul Baranay, a junior at MIT, wrote an introduction to the segment of the book dedicated to the 2000s. Baranay was asked to write the introduction after Lotman read his description of life in Harvard Square on a MIT admissions Web site.

“I never would have expected to be in this book. It is a very exciting project, an ambitious project and a vital one,” Baranay said.

The Coop recently hosted the Harvard Square Business Association’s annual “Bookish Ball,” which included a giant cake featuring a picture of the book’s cover. Contributors and fans attended a launch party at Club Passim on Tuesday evening. The Harvard Book Store plans to host another event focusing on the book in December.

Lotman does not have immediate plans for another book and will continue his work as a voice-over artist. Lotman said he initially hoped to update the book every 10 years, but he added, “Right now, 20 years sounds good. It was exhausting.”

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