By Susan Farewell
By now, everyone knows that Harvard is the birthplace of Facebook. Indeed, the massively popular movie, The Social Network, offers a look at what life is like there. But much of what gives Harvard its charm is where it’s located and you don’t have to be a student to appreciate all that it offers.
In addition to two of our country’s leading universities, Harvard and MIT, the city of Cambridge, (which is in the Greater Boston area), is home to many magnificent buildings and museums. It is also rife with restaurants specializing in cuisines from around the world, jazz clubs and other live-music venues and theaters, shops showcasing some of the most inventive fashions and jewelry available, and…actual bookstores. On top of that, with the tree-lined banks of the meandering Charles River, the red brick buildings mixed in with historic wood houses (dating from as early as the 1600s) and sky-piercing steeples, it’s every inch attractive and its center is very compact. Spend a couple of days exploring here and you will feel as if you know the city inside out.
But of course, start with Harvard itself and specifically Harvard Square, the hub around which the whole “town” radiates with its “T” stop, its international newsstand, its street musicians and artists and the Harvard Coop (where you can get anything from underwear to lamps emblazoned with the coveted Harvard logo).
The university offers free student-led tours around the campus and in an hour’s time, you’ll learn a lot about the school, its famous students and professors and the architectural details of the historic buildings. BUT…it’s not the only tour in town. Another company, Trademark Tours (originally named Unofficial Tours) also has what it calls “The Hahvard Tour,” which lasts 70 minutes. These smartly-scripted tours are also student-led, and are not only informative, but extremely entertaining, pulling in all sorts of passers-by. The guides clearly love talking about pop culture, revealing all sorts of amusing details including stories of pranks Conan O’Brien played while a student on campus. And they point out movie locations from films such as Good Will Hunting which got Matt Damon an Oscar while he was a student here. They also talk about the final clubs that seem to be the root of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s problems in The Social Network. When outside the Porcellian Club, for example, they tell the story of how one of Franklin Roosevelt’s great disappointments was that he didn’t get into the social club like his cousin, Teddy.
Come April 1st, 2011, Trademark is actually inaugurating a new tour, “Unmasking Harvard’s Secret Lore,” which promises to be enormously popular. It is being designed to take guests to many of The Social Network “sites” including Zuckerberg’s bar, the dorm where all the Facebook discussions with the Winklevoss twins took place, the Phoenix Club his friend Eduardo got into, and the room where he picked his first coding team with drinking games. Oh…and, yes. The tour will also include sites and stories about other American leaders that studied at Harvard including Bill Gates and John F. Kennedy. By the way, the founder of Trademark Tours, Daniel Andrew, is a contemporary of Zuckerberg’s and was among Z’s first 100 friends on Facebook. So…safe to say, he’s got some insider information you’ll want in on. These 2.5 hour insider tours come with a pricetag, however, and will be given only to small groups ($40 a guest/$200 minimum). In addition to VIP groups and other small parties, the company’s chief operating officer, Antonio Reyes, says plans are to have hotel concierges organize small groups of guests.
Whatever tour or tours you opt for, you’ll want to allow plenty of time to visit the Harvard Art Museums (the Sackler, the Fogg and the Busch-Reisinger), The Peabody Museum and the Harvard Museum of Natural History.
Outside the gates of Harvard, you’ll find many art galleries as well as cultural centers and performing arts venues. And be sure to make your way over to MIT, home to the haphazard-looking Stata Center designed by Frank Gehry and the MIT Museum with its eye-poppingly progressive exhibits including several ongoing ones such as “Robots and Beyond: Exploring Artificial Intelligence at MIT” and “Holography: the Light Fantastic.”
Best of all though, spend some time wandering the warren of narrow streets that make up Cambridge, discovering little coffee shops and sidewalk book sales. You can’t help but feel the energy of the place, the seemingly limitless potential. It’s easy to imagine how ideas are hatched here and it’s easy to see how they are fought over.
For this story, we spoke to Cameron Winklevoss, one of the co-founders of Facebook, who sued Mark Zuckerberg for allegedly stealing his and his twin brother, Tyler’s, idea (the two are pictured left with our teen columnist, Justine). He summed up Cambridge beautifully by saying, “The culture of ideas and innovation in the air [here] is palpable. The combination of students at Harvard in addition to the great minds that are attracted to the area create a fertile breeding ground for invention.”
Artwork and photo credits: Artwork by Miggs Burroughs, Harvard tour guide photo provided by Trademark Tours, other images by Susan Farewell.