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The City & Region

A Counterculture City Catered to College Students

By Joyce K. Mcintyre, Crimson Staff Writer

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 music...in 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.

McKinley, who lived in Kirkland House, remembers hearing from his room " a ton of noise and the trains screeching."

Because both the MBTA repair station and the corporate printing company of University Press were operational around the clock, the Square was home to several cafeterias--Hayes Bickford's and Waldorf's--which were open 24 hours a day.

By 1974 however, Sullivan says those around-the-clock industries in the Square began to fade and the restaurants where its laborers ate were going out of business too. University Press found a new home in Wilmington, and the T would soon be undergoing massive renovations as the red line's route was extended beyond Cambridge.

And the city of Cambridge was unsure about how to re-create the thriving commerce they knew in the 1960s.

While the City Council invited the Kennedy Foundation in 1965 to build the presidential library of John F. Kennedy '40 in Cambridge, by 1974, many of those councillors were having second thoughts.

The city wondered out loud whether they could afford another non-taxable development and "its attendant costs like traffic, parking and police protection," according to a Crimson article from the time.

The open invitation was effectively rescinded.

Eventually, the library was built on Columbia Point in Boston while the Kennedy School of Government was constructed at its present JFK Street location.

A College Town

Sullivan says that the early 1970s also brought a change in the retail base for many Cambridge stores.

Harvard Square, once a favorite shopping destination for Cambridge locals, was increasingly becoming the "magnet for college students all over New England," Sullivan says.

While today's Square is only home to the Loews and Brattle Street theaters, 25 years ago, Cambridge boasted nine commercial movie houses.

"With...a dozen or so college film societies...institute film festivals...Cambridge is in some sense a movie mecca, one of the biggest movie towns in the country," a 1974 Crimson article read.

The Brattle Street Theater sponsored a Humphrey Bogart film marathon during each semester's reading period, culminating in a screening of "Casablanca."

"Everyone knew all the lines," says Sue E. Kuelzer, the original and current owner of Grendel's.

She remembers Grendel's in 1974--where waitresses wore "grannie dresses" and patrons brought their own liquor--as a popular destination for professors, people employed in the Square and especially students on dates.

"Our cheese, beef and chocolate fondues were very popular on Valentine's Day," she says.

As opposed to the khaki-pant laden displays of today's Gap and Express, Kuelzer recalls small store windows displaying "hippy things--bongs, pipes and psychedelic stuff."

Paper Back Booksmith, located across the street from the Brattle Street Theater kept its doors open 24 hours a day. A popular student hangout, Booksmith often filled up with customers after a movie finished at the theater across the street.

"Classical music played [in the store] all night," Kramer says. "It was a great place to hang out."

He says his own store sold "lots of anti-war books" as well as many philosophy and history selections.

The Harvard Provision Company billed its alcohol delivery service to Harvard dorms while Buddy's Sirloin Pit on Brattle Street advertised a sirloin steak dinner for $2.99 and a 12 oz. Michelob for 50 cents. At Bailey's Ice Cream, a large ice cream cone was just 35 cents.

Club Casablanca, nicknamed "Casa B," was a popular student bar located in the basement of the Brattle Street Theater.

"Especially on weekends, [Casa B] is mobbed, noisy and full of people you will probably recognize," The Crimson wrote.

Students also frequented Club 47 on Mt. Auburn Street to listen to folk music legends like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.

R. Michelle Green '74 said she liked to go to the Pewter Pot--located where the Greenhouse Restaurant sits today--to order her regular meal of a Coke, a date muffin and clam chowder.

Still, Cambridge's attractions were not always enough to keep undergraduates off-campus. Green says she and a friend also enjoyed playing pool in the Freshman Union, now the Barker Center.

"There was a billiard table on the second floor," Green says. "There weren't that many girls around at that time, so we were a bit of a novelty."

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