Walking Tour 3: Harvard Square

Start: Harvard Square (T: Red Line to Harvard).

Finish: John F. Kennedy Park.

Time: 2-4 hours, depending on how much time you spend in shops and museums; allow an hour for the detour to the Longfellow National Historic Site.

Best Time: Almost any time during the day.

Worst Time: The last week of May. You might have trouble gaining admission to Harvard Yard during commencement festivities. 

Popular impressions to the contrary, Cambridge is not exclusively Harvard. In fact, even Harvard Square isn't exclusively Harvard. During a walk around the area, you'll see historic buildings and sights, interesting museums, and notable architecture on and off the university's main campus.

Leave the T station by the main entrance (use the ramp to the turnstiles, then take the escalator) and emerge in the heart of:

1. Harvard Square

Town and gown meet at this lively intersection, where you'll get a taste of the improbable mix of people drawn to the crossroads of Cambridge. 

The store across Massachusetts Avenue is the Harvard Coop. The name rhymes with hoop -- say "co-op" and risk being taken for a Yalie.

Turn around so that the Coop is at your back and walk half a block, crossing Dunster Street. Across the way, at 1341 Massachusetts Ave., you'll see:

2. Wadsworth House

Most of the people waiting for the bus in front of this yellow wood building probably don't know that it was built in 1726 as a residence for Harvard's fourth president -- but then, neither do most Harvard students. Its biggest claim to fame is a classic: George Washington slept here.

Cross Mass. Ave., pass through the gate, and continue until you're at the edge of a sweeping lawn crisscrossed with walking paths. This is:


3. Harvard Yard

You're standing in the oldest part of "the Yard." It was a patch of grass with animals grazing on it when Harvard College was established in 1636 to train young men for the ministry, and it wasn't much more when the Continental Army spent the winter of 1775-76 here. Harvard is the oldest college in the country, with the most competitive admissions process, and if you suggest aloud that it's not the best, you might encounter the attitude that inspired the saying "You can always tell a Harvard man, but you can't tell him much."

Walk forward until you see majestic Johnston Gate on your left and take in the classroom and administration buildings and dormitories that make up the:


4. Old Yard

Just inside the gate stands Massachusetts Hall. Built in 1720, this National Historic Landmark is the university's oldest surviving building. First-year students share "Mass. Hall" with the first-floor office of the university president (or perhaps it's the other way around), whom they traditionally invite upstairs for tea once a year. Across the way is Harvard Hall, a classroom building constructed in 1765. Walk along the Yard side of Harvard Hall until you reach matching side-by-side buildings, Hollis and Stoughton halls. Hollis dates to 1763 (Stoughton "only" to 1805) and has been home to many students who went on to great fame, among them Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Charles Bulfinch. Almost hidden across the tiny lawn between these two buildings is Holden Chapel, a Georgian-style gem completed in 1744. It has been an anatomy lab, a classroom building, and, of course, a chapel, and it is now home to the oldest American college choir, the Harvard Glee Club.

Cross the Yard to the building opposite Johnston Gate. This is:


5. University Hall

Designed by Charles Bulfinch and constructed of granite quarried in suburban Chelmsford, the 1813 structure is the college's main administration building. In 1969, students protesting the Vietnam War occupied it.

University Hall is best known as the backdrop of the:


6. John Harvard Statue

This is one of the most photographed objects in the Boston area. Daniel Chester French designed it in 1884.

Nothing but the Truth -- The likeness of John Harvard outside University Hall is known as the "Statue of Three Lies" because the inscription reads "John Harvard/Founder/1638." In fact, the college was founded in 1636, and Harvard (one of many benefactors) didn't establish it, but donated money and his library. What's more, this isn't even John Harvard. No portraits of him survive, so the model for the benevolent-looking bronze gentleman was, according to various accounts, either his nephew or a student.

Walk around University Hall into the adjoining quad. This is still the Yard, but it's the "New Yard," sometimes called Tercentenary Theater because the college's 300th-anniversary celebration was held here in 1936. Commencement and other university-wide ceremonies take place here.

