The Cambridge Candle


Issue 2

January/February 1999


Impressions of Demolition

By Markus Anonymous

For many months, I had been a regular customer of the various greasy spoon restaurants in the Central Square vicinity. Harvard Donut was a place where I had a particular personal history. The A & S Restaurant, a particular window table from where I would be seen drawing or writing and on a few occasions be recognized by friends passing through Central Square. Golden Donut was the standard Greasy Spoon, the place to be anonymous within your own hometown. A quick greeting from behind the counter. One more Joe in a town of Joes and Joyces. But my special streetside stopover was the Lucy Parsons, formerly the Red Bookstore. Many a minute was spent standing in the entrance vestibule reading a few pages of the dollar books. Often, fifteen minutes were spent inside on the comfy chair with an Unused book from the shelves. And several evenings were spent in group meetings on folding metal chairs around the video screen.

I would count on these places being there for me on my daily rounds. Two eggs over easy with dark toast and a black coffee were a daily breakfast after a workout at the YMCA. Then the building closed down. A piece of my life was missing. Meanwhile, Barron Plaza opened to soften the blow of what would have been a deadening hole punched into the heart of an American city. In its novelty, the plaza gives a nice artistic effect in brass and glass. Yet the price is to be paid in what else but a gigantic wall of corporate commercial properties. How will this affect the ’scene’? How will this cosmetic new structure make Central Square ’feel’?

Along with the rest of the crowd, I listened to the speakers protesting the upcoming demolition. There seemed to be some reason that the movement was called Save Central Square. Food Not Bombs opened a morning Soup Kitchen in the plaza. A group of artists called Toneburst performed and streetcombers stopped and danced. The Kingfish, and the Art and Performance Party uttered epithets of Political or Anti-political humor. It seemed as if the living force of humanity were struggling against the deadening force of Real Estate Development.

And in October, when the scaffolding went up, I took my parting photograph. Then the plywood boards went up above the streetlevel and the familiar signs were invisible.

A certain day at about noon, a familiar streetcomber calls me and says, “Hey Markus, they’re about to be tearing down the signs off the Central Square building.” I suggested he call me when the demolition actually commenced, not wanting to spend my time viewing the demolition crew adjust caterpillar treads, pull levers, and generally prepare the equipment before ’they’ tear down the building.

I hear the phone ring and I hear him yell, “Hey Markus, they’re tearing down the Lucy Parson sign.”

I grabbed my coat and ran down Norfolk Street, took the corner on Mass Ave., and got to what was Central Square. The brick walls of the previous night were now rubble, and as I walked backwards into Barron Plaza, I saw the huge jaws of a metallic beast crunch a piece of twisted metal, turn its wide neck, then disappear behind the wooden panels over the scaffolding. I heard a crunch like a fall. I kept walking. The Ethiopian Restaurant was a nonentity. On Green Street, behind a mechanically woven wire fence, a group of pedestrians watched. I saw the tall, lanky, unshaven figure of my comrade with his hands in the pockets of his worn leather jacket.

We greeted each other with a quick glance and gazed at the rubble strewn graveyard of so many of our common stomping grounds. This had definitely been a mass demolition. I thought about how the people in Warsaw must have felt. The reality of Scollay Square, the West End became very apparent.

Is this what happens to cities? Is this how histories disappear? I am witnessing the demolition of my own city. I am watching the disappearance of my own history.

Indicating the word RESTAURANT assembled in yellow letters on a green background, I say to my friend, “That’s the A &S sign. Let’s come back at night, jump the fence and snag it.” Just then a gigantic arm with Jaws turns slowly like a hungry skull. It is slowly lowered down, directly on my intended prize. The jaws crunch...I hear the squeezing metal...the bolts pop...the letters R off. The dregs of the construction are disposed of like yesterday’s soup. The jaw then turns and goes after the handpainted Black and Orange sign of Lucy Parsons. Scrawled across it -- “We will not be evicted Quietly.” The iron teeth crunch this rallying point, this ’Storefront as Demonstration Sign,’ this place of leaflets and protest posters. And like a demonstration poster torn off the lightpost by a city official, it is crumpled into a scrap, lifted into the air almost deliberately, turned by iron arm and dropped into the garbage heap.

I look at my comrade eye to eye and we decide to depart, myself suggesting I treat him to breakfast at the only greasy spoon left in Cambridge, across from the Necco factory.

It is a dry overcast day. We feel the oncoming winter. As we pass the STAR Market building, we see the new bricks, the plate glass, the corporate logo. And I ask myself one more question: Is this progress?  

A photo from 1997 showing a section of the Homes Realty Trust block, in Central Square, Cambridge. The entire block has been demolished, including Lucy Parsons Books (on left), A&S Diner (middle), and the Ethiopian Restaurant (on right)
(photo by Lawrence Prift)

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