Press Release, March 21, 2001
Newton's Pillar House Will Close in June
Newton – Consistent with a trend that has seen the recent closing of numerous area high-end restaurants, Pillar House restaurant owner Thomas Larsen has announced that he will close the landmark restaurant on Route 128 on June 29 after nearly a half century in continuous operation. Larsen and his late father, George, have operated the distinctive restaurant since its establishment in 1952.

“Our tradition of elegant dining in a relaxed atmosphere is, unfortunately, part of a bygone era,” Larsen wrote in a letter to more than 7,000 loyal guests and friends, announcing his decision to close. “As many of you know, other institutions such as the Ritz Dining Room reached a similar decision. We have decided to close rather than compromise our style or our standards. We are forever grateful to you and your families and friends for sharing so many special occasions with the Larsen family and our staff.”

The Pillar House, prominently located at the intersection of Routes 128 and 16 on the Newton-Wellesley line, was founded by George Larsen, in 1952. It was named after the four majestic pillars on the front of the building. It has won numerous industry awards and is described by the Zagat Restaurant Guide as having a “tradition of excellent dining, plus gorgeous décor and attentive service.”

Larsen has long been known as an innovator in the restaurant business. In 1972, the restaurant closed for weekends in order to provide the staff with weekends off. In 1986, the Pillar House became one of the first restaurants in Massachusetts to ban smoking and in 1999 banned the use of cell phones in the dining rooms. After 42 years, the Pillar House closed for lunch in 1995 due to the business community’s desire for “fast lunches” and the restaurant’s unwillingness to compromise its style of service.

Larsen believes that times are changing in the restaurant business. “We thrived on the traditional business lunch and the elegant, perfectly-served dinner, but those traditions are less in demand than in the past,’ said Larsen. “I look forward to reminiscing with our loyal guests and friends during the next few months prior to closing.”

Larsen indicated that the property will be sold to Newton-based National Development, which plans a high-end office use for the property. “National Development has done first-rate work in Newton and understands the history of this building. They have pledged to work with the city to preserve the original Pillar House building, and that is important to our family.”

Ted Tye, managing partner of National Development, indicated that plans for the project are in the early development stage, “We have developed two buildings, one of which is our corporate headquarters, nearby the Pillar House which add to the historic fabric of the Lower Falls neighborhood. We will take a similar sensitive approach in the redevelopment of the Pillar House.” National Development has been nationally recognized for its historic renovation of the Vernon Court building and site of the former Newton Free Library in Newton Corner.

National Development is one of the largest real estate development firms in Massachusetts and has developed five projects within the City of Newton. The company provides complete development, construction and asset management services. Among National Development’s better known projects are 9/90 Corporate Center in Framingham, Metro North Corporate Center in Woburn, BlueView Corporate Center in Canton, Forge Park in Franklin and Lake Williams Corporate Center in Marlboro. back to top

Cell Phones Banned
In 1986 we captured media attention as the first Massachusetts restaurant to ban smoking for the sake of our guests. Then toward the end of 1998 we saw more and more quests bring cell phones with them into the dining rooms. While it was convenient for them, it was annoying to those seated nearby. Guests come to The Pillar House with certain expectations, and I was determined that cell phones wouldn't dim what guests expect. So in April of '99 I banned the use of cell phones in the dining rooms. Of course, guests are always welcome to use their phones in the foyer, bar or outside on the covered porch.

The press got wind of the ban, and soon we were featured on TV Channel 5's evening news and Chronicle, and The Pat Whitley Restaurant Show. Since then, we've been deluged with e-mail, telephone calls and letters from guests who appreciate our decision. Whether to conduct business or to enjoy a companionable dinner with friends or family, guests tell us that they come to Pillar House for the excellent food and the atmosphere. And they appreciate that we take the responsibility to continue to maintain this for all of our guests and for our staff.

Closed on weekends
I recently calculated that since 1972 when I made this quality-of-life decision to give my staff weekends off, I've been asked this question over four thousand times. The answer is found in our unruffled professional staff members who focus on their guests at work and their families on weekends. This 170-year old home that's not worn out from overuse and with our loyal patrons who fill the restaurant almost to capacity night after weekday night.

100% Smoke Free
Cigarette smoke detracts from the taste and smell of food, and I want our guests to savor our food's subtle spices and aromas. So in July of '86, years ahead of the trend, we hung a sign in our lobby announcing a 100% smoke-free restaurant. Our critics howled, but we proved that the benefits to the dining environment, both for our staff and guests, far outweigh the risk of losing patrons.

Closed for lunch
In 1995 we made an economic decision to close for lunch. Lunch fell from 40% to 20% of the business as professionals no longer had the time or inclination to linger for hours over martinis and steaks. People wanted a fast lunch. And "fast" just doesn't fit with the slower pace at Pillar House. We also had problems finding lunchtime help that met our standards. Our decision to close for lunch was made with sadness after 42 years. We still miss our lunchtime regulars.

Reopening the bar
When we went completely smoke-free in 1986, it just didn't make sense to keep the bar open. But as more public places became smoke-free, people grew to appreciate a pristine environment. So we brought back a smoke-free bar in 1996 to give our guests a warm and inviting place to meet clients or friends after work or to relax with a drink before dinner.

