July 17, 2024

The Boston Globe

The signal survived a latest renovation, and can proceed to miss the sq. indefinitely — dwelling on as one of many space’s most beloved landmarks.

The famed “Dewey Cheetham & Howe” window sign up Harvard Sq. was preserved in a latest renovation of The Abbott constructing, the place it as soon as graced the workplace of the long-running radio present “Automobile Speak.” Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Employees

By the early Nineteen Nineties, huge issues have been taking place for the Magliozzis’ little radio present.

“Automobile Speak,” the call-in program the Cambridge brothers launched on WBUR in 1977, had gone nationwide, and their mix of good-natured humor and skilled recommendation on automotive troubles was garnering consideration far past Boston.

So that they wished to look the half — type of.

“My brother and [producer Doug Berman] thought we would have liked an expensive workplace in Harvard Sq. to point out that we have been an actual, critical entity,” mentioned Ray Magliozzi, who co-hosted the present along with his brother, Tom, for 35 years. “We knew we weren’t, however we wished to not less than make folks assume we have been.”

In 1992, the identical 12 months they gained a prestigious Peabody Award, they leased house on the third ground of 5 John F. Kennedy Road, overlooking the sq.; arrange a desk and a handful of folding chairs; and established the “Automobile Speak” international headquarters.

Among the many first orders of enterprise, after all, was cracking a superb joke. For its window, they employed somebody to put in genuine gold-leaf lettering such as you’d discover exterior a decent legislation agency. However as a substitute of utilizing their very own names, or that of their standard program, they’d a lawyer pun spelled out: “Dewey, Cheetham & Howe.”

It’s been there ever since.

In its a few years watching over the eclectic neighborhood, the signal has turn into one of many metropolis’s most treasured, if uncommon, landmarks. In case there was any doubt about its historic significance, the signal most lately survived intensive renovations within the constructing the place it’s lengthy held courtroom, after metropolis officers mandated that it’s preserved.

Brothers Tom, left, and Ray Magliozzi taped their standard radio present “Automobile Speak” collectively for 35 years at WBUR’s studio in Boston. Their headquarters, full with a beloved window signal for a fictional legislation agency, was in Harvard Sq.. THE BOSTON GLOBE

Work on the property completed final 12 months, and retail tenants have moved in, together with a soon-to-open Union Sq. Donuts outpost. As Harvard Sq. continues to quickly change, the signal — maybe the world’s most well-known joke written in hand-laid gold letters — will stay there indefinitely.

“Automobile Speak” followers will acknowledge the wordplay on the window as a part of a long-running bit on the present, when listeners have been advised to submit solutions to weekly “Puzzler” questions by way of letters addressed to the fictional legislation agency. It was one in all numerous different groan-inducing and name-based puns the brothers would rattle off on the finish of every present.

Whereas they’ll’t take credit score for the joke on the signal — Magliozzi admits they lifted it from “The Three Stooges” — the brothers might have gotten extra mileage from it than the comedic trio ever did.

Magliozzi and Berman nonetheless keep in mind the day the signal was put up. Whereas the installer, an older man, labored quietly on the window, the Magliozzis and Berman have been placing collectively a newspaper column responding to a reader who’d been swindled by a automotive insurance coverage salesmen. They have been loudly ranting concerning the insurance coverage business once they heard the person clear his throat.

“This previous man bought off his little stepladder and he turned to us and with a quavering voice mentioned, ‘You already know, my brother was an insurance coverage agent,’” Magliozzi recalled. “And I believed, ‘Oh, my God, we’ve insulted this man and his household!’ And within the subsequent breath, he mentioned, ‘And he screwed everyone!’”

They’d no concept simply how lengthy the person’s handiwork would stay in its perch atop the sq..

“We didn’t even understand how lengthy the present was going to final on NPR,” Magliozzi mentioned. “However they foolishly stored renewing our contract.”

They did have an inkling that the signal would make an impression on individuals who noticed it from the road, whether or not they knew concerning the present or not.

