Thursday, April 18, 2024

The crowd Saturday at Pit-A-Palooza in Harvard Square. (Photo: Victoria Rein)

A farewell party to Harvard Square’s “Pit” on Saturday – officially, Pit-A-Palooza – sparked nostalgia in several ways.

“There’s the cheap weed I remember,” a man in the crowd could be heard saying as community members lit up joints.

The event brought hundreds to the famed Pit, the area directly surrounding the Harvard Square subway station headhouse that’s due to be removed in a redesign of the brick plaza because of noncompliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Pit, a sunken area built in 1982 for public gatherings, was adopted by the Boston punk scene and other outcasts and unhoused youth as a place to gather and hang out without judgment.

Author Jen Deaderick, one of the event’s organizers with city councillor Marc McGovern, summarized the spirit of The Pit during a short speech: “We’re all freaks and weirdos.”

The band Colin of Arabia performs Saturday at Pit-A-Palooza. (Photo: Victoria Rein)

Now 54, Dave Unger first stumbled on The Pit and its subculture when he was just 12 years old while visiting his aunt in Central Square on weekends.

“We used to come up here and I would see the punks in The Pit and I was like, ‘Wow, these people are fucking cool,’” said Dave Unger, a veteran of Pit culture. “We’d party in The Pit – we couldn’t go to bars, we weren’t 21 – so that’s what we used to do, hang out in The Pit, go see ‘Rocky Horror’ over at the Harvard movie theater.” (Midnight shows of the cult 1975 film were a staple at the 10 Church St. AMC Loews Harvard Square 5 from 1984 to the cinema’s closing in July 2012.)

The Pit and Harvard Square plaza in a quiet moment in March 2020, at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Live music was common in The Pit over the years, an aspect honored with a concert by Boston-based metal band Colin of Arabia.

The air smelled of sweat and marijuana as energetic fans surrounded frontman Colin Campbell, jumping and dancing – a genuine-seeming enjoyment of a commemorative concert lived in the moment, true to the spirit of the original, self-proclaimed pit kids or pit rats.

Fyrestar, a member of the performance group Full Body Cast, which brought some “Rocky Horror Picture Show” performances to the Saturday event (and who preferred to be referred to by an alias), attended Northeastern in the ’90s and said The Pit is where she and her friends would hang out.

Among those at Pit-A-Palooza on Saturday was one person with a sign saying “Keep The Pit, Lose the Rats in City Hall & the HSBA,” or Harvard Square Business Association. (Photo: Victoria Rein)

“Everybody was welcome here, everybody got along. There would be people drawing, painting, it was great,” she said. “It’s the end of an era, really. I hope the spirit lives on in the new plaza. I hope it’s as welcoming and no-judgment as it’s always been.”

Though eventgoers seemed to understand the value of making the T stop ADA-compliant, many expressed sadness at the thought of The Pit’s destruction.

“I don’t know, it’s like the Boston Common – just a Boston thing that should always be here,” Unger said. “It’s a bummer, man. It’s a fucking shame.”

The celebration ran from 6 to 10 p.m. and included a beer garden, a fundraiser for the Bridge Over Troubled Waters medical van and Narcan opioid-overdose response training in addition to the entertainment to mark Pit Rat Day in Harvard Square.

Though renovations to the plaza mean “we will lose the physical appearance of The Pit, this area will continue to be a welcoming place for young people to gather,” McGovern said.