The organizers of Pit-A-Palooza are aware of the irony. They’re putting on an organized, permitted event to celebrate the impending demise of Harvard Square’s longtime home of anarchy, spontaneity and youth culture: the Pit.
The sunken area behind the entrance to the Harvard MBTA station was originally designed with the intent of showcasing street performers — and at times it did. But within months of being unveiled as part of the 1982 Red Line extension, the Pit became a gathering place for punks and outcasts. With renovations about to replace the Pit with a plaza, a group of self-described “Pit Rats” are gathering for a reunion and celebration called Pit-A-Palooza on June 25.
Now here is an event fit for more than a few former DigBoston contributors.
Long live the Pit! Here’s what the organizers are planning …
The City of Cambridge, City Councillor Marc McGovern, Cambridge resident and author, Jen Deaderick and the Harvard Square Business Association are excited to announce Pit-A-Palooza, a celebration of the notorious and revered Harvard Square “Pit” and those who called it home. The festivities kick off at 6pm in The Pit and adjacent Dunster Street. Relive the glory days of the 80s and 90s and dance, reminisce, sing and make some noise! Bring your old photos! Dress the part – drag out your fishnets, leather and studs! Show your kids how cool you were!
In conjunction with the honoring this much loved and storied gathering spot, the City of Cambridge has proclaimed June 25, 2022 to be “Pit Rat Day”.
Spotlight, Mirror and Book, composed with LED lights and a round metal mirror, will be set up at in front of the statue.
Juneteenth or Freedom Day, commemorates the end of enslavement for African descendants of the transatlantic slave trade. While the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 publicly declared the end of slavery in the United States, freedom was not fully realized for enslaved people in Texas until June 19th, 1865.
To commemorate Juneteenth, the Harvard Square Business Association, in partnership with local artists, Ross Miller and Yolanda He Yang, is installing a fleeting art…
The festivities kick off at 6pm in The Pit and adjacent Dunster Street. Relive the glory days of the 80s and 90s and dance, reminisce, sing and make some noise!
The City of Cambridge, City Councillor Marc McGovern, Cambridge resident and author, Jen Deaderick and the Harvard Square Business Association have announced Pit-A-Palooza, a celebration of the notorious and revered Harvard Square “Pit” and those who called it home.
The festivities kick off at 6pm in The Pit and adjacent Dunster Street. Relive the glory days of the 80s and 90s and dance, reminisce, sing and make some noise! Bring your old photos! Dress the part – drag out your fishnets, leather and studs! Show your kids how cool you were!
In conjunction with the honoring this much loved and storied gathering spot, the City of Cambridge has proclaimed June 25, 2022 to be “Pit Rat Day”.
Harvard Square is known for many things — throngs of students, a rich history of artistic and musical exchange, sky-high rents, arguably overpriced yet beloved stationary stores — but the food scene is not necessarily one of them. Still, thousands of hungry people pass through the Square every day, some on their way to class or the office, others headed to rub the pee-shined toe of not-John Harvard himself. Here is our somewhat definitive guide to the various food experiences of Harvard Square, organized roughly by the situation in which each spot might prove most useful.
It’s time to… splurge (reasonably!) and eat well: Orinoco + Maharaja + Dumpling House + Nine Tastes
Tired of cooking yourself the same kind of meals night after night? Hoping to experience some variety that your dining hall can’t offer? Harvard Square is as good a spot as any to mix it up and get a delicious meal you might not have tried before. Tucked away behind other businesses that line JFK Street, Orinoco offers a cozy atmosphere for enjoying delicious Venezuelan cuisine, ranging from arepas and empanadas to South American wines. Right across the street lies The Maharaja, one of Boston’s best Indian restaurants with an extensive menu and a prime view of the Square through their floor-to-ceiling windows. Dumpling House is located a bit farther off of the beaten path, but their fantastic Chinese cuisine makes a trip down Mass. Ave. well worth the walk. Their food is best enjoyed family-style, so get a group together and devour as many dumplings as you can manage! With the recent closure of Spicies, Nine Tastes stands as the preeminent Thai restaurant in Harvard Square. It’s a favorite for takeout among college students, but has a great area for dining in, too.
It’s time to… grab a slice of pizza: Pinocchio’s + Otto’s + &pizza + Source
If you find yourself in Harvard Square with a craving for some good old-fashioned pizza, you are in luck — the area is full of great options. Pinocchio’s is a Cambridge staple, a favorite among Harvard students and locals alike since 1966. Their thick-crust Sicilian style pizza, which they sell by the slice, makes an excellent late-night snack. Don’t sleep on their meatball sub or baked ziti either. For those in search of less traditional flavors, Otto’s offers a wide array of toppings guaranteed to satisfy any niche cravings. Customization is also at the heart of the &pizza experience, as the East Coast chain’s relatively new Cambridge location serves personal-sized pizzas to customers looking for quick and easy takeout. Finally, Source — another new entry into the Harvard Square restaurant scene — is the only pizza spot out of this bunch with a full-service, sit-down dining area, as well as a thriving bar.
