Tuesday, December 08, 2009
SOMERVILLE WRITER MO LOTMAN DOCUMENTS DAVIS SQUARE’S COUSIN: CAMBRIDGE’S HARVARD SQUARE.
BY DOUG HOLDER
The first thing I noticed when I opened up Mo Lotman’s impressive illustrated history of Harvard Square was a picture of the Tasty Sandwich Shop. It closed a number of years ago, and it was right next to an equally defunct restaurant the “Wursthaus.” I used to frequent the “Wursthaus” for their marvelous selection of beers, the beauty of their Bratwurst, and to dodge the barbs from the ancient waitresses. The Tasty on the other hand was only a counter, but it served an excellent cup of coffee in an old fashioned mug, and there was always the comforting sight of hotdogs simmering on a grill in a sea of grease. The counterman used to call me “smiley” because of my own frequently pensive mug. Anyway, although I have lived in my beloved burg of Somerville for the past 15 years, Harvard Square has been an equally important part of my experience since I arrived on the shores of the Charles River in the 1970’s to attend college.
“Harvard Square: An Illustrated History Since 1950” is divided in sections (by the decade) from the 1950s to the 2000s. It is richly illustrated, with a plethora of interesting essays, etc… It starts out with a piece by the late, renowned writer and Harvard graduate John Updike, in which he writes about the drugstore he used to frequent in the Square, and well, then, he goes from there:
"On Sunday mornings I would give myself the treat of sleeping through the bells from Memorial Chapel and then walking in the opposite direction to the drugstore...I would dip into my modest allowance to the extent of a cup of coffee and a cinnamon doughnut at the counter...The helpful maps in Mo Lotman's priceless assemblage of photographs told me that this haven from Latin and calculus was called Daley's Pharmacy."
The photographs in this book are breathtaking--as alluring, at least for me, as any photos of nature's splendor. From the 1950s section I saw a spread of the Square that included the ghosts of James P. Brin Sportswear, Hazen's Lunch, and Philip’s Bookstore--that will certainly tweak the memories of folks a lot older than me.
And like any square that is worth its salt, it is full of characters. And Lotman doesn't leave them out. There are portraits of Frank Cardullo, the owner of the famed eatery the” Wursthaus,” who held court every afternoon at a long table, sucking on his signature cigar, and holding court with a gaggle of cops, and various stumble bums on the scene. Just to give you a taste of this feast of an illustrated history there are descriptions and pictures of Sheldon Cohen, the former owner of the Out of Town News, the late storyteller and bard of the streets of Harvard Square: Brother Blue, Louisa Solano, the former owner of the Grolier Poetry Book Shop, to name a few.
This is a hands down impressive book and well worth the five ten spots you will slap down for it. The book will open the floodgates of your memory, and if you are a writer it is certain to jump start you from the stasis of your latest writer's block.
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