- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 27, 2005

BOSTON (AP) — Maybe it was the last greasy burger served at the Tasty Diner, or the final copy of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” sold at WordsWorth Books, or the last Hohner harmonica discovered amid the dusty bins of sheet music at Briggs and Briggs.

Ask longtime denizens of Harvard Square and they will be able to lament the exact moment when a favored haunt or hole-in-the-wall vanished, often giving way to a national chain.

Earlier this year, the WordsWorth bookstore, which introduced generations of high schoolers to the illicit pleasures of Henry Miller, William Burroughs and Anais Nin, sold its last volume.

Now the Brattle Theater, which for half a century has catered to fans of American film noir, French New Wave and Russian avant-garde, is teetering on the brink.

Can the old, shabby Harvard Square — where scholars, students and miscreants hang out, where sidewalk chess fans still play spitfire games against all comers, and where coffee-shop philosophers still debate the virtues of Sartre and Camus — hold out against rising rents and brand-name consumer culture?

“I do think Harvard Square, unless something drastic is done, is dying,” said Louisa Solano, owner of the storied Grolier Poetry Book Store, a one-room shop stuffed floor to ceiling with poetry.

In its heyday, the Brattle offered Boston film buffs the best movie education in town. For many, it is still hard to recall scenes from Francois Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows” or Humphrey Bogart’s farewell to Ingrid Bergman in “Casablanca” without thinking of the Brattle.

The Brattle Film Foundation, the nonprofit that has operated the theater since 2001, has launched a campaign to save the place by raising $400,000 before its lease runs out in February.

“We are driven by people who are driven to see movies,” said Ned Hinkle, the Brattle’s creative director. “To really get the full experience of a film you have to see it in a theater with an audience of strangers on a big screen with a bag of popcorn.”

The Brattle is hoping to avoid the fate of another Harvard Square landmark, the Tasty Diner, which closed in 1997 after 81 years in business. The greasy spoon sat in the heart of the square, across from the Out of Town News newsstand.

Matt Damon wooed Minnie Driver at the Tasty in the movie “Good Will Hunting.” Another Harvard Square haunt used in the film, the Bow and Arrow Pub, has also since closed.

Federico Muchnik, who used to hang out at the Tasty when he was in high school in the 1970s, documented its final days in his film “Touching History: Harvard Square, the Bank and the Tasty Diner.”

“You could walk in at any time of day, and you could sit down, and on your right, you would have a Harvard University professor, and on your left, you would have a homeless person, and you would have a conversation,” he said. “This went on 24 hours a day.”

Small oddball stores can still be found in the square. Tucked in a basement space in the same block as a burger joint and consignment store is Twisted Village, a music shop specializing in psychedelic rock, screeching jazz and modern avant-garde.



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