It’s time to… enjoy some high-end pub food: Daedalus + The Boathouse + Grafton Street + Russell House
Food and drink intertwine seamlessly at these Harvard Square establishments. All restaurants are with prominent bars, but they’re also all a step above your typical pub — both in price and quality of food. Daedalus and The Boathouse are next-door neighbors on Mt. Auburn Street, while Russell House and Grafton Street both line JFK Street, making all four of these spots incredibly convenient meeting spots for friends, colleagues, and tourists alike. They each offer tasty variations of American cuisine alongside extensive alcohol selections; Russell House is probably the most popular amongst students, although none of these restaurants would be mistaken for a college bar. They cater to a distinctly more professional crowd. Daedalus stands out as the most expensive, although those looking to splurge on a night out will appreciate the fine dining experience they offer.
Margo was always upbeat and one of the healthiest people I knew, exercising and eating a healthy diet. It was a surprise to us all when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in her late 30s.
When the cancer was in remission, she researched the data on the disease. She told me that there was a higher incidence of breast cancer in Andover, where she grew up. She threw herself into volunteering, most notably with the Women’s Community Cancer Project and the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition, where she was elected board president.
After 50 years as a retail and cultural hub in the middle of Harvard Square, The Garage will soon be redeveloped.
“We love the building,” said John DiGiovanni, president of Trinity Property Management. “It was and is a very cool place. But what I would say is cooler than The Garage is Harvard Square.”
DiGiovanni said the old building — which dates back to 1860, when it was a horse stable — is not accessible for patrons with disabilities. He also hopes the redesign will reinvigorate the property to bring in new customers, and that “40 or 50 years from now people will be talking about how cool [the new] place was.”
Construction plans filed with the city show developers plan to begin renovations in 2023, rebuilding the interior while preserving the masonry facades on Mt. Auburn and Dunster streets. Trinity Property Management is working on getting restaurants, retail businesses and office tenants into the new building, though leases have not yet been signed.
But some current tenants and frequent visitors to The Garage are concerned about what this project means for the future of the neighborhood. Comedian, podcast host and Harvard Square frequenter Ken Reid joined GBH’s Morning Edition this week to reflect on his memories of the shopping center.LISTEN 8:26Ken Reid on Morning Edition | June 7, 2022
Reid grew up in Melrose and would ride the Orange Line to spend time at The Garage, where he recalls digging through crates at record stores looking for gold, getting artisan coffee in the pre-Starbucks world, and renting films like “Eraserhead” from Videosmith.
“Almost nothing of the Harvard Square I grew up with exists. Frankly, almost nothing of the Boston I grew up with exists,” he said. “That’s not necessarily for the worse … but it is losing character.”
Reid said The Garage stood out for its unique businesses that customers couldn’t find elsewhere, especially before the Internet. Now he expects some current Garage tenants will shift to online businesses, while he hopes others will find new physical spaces.
“We’re working with the owner of the building to hopefully relocate us somewhere in the Harvard Square area,” said Rueben Kayden, a senior tattoo artist who will take over the storied shop after the move as the current owner retires. “That’s the ultimate goal. But that comes with a lofty price.”
Kayden, who has been tattooing at Chameleon for 17 years, said he’s been leaning on the shop’s community. Moving costs may end up clocking in around $80,000-$100,000, he said, not including rent. But Trinity Property Management is working with the business, and clients are offering help in whatever ways they can. Some are donating money, others with carpentry or plumbing skills have offered their time.
“It’s about keeping the culture of tattooing alive in Harvard Square,” Kayden said. “Small businesses are closing constantly, and I feel that there isn’t much flavor left in Harvard. We’re one of the last artistic endeavors available in the area. And it became my personal mission to make sure it stays alive and stays true.”
Our favorite moments from Boston Calling Music Festival 2022
Local coffee shop chains are part of union surge, though not every owner seems to enjoy the taste
A barista serves a customer at 1369 Coffeehouse on Friday in Central Square. (Photo: Nicholas Miller)
A wave of labor organization among Cambridge and Somerville cafés could expand this month as employees of 1369 Coffeehouse in Central and Inman squares decide in a National Labor Relations Board election whether to unionize.
The vote, which began June 1, comes exactly a year after employees of Pavement Coffeehouse, a café with eight shops across the Boston area, including one in Harvard Square, sent a letter to owner Larry Margulies declaring their intention to become the first unionized coffee shop in Massachusetts.
Since then, workers at two other local cafés, Darwin’s Ltd. with four Cambridge locations, and the Somerville sister shops of Diesel Café, Bloc Café and Forge Baking Co. and Ice Cream Bar, organized.
All four unionization efforts have been organized by the New England Joint Board of Unite Here.
The spike in coffee shop organization follows a period in the pandemic that employees say illuminated the importance of their labor, leaving them seeking greater power and stability at their cafés.
Food service workers “are constantly being shown by the industry and [the public] that [they] are disposable, that anyone can do [their] job,” said Emma Delaney, an organizer for NEJB and a former Pavement employee. But their work providing services at the height of the pandemic showed that they are “100 percent essential workers,” she said.