On your right is:


7. Widener Library

The centerpiece of the world's largest university library system was built in 1913 as a memorial to Harry Elkins Widener, Harvard class of 1907. Thoroughly debunked legend has it that he died when the Titanic sank in 1912 because he was unable to swim 50 yards to a lifeboat, and his mother donated $2 million for the library on the condition that every undergraduate prove his ability to swim 50 yards. Today the library holds more than 3 million volumes, including 3,500 rare volumes collected by Harry Elkins Widener himself, on 50 miles of shelves. Don't even think about swiping Harry's Gutenberg Bible. The last person to try, in 1969, gained access from above but couldn't climb out. With the 70-pound bible in his knapsack, he fell six stories to the courtyard below (and survived).

Horace Trumbauer of Philadelphia designed the library. His primary design assistant was Julian Francis Abele, a student of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania and the first black graduate of L'Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. The lobby -- which sits within view of the locked memorial room that holds Widener's collection -- is not open to the public, but you may be able to talk your way in if you're affiliated (student or staff) with another university; visit the office to the left of the main entrance. If you're not allowed to take a peek, pause at the top of the outside staircase and turn around to enjoy the view.

Walk down the stairs and across the quad. Facing the library is:


8. Memorial Church

Built in 1931, the church is topped with a tower and weather vane 197 feet tall. You're welcome to look around the Georgian revival-style edifice unless services are going on, or to attend them if they are. Morning prayers run daily from 8:45 to 9am, and the Sunday service is at 11am. Weddings and funerals also take place here. The entrance is on the left. Inside, on the south wall (toward the Yard), panels bear the names of Harvard alumni who died in the world wars, Korea, and Vietnam. One is Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., the president's brother, class of 1938.

Facing Widener Library with Memorial Church behind you, turn left toward:


9. Sever Hall

H. H. Richardson, architect of Boston's Trinity Church, designed this classroom building (1880). Surveys of architects and designers consistently name the deceptively simple structure one of the professionals' favorite buildings in the Boston area. Note the gorgeous brickwork that includes rolled moldings around the doors, the fluted brick chimneys, and the arrangement of the windows.

Pssst . . . Check This Out  -- Climb the front steps of Sever Hall and scoot to the side of the entrance, out of the way of passing students. The doorway is set in a "whispering gallery." Stand on one side of the arch, station a friend or willing passerby on the opposite side, and speak softly into the facade. Someone standing next to you can't hear you, but the person at the other side of the arch can.

Facing Sever Hall, turn right and go around to the back. The building on your right is Emerson Hall, which appeared in the movie Love Story as Barrett Hall, named after the family of Ryan O'Neal's character. Cross this quad and exit through the gate onto Quincy Street.

Turn right and walk about 300 feet. On the other side of the street, at 24 Quincy St., is the:


10. Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts

Art exhibitions occupy the lobby, the Harvard Film Archive shows movies in the basement (pick up a schedule on the main floor), and the concrete-and-glass building is itself a work of art. Opened in 1963, it was designed by the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier and the team of Sert, Jackson, and Gourley. It's the only Le Corbusier design in North America.

Backtrack along Quincy Street. Opposite the gate through which you left the Yard is the:


11. Fogg Museum

Founded in 1895, the museum has been at 32 Quincy St. since the building was completed in 1927. The Fogg, the adjacent Busch-Reisinger Museum, and the Sackler Museum make up the Harvard Art Museums. The Fogg and Busch-Reisinger are closed for extensive renovations through 2013, but highlights of the excellent collections are on display at our next stop.

Continue on Quincy Street and cross the street to 485 Broadway, the:


12. Arthur M. Sackler Museum

The British architect James Stirling designed the Sackler, which he called "the newest animal in Harvard's architectural zoo." It opened in 1984. The Sackler normally houses the university's spectacular collection of Asian art; during your visit, expect to see a selection of work from the Harvard Art Museums' collections.

