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This Old Carriage House

A Church Street store reflects the Square's century of commercial transformation.

By M. DOUGLAS Omalley, Crimson Staff Writer

Up a narrow side street off Brattle, past the Harvard Coop overpass and the underground Passim Cafe, lies a building fraught with contradictions.

A Starbucks Cafe, an outpost of the wildly popular Seattle, Wash.-based coffee chain, holds court on the first floor, with young professionals and students alike chatting and typing away on their laptops while sipping double mocha lattes. The second floor hosts an upscale hair-styling salon with massive mirrors, chatty hair stylists and cinnamon-y breakfast delights for customers in line for the blow dryers.

Yet, while this Church Street property perhaps best embodies the recent commercialization of Harvard Square, it is immediately obvious that the 135-year-old property has many stories to tell.

Above the trademark Starbucks awning lay faded white letters that one can barely distinguish. "Carriage House" is visible through the red brick, and two other names run up the angle of the roof to its apex. Behind the building, according to Middlesex County Court records, lies an ancient burial ground.

In the upscale hair salon, appropriately titled "The Carriage House Salon," hangs a picture that shows a very different scene from the turn of this century. The white letters are starkly clear now, reading "James White Carriage Factory" along with a myriad of other signs reading "Tannery" and "Carriage Repairs." Hinges that could only be viewed from outside on the roof, rusted by age, are suddenly pristine, revealing the doors that opened to store carriages for repair. This is no ordinary hair salon or Starbucks.

The June 25, 1864 issue of the Cambridge Chronicle records the week's meeting of the Cambridge City Council, with the full listing of the minutes. The property on 31-33 Church St. was on the docket: "It's the intent also to erect on the lot next to the engine house, a brick building for the housing of the chief of police and the remainder of the police department in that section of the city."

Although the police stayed in the building for only 10 years, their subsequent move a decade later to a new building in Eliot Square opened the property for James White to buy and convert it into a carriage factory to address Cambridge's then most-popular means of transportation. Sandy and Janet Cahaly, the current owners, do not know the exact date of the change-in-hands of the property or the date of the photograph that hangs in the hair salon. But county records show that the property was sold to Abraham Lavash of Somerville in 1922 by the treasurer of the Cambridge Securities Commission, George L. Dow.

And while Cahaly does not know the exact dates of the businesses to follow in the carriage house's footsteps, he discovered artifacts in the eaves of the building that reveal a rough sketch of his property's history.

Cahaly uncovered and later framed slips from the Clark and Mills Electric Co., which note a specialty in "Everything Electrical." In the eaves, Cahaly also found plenty of printing supplies and, thanks to some historical detective work with local advertisements, verified the existence of a printing store on the property.

In 1958, Charlie Wolfe became Lavash's newest tenant and created a boys' clothing store on both floors, which he maintained until Cahaly bought the land in 1980 for $270,000. Almost immediately afterwards, Wolfe decided to retire, liquidating his merchandise and letting the lease run out.

Steve's Ice Cream became the Cahaly's first tenant--until the ice cream chain's owners decided to sell the Harvard Square branch in 1996. The Cahalys then fought a now-infamous battle with the Harvard Square Defense Fund (HSDF) to bring in another Starbucks to the Square.

By promising not to create trash or traffic in its vicinity--and by providing public bathrooms--the Cahalys and their tenants received a coveted fast food license from the city.

For Pebble Gifford, HSDF president, the Square's character is not just formed by the diverse groups of people filtering through its hub, but also by its commercial institutions.

The HSDF, formed 20 years ago, has been committed to battling what Gifford termed "this whole proliferation of fast-food chains."

The HSDF held up the transition of 31 Church St. from Steve's Ice Cream to its current Starbucks incarnation for nearly a year when it appealed an unanimous zoning board decision in February1996 to allow the coffee purveyor to move into thelower floor of the building.

For Gifford, three Starbucks in the relativelysmall vicinity of Harvard Square was one too many.And although ultimately the HSDF lost their appealto the zoning board, she remains committed tofighting the uniformity of urban areas.

"I don't think it's a very rewarding experienceto see a Starbucks on every corner. If HarvardSquare fills up with the same shops, why comehere?" she says.

Gifford sees Harvard Square as an institutionthat needs to be protected from the rampantexcesses of pre-millennial commercialism, a trendthat she noted even on vacation in England whereshe visited Stratford-on-Avon, the birthplace ofboth William Shakespeare and John Harvard'smother.

Gifford was appalled to see an American-stylestrip mall lining the main street of the quaintlittle village, complete with McDonald's, BurgerKing and Pizza Hut.

Yet, for the Cahalys, Harvard Square, like therest of the world, has always been changing, andif paying consumers are willing to support acoffee shop, even a mass-market chain likeStarbucks, then it has a place in the Square.

"We thought Starbucks would be a welcomeaddition in Harvard Square. What could be betterthan to drink coffee and work on a laptop?" Cahalysays. "This country was built on entrepreneurship.That's how the country works."

And for him, the opposition brought forward bythe HSDF is not only vindictive, but also goesagainst the historical grain of the Church Streetproperty--whose character has been shaped by itsmany incarnations over the past century.

Cahaly has called Cambridge a second home hisentire life. He grew up at the counter of hisfather's grocery store, at the current site ofChristy's, helping his relatives run the storealong-side his many cousins.

