What floors me looking back is just the daily beehive of activity around those those businesses. Everyone was visiting every storefront for completely different reasons. The upper floors were all busy/occupied for different reasons (you could see the hairdressers-in-training at Blaine! practicing on subjects straight from the street). It was loud, kinda messy (look at the triple-parkers!)...but vibrant
. "Dirty" implies some kind of blight. Far from it...'97 was already well into the Boston Renaissance, and a melting pot of busy storefronts like that is pretty much the definition of a healthy neighborhood.
Mere months after I took that pic Planet Records burned down (though their Harvard Sq. location still survives, now on a quiet-ish corner of Mt. Auburn St. a few blocks up from Brattle Sq.). That was the first building that was set aside for facade-gutting for the BU-lobotomy of that side of the Square. Ratskeller closed by year's end. Deli Haus kicked the punks out and re-launched as some fly-by-night hipster joint within a year, taking the eatery options down a peg (that's the other thing that's missing today...the greasy spoon spots!). It took a few more years before the evictions started to crescendo in prep for Hotel Commonwealth, but I do believe '97 was the last year the original tenancy of the Square was 100% occupied.
And...fuck...I had just turned 18 and been living in this city all of 6 months when I took that pic. Un-Photoshopped film scan, but I very well remember the sepia tone of the sky on that cold/snotty day and thought it made for a nicely moody shot framed by that crosswalk button. Don't know why I had my camera with me that day; best guess is my roommate had borrowed it again and passed it back to me on campus. I probably was heading to Nuggets or something after lunch. Bless their souls...they're still around in virtually unchanged state from when I was wasting hours per week in there browsing.
Fuck BU forever. I walked by the hole in the ground next to the long-shuttered B&N on Tuesday afternoon and was just numb with disinterest in how lame the new dev was going to be...because of course it would.