Continue on Quincy Street. As you cross Cambridge Street, watch out for confused drivers emerging from the underpass to your left. Filling the block between Cambridge and Kirkland streets is:


13. Memorial Hall

This imposing Victorian structure, known to students as "Mem Hall," was completed in 1874. Enter from Cambridge Street and investigate the hall of memorials, a transept where you can read the names of the Harvard men who died fighting for the Union during the Civil War -- but not of their Confederate counterparts. (The name of Col. Robert Gould Shaw, Matthew Broderick's character in the movie Glory, is halfway down on the right.) To the right is Sanders Theatre, prized as a performance space and lecture hall for its excellent acoustics and clear views. To the left is Annenberg Hall. It's a dining hall that's closed to visitors, but you may be able to sneak a look at the gorgeous stained-glass windows. Harvard graduates William Ware and Henry Van Brunt won a design competition for Memorial Hall, which was constructed for a total cost of $390,000 (most of it donated by alumni). The colorful tower is a replica of the original, which was destroyed by fire in 1956 and rebuilt in 1999.

Facing in the same direction you were when you entered, walk through the transept and exit onto Kirkland Street. Turn left and quickly right, onto Oxford Street. One block up on the right, at 26 Oxford St., you'll see an entrance to the:


14. Harvard Museum of Natural History

Adjoining the Peabody Museum of Archaeology & Ethnology at 11 Divinity Ave., the Museum of Natural History entertainingly presents the university's collections and research relating to the natural world.

Leave through the back door of 11 Divinity Ave. and look around. Across the street at 6 Divinity Ave. is the Semitic Museum (tel. 617/495-4631; www.semiticmuseum.fas.harvard.edu), where the second- and third-floor galleries hold displays of archaeological artifacts and photographs from the Near and Middle East. Horace Trumbauer, the architect of Widener Library, designed the building next door, 2 Divinity Ave. It's home to the Harvard-Yenching Library, a repository of the university's hundreds of thousands of volumes relating to the Far East. For every person who can tell you that, there are several thousand who know this building for the pair of Chinese stone lions flanking the front door.

Turn right and return to Kirkland Street, then go right. You'll pass Memorial Hall on your left as you proceed to the intersection of Kirkland and Oxford streets. At 0 Oxford St. is the university's:


15. Science Center

The 10-story monolith is said to resemble a Polaroid camera (Edwin H. Land, founder of the Polaroid Corporation, was one of its main benefactors). The Spanish architect Josep Lluís Sert designed the Science Center, which opened in 1972. Sert, the dean of the university's Graduate School of Design from 1953 to 1969, was a disciple of Le Corbusier (who designed the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts). On the plaza between the Science Center and the Yard is the Tanner Rock Fountain, a group of 159 New England boulders arranged around a small fountain. Since 1985 this has been a favorite spot for students to relax and watch unsuspecting passersby get wet: The fountain sprays a fine mist, which begins slowly and gradually intensifies.

16. Take a Break

The main level of the Science Center is open to the public and has several options if you want a soft drink, gourmet coffee, or sandwich. Go easy on the sweets, though, in anticipation of the next break.

Leave the Science Center through the doors near the fountain and turn right. Keeping the underpass on your left, follow the walkway for the equivalent of 1 1/2 blocks as it curves around to the right. The Harvard Law School campus is on your right. You're back at Massachusetts Avenue. Cross carefully to:


17. Cambridge Common

Memorials and plaques dot this well-used plot of greenery and bare earth. Follow the sidewalk along Massachusetts Avenue to the left, and after a block or so you'll walk near or over horseshoes embedded in the concrete. This is the path William Dawes, Paul Revere's fellow alarm-sounder, took from Boston to Lexington on April 18, 1775. Turn right onto Garden Street and continue following the Common for 1 block. On your right you'll see a monument marking the place where Gen. George Washington took control of the Continental Army on July 3, 1775.

Cross Garden Street and backtrack to Zero Garden St. This is:


18. Christ Church

Peter Harrison of Newport, Rhode Island (also the architect of King's Chapel in Boston), designed the oldest church in Cambridge, which opened in 1760. Note the square wooden tower. Inside the vestibule you can still see bullet holes made by British muskets. At one time the church was used as the barracks for troops from Connecticut, who melted down the organ pipes to make ammunition. The graveyard on the Massachusetts Avenue side of the building, the Old Burying Ground, is the oldest in Cambridge, dating to 1635. It's the final resting place of nine Harvard presidents as well as many early settlers and at least two black Revolutionary War soldiers.

