The City & Region

A Counterculture City Catered to College Students

Still feeling the influences of the psychedelic 1960s, Cambridge in the early 1970s was a place where students could listen to music, eat at mom-and-pop restaurants and hang out alongside followers of counterculture - "Pit Kids" and street performers alike.

Some things, it seems, never change.

But while the Square 25 years ago and the Square today still share that same distinctive Saturday-afternoon feel-when street musicians send melodies into the air and crowds gather to watch the chess matches in front of Au Bon Pain--members of the Class of 1974 also remember a city that was comfortably eccentric without having the "edge" that Charles M. Sullivan, head of the Cambridge Historical Commission, says he sees today.

"The people hanging out [in what is now the pit] were hippies," Sullivan says. "The scene has changed, now there are a lot more punks."

Taking Cover

Five years after the 1969 student takeover of University Hall, Square establishments were still taking precautions against violent student rallies.


Class Secretary Thomas G. McKinley '74 recalls many stores temporarily replacing their windows with bricks for fear that the glass would shatter during a protest.

"Everything was boarded up," he recalls.

Owner of the Harvard Book Store Frank Kramer remembers watching student protests, "storm troopers" coming to break up a riot, and "people [on the street] going up and down, breaking windows, left and right."

Kramer says that today's students are far more conservative than those in the early 1970s.

"The Square was filled with flower children in the 1960s and there were still a lot around in the 1970s," he says.

Cynthia A. Piltch '74 remembers that, "Getting dressed up for us was having a clean pair of blue jeans that weren't tattered."

Hare Krishnas sang and played music in the streets, proselytizing and asking for money.

"They were just part of the landscape...playing their white and peach colored saris," Piltch says.

A Different Landscape

And just as the people flocking to the Square in 1974 are different from today's crowds, Cambridge has changed physically as well.

The Massachusetts Bay Transport Authority (MBTA) had a repair area--a place to store and repair buses, trains and streetcars--where the Kennedy School of Government currently sits.

Recommended Articles