While walking the streets of Cambridge, Cahalypoints out many of the improvements that the pasthalf-century have brought: a streetcar parking lothas become a placid park next to the statelyKennedy School of Government; an old warehousestood where the bustling Harvard Coop now resides.

"I don't know what I would do if I couldn't getdressed in the morning and come into the Square,"he says.

The HSDF is preventing progress, Cahaly argues.

"They have used the fast food ordinance as ahatchet to stop whoever they want to stop. Whyshould Harvard Square be immune from what's goingon in the rest of the world?" he said.

But while the HSDF and the Cahalys remain atodds even three years after the initial hearing,both agree that upholding the original integrityof the building is a major concern. Yet, for theCahalys, maintaining the past and embracing thepresent are not mutually exclusive ideals.

"Everybody wants to have coffee, but thatdoesn't mean you have to tear down the building,"Janet Cahaly says. "You can't stop change, but youcan guide it along, like children. You can't tellthe children to stop growing."

Janet, who grew up in Cambridge, has fondmemories of riding the rickety wooden escalatorsup from the subway station to visit HarvardSquare.

Yet, for her, the Square was always about itsintense array of people and cultures, notnecessarily its buildings.

"Harvard Square is the Harvard community andall the people around in thecommunity...regardless of what buildings arethere," she says.

For Janet, she finds amusement in old Harvardgrads returning to the Square, marveling at thechange.

"It's changed a lot since the `60s,' they'llsay. `Yeah, right. You went to Harvard, right?'"she laughs.

And ultimately, the building, even in itscommercialized state, reflects the character ofHarvard Square as Cambridge has evolved from asmall-town city with local industries to the moreupscale cosmopolitan center that it is in 1999.

And what if it merely remained the same?

For the Cahalys, the answer is simple.

"We'd still be in the horse and wagons, and thecarriage house would still be here," she says

For Gifford, three Starbucks in the relativelysmall vicinity of Harvard Square was one too many.And although ultimately the HSDF lost their appealto the zoning board, she remains committed tofighting the uniformity of urban areas.

"I don't think it's a very rewarding experienceto see a Starbucks on every corner. If HarvardSquare fills up with the same shops, why comehere?" she says.

Gifford sees Harvard Square as an institutionthat needs to be protected from the rampantexcesses of pre-millennial commercialism, a trendthat she noted even on vacation in England whereshe visited Stratford-on-Avon, the birthplace ofboth William Shakespeare and John Harvard'smother.

Gifford was appalled to see an American-stylestrip mall lining the main street of the quaintlittle village, complete with McDonald's, BurgerKing and Pizza Hut.

Yet, for the Cahalys, Harvard Square, like therest of the world, has always been changing, andif paying consumers are willing to support acoffee shop, even a mass-market chain likeStarbucks, then it has a place in the Square.

"We thought Starbucks would be a welcomeaddition in Harvard Square. What could be betterthan to drink coffee and work on a laptop?" Cahalysays. "This country was built on entrepreneurship.That's how the country works."

And for him, the opposition brought forward bythe HSDF is not only vindictive, but also goesagainst the historical grain of the Church Streetproperty--whose character has been shaped by itsmany incarnations over the past century.

Cahaly has called Cambridge a second home hisentire life. He grew up at the counter of hisfather's grocery store, at the current site ofChristy's, helping his relatives run the storealong-side his many cousins.

While walking the streets of Cambridge, Cahalypoints out many of the improvements that the pasthalf-century have brought: a streetcar parking lothas become a placid park next to the statelyKennedy School of Government; an old warehousestood where the bustling Harvard Coop now resides.

"I don't know what I would do if I couldn't getdressed in the morning and come into the Square,"he says.

The HSDF is preventing progress, Cahaly argues.

"They have used the fast food ordinance as ahatchet to stop whoever they want to stop. Whyshould Harvard Square be immune from what's goingon in the rest of the world?" he said.

But while the HSDF and the Cahalys remain atodds even three years after the initial hearing,both agree that upholding the original integrityof the building is a major concern. Yet, for theCahalys, maintaining the past and embracing thepresent are not mutually exclusive ideals.

"Everybody wants to have coffee, but thatdoesn't mean you have to tear down the building,"Janet Cahaly says. "You can't stop change, but youcan guide it along, like children. You can't tellthe children to stop growing."

Janet, who grew up in Cambridge, has fondmemories of riding the rickety wooden escalatorsup from the subway station to visit HarvardSquare.

Yet, for her, the Square was always about itsintense array of people and cultures, notnecessarily its buildings.

"Harvard Square is the Harvard community andall the people around in thecommunity...regardless of what buildings arethere," she says.

For Janet, she finds amusement in old Harvardgrads returning to the Square, marveling at thechange.

"It's changed a lot since the `60s,' they'llsay. `Yeah, right. You went to Harvard, right?'"she laughs.

And ultimately, the building, even in itscommercialized state, reflects the character ofHarvard Square as Cambridge has evolved from asmall-town city with local industries to the moreupscale cosmopolitan center that it is in 1999.

And what if it merely remained the same?

For the Cahalys, the answer is simple.

"We'd still be in the horse and wagons, and thecarriage house would still be here," she says

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