Facing Christ Church, turn right and follow Garden Street to the next intersection. This is Appian Way. Turn left and take the first right into:


19. Radcliffe Yard

Radcliffe College was founded in 1879 as the "Harvard Annex" and named for Ann Radcliffe, Lady Mowlson, Harvard's first female benefactor. Undergraduate classes merged with Harvard's in 1943, Radcliffe graduates first received Harvard degrees in 1963, and Harvard officially assumed responsibility for educating undergraduate women in 1977. Radcliffe was an independent corporation until 1999; it's now the university's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The institute's first dean, Drew Gilpin Faust, became the university's first female president in 2007.

After you've strolled around, return to Appian Way, turn right, and walk half a block. You'll emerge on Brattle Street.

A visit to the Longfellow National Historic Site, 105 Brattle St. (tel. 617/876-4491; www.nps.gov/long), makes an interesting detour and adds about an hour to your walk. If you don't detour, turn left and continue walking along Brattle Street. Excellent shops line both sides of the street.

20. Take a Break

Hi-Rise at the Blacksmith House, 56 Brattle St. (tel. 617/492-3003), a branch of a well-known local artisan bakery, makes the bread and delectable pastry served here. The Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem "The Village Smithy" was about this building, which really stood "under the spreading chestnut tree" before the street was widened and the tree removed in 1876. If you're not in the mood for a sandwich or snack, you can sate your sweet tooth with something from the celebrated New Hampshire-based confectioner L. A. Burdick Chocolates, 52 Brattle St. (tel. 617/491-4340; www.burdickchocolate.com).

Down the street, at 40 Brattle St., is the:


21. Brattle Theatre

Opened in 1890 as Brattle Hall, the theater (tel. 617/876-6837; www.brattlefilm.org) was founded by the Cambridge Social Union and used as a cultural and entertainment venue. It became a movie house in 1953 and gained a reputation as Cambridge's center for art films.

Play It, Sam -- The Brattle Theatre, one of the oldest independent movie houses in the country, started the Casablanca revival craze, which explains the name of the restaurant in the basement.

You're now in the Brattle Square part of Harvard Square. You might see street performers, a protest, a speech, or more shopping opportunities. Facing Dickson Brothers Hardware, cross Brattle Street, bear right, and follow the curve of the building all the way around the corner so that you're on Mount Auburn Street. Stay on the left-hand side of the street as you cross John F. Kennedy, Dunster, Holyoke, and Linden streets. On your left between Dunster and Holyoke streets is Holyoke Center, an administration building designed by Josep Lluís Sert that has commercial space on the ground floor.

The corner of Mount Auburn and Linden streets offers a good view of the:


22. Harvard Lampoon Castle

Constructed in 1909, designed by Wheelwright & Haven (architects of Boston's Horticultural Hall), and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this is the home of Harvard's undergraduate humor magazine, the Lampoon. The main tower resembles a face, with windows as the eyes, nose, and mouth, topped by what looks like a miner's hat. All five of the building's addresses have been mentioned on "The Simpsons," which draws many of its writers from the staff. The Lampoon and the daily student newspaper, the Crimson, share a long history of reciprocal pranks and vandalism.

You'll pass the Crimson offices on your right if you detour to the Harvard Book Store (turn left onto Plympton St. and follow it up the hill to the corner of Mass. Ave.). Otherwise, cross Mount Auburn Street and walk away from Holyoke Center on Holyoke Place, Holyoke Street, or Dunster Street to get a sense of some of the rest of the campus. The tower directly in front of you sits atop Lowell House, one of a dozen residences for upperclassmen. (First-year students live in and around Harvard Yard.)

Turn right on Winthrop Street or South Street, and proceed to John F. Kennedy Street. Turn left and walk toward the Charles River. On your right at Memorial Drive is:

23. John F. Kennedy Park

In the 1970s, when the search was on for a site for the Kennedy Library, this lovely parcel of land was an empty plot near the MBTA train yard (the Red Line then ended at Harvard). Traffic concerns led to the library's being built in Dorchester, but the Graduate School of Government and this adjacent park bear the president's name. Walk away from the street to enjoy the fountain, which is engraved with excerpts from JFK's speeches. This is a great place to take a break and plan the rest of your day.

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