Opening the casual Cafe
Our guests told us that sometimes they'd like to come to the Pillar House on the spur of the moment. They don't want to dress up or make advance reservations. They also told us that sometimes they prefer to eat lighter fare that's less expensive. In response to these comments, we opened the Cafe upstairs next to the bar. It's a bright spacious area with lots of windows and a great view of the cars hustling up and down Route 128. In fact, we used to call the Cafe the 128 Room and it was a favorite of our lunchtime crowd as depicted in 1970 on our History timeline.

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I want to personally inform you that we have decided to close the Pillar House this coming June 29, after nearly half a century of continuous operation as a family business,

Our tradition of elegant dining in a relaxed atmosphere is, unfortunately, part of a bygone era. And as many of you know, other institutions such as the Ritz Dining Room reached a similar decision. As we have never been willing to compromise our style or our standards, we have decided now is the time to close.

I cannot adequately express how deeply I treasure your support and friendship these many years. We have always viewed our customers as guests in our “House” and will forever be grateful that you allowed the Larsen family and Pillar House staff to help you celebrate so many special occasions.

I will miss you all as part of our Pillar House family. If you have a chance to stop by and say hello, I’d enjoy saying thank you in person.

All the best,
Tom Larsen

The article below appeared in The Christian Science Monitor April 4.

Has a rose after dinner lost its charm?
by Marilyn Gardner

Ever since owner Tom Larsen announced two weeks ago that he will close the Pillar House restaurant in suburban Boston in June, his telephone has been ringing-and ringing. Loyal patrons have been calling to express regret at the loss of the locally famed establishment and to wish him well.

"They comment about their memories, but they also say they understand," Mr. Larsen says.

What they understand is his reason for closing the restaurant, started by his father in 1952 in a handsome 170-year-old residence and named for its four majestic pillars. The landmark institution features a huge urn of fresh flowers in the dining room, crisp linens, soft music, and attentive service. All women receive a long-stemmed rose at the end of the meal.

As Larsen explained in a letter to more than 7,000 guests and friends, "Our tradition of elegant dining in a relaxed atmosphere is, unfortunately, part of a bygone era." Even Boston's Ritz-Carlton, he notes, recently closed its formal dining room.

"Everything has changed," Larsen says philosophically in a telephone interview.

Eras end with remarkable regularity these days, and the phrase "the end of an era" can easily become a cliché. But in Larsen's case, the words are carefully chosen and accurate. For many patrons, memories of the Pillar House era run deep. Here marriage proposals have been made and accepted. Birthdays and anniversaries have been celebrated. Business deals have been forged. Friendships have been nurtured.

To trace the Pillar House's historical timeline is also to track the sociological fault lines of American life in the past 30 years. The restaurant becomes more than simply the story of a local landmark ending a half-century run. It serves as a mirror reflecting broader national trends that have produced gradual shifts in customs and expectations.

Rather than 250-seat establishments like his, Larsen finds that "the boutique restaurant, the storefront, the 60-seat restaurant is what a lot of people want today." He adds, "People like food, but I don't think they're as concerned about the environment and the service."

Long known as an innovator in the restaurant business, Larsen has made his share of brave decisions. In 1972, long before the phrase "family-friendly workplace" was coined, he closed on weekends so his staff could have Saturday and Sunday off.

In 1986, the Pillar House became the first restaurant in the state to ban smoking. Two years ago, Larsen also banned the use of cell phones in the dining room, restricting their use to other areas.

After watching noontime business fall from 40 percent to 20 percent of his business, Larsen stopped serving lunch in 1995. "People wanted a fast lunch," he explains. "And 'fast' just doesn't fit with the slower pace at Pillar House." He adds, "Now business people take their lunch to work."

Still, he finds a silver lining. "One good thing is that the three-martini lunch is a thing of the past," he says. "Not good for my business, but good for society."

Other social changes have also demanded flexibility. Five years ago, Larsen revised the dress code. No longer must men (or "gentlemen," as he call them) wear a jacket and tie. "We truly would be out of business by now if we hadn't relaxed that," he explains.

Restaurants aren't the only institutions facing changes like these, sartorial and otherwise. Ever since casual Friday invaded the corporate world, managers and employees alike have grappled with the question: How casual is too casual?

Some companies, finding that casual sometimes means sloppy, are now testing a novel idea: Dress-up Monday or Dress-up Thursday. The Bush White House has also instituted a dress code.

Even laid-off dotcom workers accustomed to a jeans-and-sneakers uniform are having to polish their wardrobes. They need - gasp! - an interview suit, or at least a tie and jacket, the very attire than became a burden for some Pillar House guests.

Will casual elegance and a degree of formality eventually come back in style, satisfying a hidden hunger for order and beauty? Even if they do, nothing will change the Pillar House's future.

On June 29, the restaurant will greet its last guests, serve it final order of pan-seared salmon, hand out its last rose. Lights will be turned off and doors locked as the building awaits redevelopment as a high-end office. One era ends, another begins.

Copyright © 1998-2000 Pillar House Inc. All rights reserved.