Sunday, June 16, 2024
Harvard Square chessmaster Murray Turnbull in 2007

Harvard Square chessmaster Murray Turnbull in 2007. (Photo: Phil Romans)

From James M. Williamson of Jackson Place, July 21: I finally tracked down my old friend Murray Turnbull this afternoon – “The Chessmaster” of Holyoke Center Plaza fame (he’s a life grand master, he explained) – and we talked at some length about Harvard’s plans for Holyoke Center and Forbes Plaza.

LetterMurray has been something of a recluse in recent years, living near Harvard Square but playing chess at home and venturing out to buy tobacco (and other necessities).

For those who have wondered about Murray, I can report that, happily, he looks to be in good health, too.

Murray says he thinks the Linden trees (the four trees in the raised terrace seating area) are in fine shape and should not be cut down by Harvard. (Murray loves trees.) He described how they “leaf out” just fine and have to be trimmed back periodically. Murray used to have a squirt gun parked next to him at “his” chess table so he could shoot pigeons when perched on branches above his chess table who would otherwise be inclined to poop on his head or immediate environs. Murray knows these trees. He suggested that, for starters, Harvard should have to provide evidence of their supposedly “poor condition.”

Murray added that if Harvard really wants to change accessibility for a new “entrance” to its proposed grand “Campus Center,” it might be allowed to remove just one of these trees – at the southwest corner – but only one. He doesn’t see why Harvard has to remove the raised seating area with the existing trees at all. “Just leave it that way!” seems to be his general view.

Murray also said he didn’t like the proposal for a new “planter” along the Massachusetts Avenue sidewalk, for reasons similar to those already expressed by others: the lack of any relation of the proposed seating area to people passing by (unlike the existing sidewalk cafe-style seating, which addresses the sidewalk along Massachusetts Avenue rather than the Campus Center, as in the plan).

Murray is flattered that people remember him, and appreciates the fact that various people still seem to care about the chess and the chess players. He believes the same chess tables could be retained and reused in a different location in the plaza, if necessary – but, again, without any construction of any “planter.”

Murray asked repeatedly about Au Bon Pain, suggesting it must not like this plan.

Overall, Murray seemed to believe – as many of us do – that Harvard should be able to have its new Campus Center and adjoining Welcome Center without having to muck up the rest of the outdoor plaza. (In other words: Improve it, don’t wreck it.)

Thanks, Murray! We hope to see you again some day out at the chess tables, under the trees – and the birds! God bless!