The Harvard Square Business Association History 1910-1990s

  • In 1910 The Harvard Square Business Men’s Association was organized as a result of subway construction in the Square, which, as business owners believed, was interrupting business. The Association began with ~forty members.
  • While the Association focused on a number of projects to serve and improve the business community, until the 1960s most of the efforts were put towards improving transportation including parking and traffic flow in the square—It wasn’t until the 1970s that they turned their main interest to improving the future of Harvard Square’s businesses.
  • Through the 1920s the Association became more involved in city affairs, including being an integral part in the addition of electric lights to the square. In the 1920s they continued to come up with new ideas to improve Harvard Square partly by inviting members, planners, businessmen, and public officials to monthly meetings to discuss the possibilities.
  • By the 1930s the number of members had increased 400% (185) and included women. Monthly meetings had the greatest consistent attendance yet, and were finally held on a regular basis. Although the focus was still on traffic issues, by the late 1930s the Association began sponsoring Christmas decorations.
  • During the 1940s the Harvard Square Business Men’s Association took a greater interest in world affairs, which included speeches at monthly meetings on foreign matters. However, the Association had some strong concerns including a 1942 “DimOut”, and unresolved traffic problems due in part to the lack of parking meters as a result of the war.
  • The 1950s started off with a bang when the Association received parking meters in January 1950. They kept up their strength with a 60-day trial period restricting all day parking on both sides of Boylston Street in Cambridge. The decade went out just as significantly when, in 1959 the Association backed Harvard University’s petition to change the zoning to allow them to build Holyoke Center: Harvard Square’s first high rise building.
  • Unlike the 1950s, the 1960s was one of the least productive decades. During this time member attendance was at an all time low, the Association voted against changing the name to The Harvard Square Business Association, and although they decided to vote a woman to its board of directors at the next election, nothing came of it until the 1980s.
  • After riots broke out in 1970 the Harvard Square Business Men’s Association held the most widely attended meeting as of that time (132 members showed up), and began working with police to keep the Square safe and clean. During this time they finally supported the subway, and even encouraged an extension to alewife. Most importantly, in 1972 they officially changed their name to The Harvard Square Business Association. The 1970s also marks the first annual Octoberfest.
  • The 1980s marked yet another time of change for the Association when membership grew to 300 and in 1983 the basic structure was changed. This included the addition of Sally Alcorn as the first female full-time executive director of the Association, and the establishment of a permanent office at 18 Brattle Street in Cambridge.
  • The Association continued its interest in improving parking through the 1980s and 1990s, and in the late 1980s began working with Harvard University to try to get public parking access at University Place’s garage. Furthermore, businesses were encouraged to take a very active role in the Square’s success by keeping their sidewalks clean and by continuing to be involved with The Harvard Square Business Association.

Harvard Square History and Development
by Charles M. Sullivan, Executive Director
Cambridge Historical Commission