Christos Soillis’ apprenticeship began at 11 years old
Special to the Cambridge Chronicle
If business owners charged for honesty and generosity of spirit, Christos Soillis— the owner of Harvard Square’s Felix Shoe Repair at 1304 Massachusetts Ave. — would be on par with Elon Musk as a wealthy man.
“I have money in my pocket. I own my home,” he said. “That’s all I need.”
Soillis, 87, has been cobble-ing locally for almost 60 years, starting as an assistant in the shop’s basement in 1963. The square was bustling then with young men in coats, ties, pressed button-downs, and fedoras, the uniform of Harvard’s then all-male student body.
“I say to my friend, ‘What’s going on? They have a wedding? Why these people dressed up like this?’” His friend pointed to the gates of Harvard Yard: “‘Chris, you see these doors? Even King Constantine came through those doors before he be a king.’”
Soillis’ career launched when he was 11, living in a tiny village in northern Greece. His family was poor.
“We have eggs maybe every two weeks, one egg,” he said. “We have a chicken, maybe two times a year.”
His prospects were nonexistent. When asked what his family ate, he scoffs at meals as we know them.
“Breakfast? Who eat breakfast?” he said.
With no means and no obvious future, he was sent off by his parents to walk three and a half hours, he said, to become a cobbler’s apprentice. His lifelong friend, George Papalimberis, owner of nearby La Flamme Barber Shop, chuckles at the description.
“It was more like an hour and a half. Maybe it felt more than three,” he said.
Soillis’ father paid the man in olive oil for the opportunity.
“My father give me nothing but advice: ‘If you are good person, working, watching your health. I don’t know how they call it English. If you do this, you’re gonna have a better luck from me.'”
His mother gave him hugs, heartbroken her young son was leaving home.
“She cry,” Soillis said. “’Why I’m gonna lose you?’ I said, ‘Ma, I will not be a bad person. I promise I’m gonna live.’”
And live he did. Three years as an apprentice cobbler followed by more than a decade working at home, working for shoe shops in other towns, serving in the army, and twice, unsuccessfully, trying to start his own shoe business.
It was in Athens where he met and quickly married 17-year-old Maria, who was visiting with her mother from East Cambridge.
“It was how you say a match,” Soillis said, by which he means a match made in heaven as much as a matchmaking campaign by the teen’s father. “Maria was born in Longanikos where I work. I see her at 11 [when he was 26], all curls.”
Six years later, Soillis saw her again and was smitten. Within a month, they were married and heading to the United States.
“The first three years, me and my wife, we don’t have any penny,” he said. “Sometimes we have onions for dinner.” Ever the realist, he adds: “You have to sacrifice….you have to lose a few things to get ready to go the next step.”
The newly minted groom also didn’t speak English. But Soillis was driven by the voice of his father – “’Respect everybody. If you do that on you are next to the God.’” – and the need – and desire – to support his young bride.
Networking ultimately led to the shoe repair job in Harvard Square, with George who owned and ran Felix, then a streetside newspaper store. The shoe shop was below. “I get 69 cents an hour. Finally!” Soillis exclaims. His first year’s wages totaled $2,300.
In the years to come, Soillis supplemented his meager wages working at a ladies’ shoe factory in Kendall Square and at the Stride Rite factory in Boston.
“I working five, four and a half years, seven days a week, 18, 20 hours a day,” he said. “I try to learn whatever I can.”
Maria worked at a Brookline hair salon. They saved what they could and welcomed two children.
Buying the Harvard Square shop
By 1995, George’s sons wanted out of the basement shoe repair operation, the only property remaining from their father’s original holdings. Maria pressed her husband to buy the business and move into the storefront, despite the toll it would take on savings.
“She tell me, ‘You’re such a people person. How could you like be in the back of the store all the time?’ So, 32 years, no more basement!” Soillis said with a smile.
The new business owner settled into his new space, looking forward to turning his work ethic and sense of fairness into a strong sales flow. Based on several recent mornings in his store, he continues these practices.
When a graduating public health student steps in to resole his oxfords, Soillis snapped: “Don’t do it.”. “The style, the color is nice, but when this is dry, it’s dry…I fix it but when you wear and bend it… it gonna crack again.” He looks in the disappointed young man’s eyes. “Okay, I fix. But I not gonna charge you.” Before the customer can react, Soillis has snatched the shoes and written a claim check. “Ready later today, OK?”
Soillis has virtually the same conversation with the next customer, a middle-aged woman hoping to salvage faux leather sandals with a broken strap as well as a recent Harvard graduate with torn hockey pants. Both sales take a back seat to honesty.
Soillis insists that despite regularly declining payment, he has all he needs – to a point. He lost Maria to cancer eight years ago but from his reaction, her death seems recent. She was his heart, his soul, if not his moral compass.
‘Understand what happiness means’
“When my wife passed,” he said, “I was depressed and…three times I was ready to do suicide.”
A trip to see his sister did nothing to lessen the heartbreak. He returned to his shop where he has immersed himself ever since.