Harvard-Owned Buildings Face Several Hurdles to Demolition

Cambridge, Mass,

The Late of Harvard's plans for turning a plot of land into housing for graduate students may be decided by two city agencies in the next few weeks

In a recent letter to area residents, University spokesman Jacqueline O'Neill announced Harvard's intention to file for demolition permits with the city this week for three structures at 8 and 10 Mt. Auburn St.

But before demolition permits can be granted and construction can begin, approval to raze the three Harvard owned buildings must be obtained from at least five city agencies, among them, the Historical Commission and the Rent Control Board.

Nearly a Century Old

The Historical Commission must decide within 45 days whether the structures are historically significant in terms of style and importance to the surrounding neighborhood, according to Marilyn Wellons, a local president and activist in a Harvard Square preservation group


Charles Sullivan, head of the Historical Commission, said yesterday that the Victorian style, three-story structure is indeed "historically significant." He added that the 1892 building was constructed by two local architects who designed "a number of fairly claborate apartments in Cambridge."

Sullivan's recommendation to the full Historical Commission could block the granting of the demolition permits for six months.

"The building represents a type that is becoming rarer and rarer around Harvard Square," said Kathy Spiegleman, an official of the Community Development Department, who said she would prefer to retain the old structure in the University's new design.

But Harvard's O'Neill, associate vice president for state and community relations, said that in many cases like this, some people have a sentimental attachment to a building, but it may have no historical value.

Lurking Tenants

Another twist in the Mt. Auburn case was the discovery of three tenants who have been living above the commercial storefronts in these buildings since 1979, according to local attorney Robert J. LaTremouille.

Now the Rent Control Board must determine, at its March 7 meeting, whether the property falls under Cambridge's stringent rent control regulations and if so, whether Harvard must first obtain permission to remove the buildings from rent control before taking any action.

The previous owners of the building said they had no previous knowledge that residents lived there, according to Manuel Uribe, spokesman for Bank St. Associates. Bank St. Associates has controlled the property since 1972, but sold to Harvard last June.

But Wellons, who lives near the site, said yesterday. "Anybody who's lived in Cambridge for 15 years knows that there have always been people living in that building.

Serious Matter

"This is a serious rent control issue," said City Councilor David Sullivan, adding, "Harvard needs to rethink the whole issue before anything happens."

"Harvard is proposing something contrary to what their own Design School set as factual parameters," said Harvard Square preservationist Gladys Gifford, Gifford recalled a 1984 Graduate School of Design study--whose purpose was to suggest strategies for limiting development in Harvard Square--which targeted the south side of Mt. Auburn St. as dangerously susceptible to development.

"Harvard is not being forthcoming." Gifford added, saying that she thinks the sale of the building from Bank St. Associates to Harvard is conditional upon removal from rent control. But Uribe said that his group is currently leasing the building from Harvard.