Because the neighborhood adjustments, Harvard Sq.’s ‘Dewey, Cheetham & Howe’ window lives on

The Boston Globe

The signal survived a current 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 current renovation of The Abbott constructing, the place it as soon as graced the workplace of the long-running radio present “Automotive Discuss.” Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Workers

By the early Nineties, massive issues had been taking place for the Magliozzis’ little radio present.

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

So that they needed to look the half — kind of.

“My brother and [producer Doug Berman] thought we would have liked an expensive workplace in Harvard Sq. to indicate that we had 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 needed to at the very least make folks suppose we had been.”

In 1992, the identical yr they received a prestigious Peabody Award, they leased area on the third ground of 5 John F. Kennedy Avenue, overlooking the sq.; arrange a desk and a handful of folding chairs; and established the “Automotive Discuss” international headquarters.

Among the many first orders of enterprise, after all, was cracking a very good joke. For its window, they employed somebody to put in genuine gold-leaf lettering such as you’d discover outdoors a decent regulation agency. However as a substitute of utilizing their very own names, or that of their common program, that they had 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 common radio present “Automotive Discuss” collectively for 35 years at WBUR’s studio in Boston. Their headquarters, full with a beloved window signal for a fictional regulation agency, was in Harvard Sq.. THE BOSTON GLOBE

Work on the property completed final yr, 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.

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

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

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

That they had no concept simply how lengthy the person’s handiwork would stay in its perch atop the sq..

“We didn’t even know the way lengthy the present was going to final on NPR,” Magliozzi mentioned. “However they foolishly saved 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 will be a landmark of kinds,” mentioned Berman. “Not just like the Widener Library, however one thing enjoyable. A reminder to not take life too significantly.”

It actually generated laughs alongside the way in which.

Magliozzi mentioned a person and his girlfriend knocked on the workplace door as soon as to inquire concerning the identify 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 had been really attorneys, and insisting that the mixture of surnames “had a pleasant movement 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 workers 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.

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

To “Automotive Discuss” followers, in the meantime, the signal turned a part of the lore of the present, which at its top performed on greater than 600 public radio stations. Some would even pop in to say hiya.

“They’d all ask the identical factor: ‘Is that this actually Automotive Discuss 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 current renovation of the constructing, the cigar smoke-inflected workplace and the ground it sat on had 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 instructed concerning the present tenant. “Perhaps I’ll get a free class.”

It wasn’t at all times a certain factor it will stay as a replacement. 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, government 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 had been weighed, Sullivan mentioned, the signal’s standing was by no means up for debate.

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

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

Not too long ago, she met two ladies from North Carolina who instructed her it was on their “bucket listing” to have their picture taken in entrance of the signal.

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

“Whereas there’s a number of change happening 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 larger dialogue,” she mentioned.

It isn’t the one “Automotive Discuss” 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 perhaps a little bit shocked, that individuals can nonetheless get a kick out of their tongue-in-cheek signage.

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

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