Harvard. The name of one of the world’s formost institutions of higher education. Old rivarlies, a law school which is practically a politician factory, and a yard you cannot even fit a car into no matter what the cliché saying says. In terms of transit, it encompasses over one century, five stations that can lay claim to the name in some form, and slices of transit history.
As a tourist, most of the trips I made to Boston ended up at Harvard at some form and in a way it’s a right of passage for any college student visiting town to end up here either to see Harvard’s campus or to explore Harvard Square. The former is quite tranquil with a lot of chairs strewn around and tons, tons of shade, the latter has tons of food and retail though that has eaten away at the historical charm of the area.
Getting off at Harvard, you notice two things: The very early 80s tile job around the current incarnation of Harvard and the ingenious use of ramps between the two platforms which are stacked on top of each other. Making your way to the faregates, you see the job they did including a Dunkin’ Donuts and see the signs for the current version of the Harvard Bus Tunnel with its own set of ramps to the upper level. The lower level has the trackless trolley routes and with them the novelty of left-hand boarding, the upper sees routes heading north and west. Heading out of Harvard, you pass by the now-closed sales windows and the small hut which mostly sells lottery tickets before reaching the “pit” of Harvard Square with buskers, performers, tons of other people, and Out of Town News which takes up the headhouse of Original Harvard.
Overall there are entrances scattered around including the (now-elevator-accessible) entry near Mount Auburn Street which opens directly into the upper level of the bus tunnel and the stair-only entrance to the north off of Mass Ave which is adjacent to Harvard Yard and is the closer entrance for those coming to or from buses from the south. Though the “pit” is the key entrance, the idea of multiple entry points is one which was ingenious and shows how much foresight there was in planning the Northwest Extension vis a vis projects of a similar vintage. However, this blessing is also a curse with these stories from my tourist days.
- One day walking aimlessly around Harvard Square for 20 minutes trying in vain to find the 1 as from the main exit there is no labeling for it at all.
- A bunch of friends and I walking around not knowing that the entrance at Mount Auburn was viable because everyone wanted to return to The Pit from Whence They Came. This trip also cost me an MP3 player (pre-iPod!) lost on a lawn somewhere in Dorchester but that’s for another review.
As of this writing, Current Harvard turned 30 this year and is in very good shape from the platforms (now enhanced with digital advertising) to even the bathrooms which are kept very clean, if it wasn’t for the tile scheme I could say it looks much younger and in contrast to its brethren to the north it very much does. Here’s to at least 30 more great years and then some!
Rating (1-10): 7
Ridership: This has it all. Harvard students, tourists, locals transferring to buses, some locals lucky enough to live in the area, commuters, even students from other colleges (the shuttle buses for Bentley and Brandeis, among others, terminate here). Outside of the downtown core, Harvard is one of the most-used stations because of this wide range of ridership and it is equipped to handle it well.
Pros: Easy access, tons of feeder service into the station, a visionary station setup, the volume of things nearby, the in-station Dunks that gets stuff right more often than not, even the relatively clean restroom. Some of you are asking why I didn’t give this a 10 and gave it a more pedestrian 7. Here’s why.
Cons: Oddly enough, the location. Anyone that has ever used Harvard knows of the huge curve south of the station where it aligns from original Cambridge-Dorchester Tunnel alignment to the Northwest Extension alignment knows of the fact that trains crawl there. Had it been located a little to the east, the transition between lines would’ve been more natural, Old Harvard could’ve been realigned and expanded (no “pit” construction) and trains could’ve entered Harvard at speed. If only Harvard decided to allow some boring to happen under a slice of the Radcliffe “campus” to have allowed this to happen then a good 30-60 seconds per trip would’ve been saved.
Nearby and Noteworthy: Too many to list in terms of establishments on top of its namesake. Narrowing it down to three:
- Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage, right down Mass Ave and as seen on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, is a survivor of the chainification of Harvard Square with a ton of specialty burgers and generous portions. There is also an MBTA curio of note you’ll find out later.
- The Curious George Store, located right to the west of the “pit”, is the only store in the world dedicated to the famous children’s book character and on top of this is a diverse toy store your (inner) child will love. It also came back from the dead last year.
- In terms of chains, the Starbucks right outside the “pit” may seem chaotic but head upstairs and you’ll find things not common at your typical Green Mermaid ranging from a coffee bar of it’s own to a performance space to a deer antler ceiling lamp. Then there are…
The Ghosts of Harvards Past:
- Walk down JFK Street and see the Harvard School of Business, then imagine a rail yard being there as well as two different stations (the very-limited-usage Stadium, then the temporary Harvard-Brattle, the latter’s sign being inside the aforementioned Mr. Bartley’s) on that site.
- Walk south on Mass Ave past the Au Bon Pain and see the huge grate in the sidewalk. That was the site of the stairs which went into Harvard-Holyoke which brings me to…
- When heading southbound on the Red Line, look out the left side of the train and see the remnants of Original Harvard/Harvard-Holyoke. Lately they’ve been lit up so you can actually make out the very-intact remains of the station. Or if you want a good view, the photoset here gives a good picture.