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Pillar House in Newton: a Pillar of Great Dining Memories

Somebody could write a book about the Pillar House in Newton, Mass., but I'll just give you the Cliff Notes version here.

I think many Route 128 commuters wondered, "How the heck could this historic, grand restaurant be virtually within a stone's throw of one of the busiest highways in Massachusetts?"

Here was this large Greek Revival home coexisting with area hotels, high tech and industrial buildings and people driving bored and miserable, wondering if cell phones would ever come along to take them away from their own thoughts and imagination.

Thank goodness, this gracious 1828 home gave commuters something special to look at unless you also counted the "Charlies Angels" billboards. Better yet, this wasn't just another stately Newton home but also a darn good restaurant. Opening in 1952 and sadly closing in 2001, what happened in between at the Pillar House was remarkable.

Sure, we can start with the Pillar House's incredible prime rib dinner and relaxed but elegant old school dining rooms, but this landmark restaurant also pioneered some landmark decisions. Owner Thomas Larson -- who took over from his father George running the Pillar House until 1964 -- made the brave and unorthodox decision to close the restaurant on weekends in 1973. He respected his employees' lives outside of work, and thought giving them this time off would allow for a happy, top-notch staff. From what I saw, he made the right call -- the staff was superb. The naysayers thought he was nuts, but what did they know. They were naysayers!

Then in 1973, Larson made another bold decision to make the Pillar House the first 100 percent smoke-free restaurant in Massachusetts.  Sure, they lost some customers but in retrospect, the smoke-free decision served as a precursor of what was to come regarding restaurants in our state.

As if that wasn't enough, Larson went against all trends once again by banning cell phone use in all dining rooms in 1999. Good for him -- this helped foster customers with better manners, the way it used to be.

The Pillar House had a tremendous run until 2001, and then several years later was reassembled and restored to become part of a private residence in Lincoln, Mass.

They really don't make restaurants like the Pillar House anymore. So many traditional high end restaurants have gone that way. In a sleek, often pretentious world of dining where trends and contrived ambiance have too often taken over authenticity and a slower pace, I plan to hold onto the memories of places like the Pillar House as long as possible. I know many of you feel that way, too.

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