Historical Commission Recommends Preserving Harvard Square Kiosk

Out of Town News Stand
The Cambridge Historical Commission unanimously voted on Thursday to recommend designating the Harvard Square kiosk, pictured here, as a historical landmark.

The Cambridge Historical Commission unanimously recommended that Cambridge designate the Harvard Square kiosk as a historical landmark Thursday, a move that may grant the newsstand some protection in the city’s upcoming renovation of the surrounding plaza.

Landmarking the kiosk building could help maintain its architecture as the City of Cambridge plans a $4.6 million revamp of the plaza. Under the Historical Commission's proposal, any renovation in that would affect the structure’s appearance would require a “certificate of appropriateness” from the commission. The recommendation will likely go before City Council for approval this month.

The commission’s recommendation dates the kiosk—home to Out of Town News—to its use as a newsstand starting in 1984, though the commission could revise its proposal to mark the kiosk’s 1928 origins as a subway headhouse.

Discussion over changes to the plaza and kiosk began formally in early 2016, when the City Council announced plans to “undertake the full restoration of the Kiosk building and plaza,” according to 2016 city documents.

Plans were mired in debate from the start over what renovations should look like and who would have a say in the process. Many locals raised concerns about a 2012 mock-up that reimagined the kiosk and plaza as a tourist center replete with LED screens and stadium seating.

In August 2016, five Harvard professors and one lecturer penned a Crimson editorial urging the preservation of the kiosk structure so that “future generations of Harvard students, Cantabrigians, and visitors can experience its iconic and historic form.” And the Harvard Square Neighborhood Association, formed by local residents last year in response to concerns about the changing face of the Square, has been active in discussing the future of the plaza.

Suzanne P. Blier, professor of History of Art and Architecture and African and African American Studies and a member of the HSNA, said the kiosk redesign project is key to the future of the Square.

“This is a multimillion dollar project that involves the kiosk and the plaza—it’s more than just a renovation,” Blier said at the October 1 HSNA community meeting.

Cambridge has formed a Harvard Square Kiosk and Plaza Working Group to navigate discussions and plans moving forward. Cambridge City Engineer Kathy Watkins and Stuart Dash, director of community planning, were both present at the HSNA meeting to present the city’s plans.

“I think the working group is a really good group with a lot of variety of folks on it, so it’s been a really good opportunity to really kick this off from the city’s perspective.” Watkins said.

Dash said input from Cantabrigians will be key moving forward. The city has hired the nonprofit planning firm Project for Public Spaces to help brainstorm the future of the plaza, and is working to hire an architect that will be able to best address concerns, according to Watkins and Dash. The city has also created a website to encourage locals to submit ideas.

“Our feeling is that everybody’s got some terrific ideas and the ideas can range from the smallest little aspects of the kiosk and plaza to the most boldest and largest-scale ideas,” Dash said.

–Staff writer Alison W. Steinbach can be reached at alison.steinbach@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @alisteinbach.

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