Days of upheaval

Life at Harvard: 1980-1984

Frustrated by the inconveniences wrought by their House renovations, a group of Dunster House seniors recently spearheaded a joke campaign to "put the mortar back in mortarboard." They hung a sign-up sheet in their dining hall asking how many classmates would be willing to go through Commencemment exercises sporting hardhats. About 40 volunteered. If you had to pick one symbol for the Class of 1984's four-year stay in Cambridge, it would have to be a hard hat.

During their last week at Harvard, an assortment of seniors and officials summoned up the most memorable images and moments of the past four years, and construction crews were prominent among them.

Kirkland and Eliot had also been overhauled this spring, as have three other River Houses in the past two years. And for those undergraduates who have managed to escape the House renovations, the construction in the Square has provided sufficient disruption.

Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III has observed Harvard College for 25 years, and he notes that over the past four "there hasn't been a sense of the Square as a front yard for Harvard. That cafe life is a very important part of the College experience. It really hasn't been a important part recently."

To be more specific, the House renovations have meant scaffolding in idyllic courtyards and hammering early in the morning. In Lowell House two years ago they triggered a spate of false fire alarms. In Adams House this year they left rooms without phone service several weeks into the first semester. Ari W. Epstein '84 says in Dunster "people have had glass broken into their rooms." Leonard I. Ganz '84 of Lowell House recalls of his sophomore year: "you would hear a bang on you door at 8 o'clock in the morning, five construction workers would come in, smoking cigars, sit down on your couch and watch TV. Eventually one would pull out a razor and start scraping paint."


Work in the Square has created similar unpleasant memories. Some students have approached the ruins with intellectual curiosty, such as Ryan C. Reetz '84, wo crawled into the Mass. Ave. ditch one night freshman year to look around.

Others express irritation at the extension of the subway red line and a concurrent development boom, which have generated constant noise, levelled century-old buildings literally overnight, and closed sidestreets. Traffic patterns--as well as the location of Out of Town News--have changed almost daily.

Another disadvantage of the march towards progress has been the loss of favorite hangouts. One Potato, Two Potato fell victim to the wrecking ball in March and was mourned by one senior as the only "decent, somewhat respectable restaurant" in the area.

Other changes seniors remember have not stemmed directly from the construction projects, but fit in with the drive for increasing respectability. Brigham's trimmed its daily hours from 24 to 12. Harvard Pizza--the only pizza place open past 1 a.m.--was replaced by a used bookstore.

To Kevin J. Avery '84, "what hurt the most was what they did to Harvard Square Theater." It used to be a run-down, one-screen auditorium which featured only second-hand double features and occasional live productions--such as the stage version of Rocky Horror Picture Show, which came in October of freshman year.

"We used to go every weekend," Avery says. "The place had a lot of character--holes in the seats, paint falling off the ceiling, drunken bums." After sophomore year the cinema was renovated, and split into three screens, two for first runs. "Suburbia," he scoffs.

Since freshman year, seniors have seen the number of ice cream establishments increase from six to 10--and Belgian Fudge was transformed into Emack and Bolio's. The most profound change came when Somerville-based Steve's opened up branch on Church St. It made the much-heralded ice cream more accessible, yet to some the move took away its romantic appeal. "It used to be an expedition, like after finals were all over," says Ann L. Shalof '84, "now it's like 'where do you want to go for ice cream?' 'Well I went to Herrell's yesterday, let's go to Steve's.'"

Within the Yard, the Class of '84 saw a Henry Moore statue placed in front of Lamont, land a designer guardhouse by Johnston Gate. Sever Hall got a facelift, and lost the blackboard with "Do Problem 2A Only" mysteriously painted on it.

Nothing, however, provoked a reaction comparable to the announcement spring semester of sophomore year that the ivy would be stripped from the walls. University botanists contended that the plant's tendrils hastened building decay and recommended permanent removal. David T. Stern '84 helped organize "Save Harvard's Ivy," a grassroots movement which sponsored a rally, circulated petitions, met with alumni and administrators, and generated a lot of national publicity.

"It started out on a humorous level, but it got very serious once we started thinking about it," Stern says. "One of the resons people feel comfortable about Harvard is the seenery. It's nice once you step inside the gates to see ivy on them. Ivy has turned into a symbol for the school itself." The next fall administrators reversed their decision.