“We did hope it could be a landmark of kinds,” mentioned Berman. “Not just like the Widener Library, however one thing enjoyable. A reminder to not take life too critically.”

It definitely generated laughs alongside the best way.

Magliozzi mentioned a person and his girlfriend knocked on the workplace door as soon as to inquire concerning the title of the supposed agency, and whether or not they knew that when spoken out loud it made them sound like crooks.

The Magliozzi brothers and Berman performed alongside, pretending they have been really attorneys, and insisting that the mixture of surnames “had a pleasant stream to it.”

The person “had a bewildered look on his face, Magliozzi mentioned, and as he was closing the door, “I might hear him say to his girlfriend, ‘What a bunch of dopes!’ And he was proper!”

The workplace was by no means something fancy. A small employees labored there at a few desks enhancing, receiving mail, and sending out demo tapes.

The brothers recorded the present at Boston’s WBUR radio station, however would swing by to write down their syndicated column — or host late-night poker video games whereas puffing cigars.

Automobile Speak’s “Dewey Cheetham & Howe” window signal on the Abbott constructing in Harvard Sq. now hangs over a yoga studio contained in the Central Rock Gymnasium, a climbing facility that opened final summer time. SUZANNE KREITER/GLOBE STAFF

To “Automobile Speak” followers, in the meantime, the signal turned a part of the lore of the present, which at its peak performed on greater than 600 public radio stations. Some would even pop in to say whats up.

“They’d all ask the identical factor: ‘Is that this actually Automobile Speak Plaza?’,” Berman mentioned. “And we’d apologize and say, ‘Yeah, that is it. Fairly shabby, huh?’”

Issues are lots much less shabby now. Within the latest renovation of the constructing, the cigar smoke-inflected workplace and the ground it sat on have been eliminated. The window now sits within the second-story wall above a glowing new yoga studio in a mountain climbing health club.

“I’ll have to go to them sometime,” mentioned Magliozzi, when advised concerning the present tenant. “Perhaps I’ll get a free class.”

It wasn’t at all times a positive factor it could stay as an alternative. There have been rumors — by no means confirmed — {that a} prior proprietor had deliberate to take away the signal, and put it on show in a New York workplace.

However the metropolis would by no means permit such a factor, mentioned Charles Sullivan, govt director of the Cambridge Historic Fee.

The signal was preserved as a part of a years-long approval course of that included round 25 hours of public commentary. Whereas loads of specifics have been weighed, Sullivan mentioned, the signal’s standing was by no means up for debate.

“It’s a character-defining function of that constructing,” he mentioned.

Many vacationers come particularly to see it, mentioned Denise Jillson, govt director of the Harvard Sq. Enterprise Affiliation.

Just lately, she met two girls from North Carolina who advised her it was on their “bucket checklist” to have their picture taken in entrance of the signal.

Its survival sends an vital message that town is able to preserving its cultural touchstones, Jillson mentioned — even, or maybe particularly, the quirkiest ones.

“Whereas there’s a whole lot of change occurring in Harvard Sq., the considerate dialogue with enter from the general public, significantly round what that window means to folks, is all a part of a a lot greater dialogue,” she mentioned.

It isn’t the one “Automobile Speak” landmark in Harvard Sq.. A plaque honoring Tom Magliozzi, Ray’s late older brother, who died in 2014, was put in in Brattle Sq. in 2019.

Magliozzi and Berman, in the meantime, are simply happy, and possibly just a little shocked, that folks can nonetheless get a kick out of their tongue-in-cheek signage.

“We didn’t assume we have been constructing our legacy or something like that. That was the farthest factor from our minds,” Magliozzi mentioned. “We have been simply actually having some laughs.”

Brothers Ray, left, and Tom Magliozzi co-hosted “Automobile Speak” collectively for 35 years. After they moved into their Harvard Sq. workplace, they started their time there with a joke: an official-looking signal for a fictional legislation agency known as “Dewey, Cheetham & Howe.” It’s since turn into an historic landmark. LANE TURNER/GLOBE STAFF