One corner of Putnam Square and several other properties surrounding Harvard Square are apparently headed for major renovation in the aftermath of one of Boston's largest real estate transactions of the year.
Faced with 30-day eviction notices and the prospect of sky-rocketing rents, several tenants are alarmed over the future of their homes and businesses.
Wasserman Development Corporation of Boston Thursday purchased 42 parcels of prime commercial and residential property in Boston, Cambridge and neighboring towns from the estate of Bertha E. Cohen.
Lengthy legal proceedings have caused confusion and insecurity among many tenants, and threaten to disrupt the lives of many Putnam Square merchants and residents.
The land deal also affects three apartment buildings scattered near Harvard, totaling approximately 50 units. Renovation has already begun on some of these buildings, which according to Wassermann spokesman Bruce Beal, are now about 50 per cent vacant.
"None of the tenants," Beal stressed, "are Harvard students, and Harvard itself is in no way involved as a tenant or purchaser in any of the property."
Putnam Square, at the intersection of Mt. Auburn Street and Mass Ave. is the home of many small businesses, including a Goodwill Store. Many of the firms here have received eviction notices taking effect on October 31, and all are worried about the prospect.
"A fine New Year's greeting," laughed Fred Salo, proprietor of the Harvard Community Exchange, who received his notice on the first day of Rosh Hashona. "Forty-six years I've been here,and now they tell me I have to be out by the end of the month. If I were younger, it would be different, but at my age, it's hard to start a new life."
Since the eviction notice., Salo and other merchants have heard nothing concerning their status, although Maurice Simon, attorney for the estate, indicated that these papers were mere legal formalities and did not actually mean the tenants would be forced out.
Charlie Wong has operated a small laundry at 5 Mt. Auburn Street for 51 years. He also got his notice on October 2, telling him to "quit and deliver up at the end of the next month... the property you hold as my tenant." Like Salo, he has heard nothing else, has made no plans, and doesn't know what he's going to do.
"All these people would have to have done is to call my office, and they'd find that the letter didn't mean what it said," explained Simon.
Beal added that he was in the process of contacting the individual shopkeepers concerning the transaction. "We're not going to push anyone into the street," he commented. "We're consulting with the existing tenants, and they'll all get a chance to stay."
Neither Beal nor Simon, however, has informed the tenants themselves of these intentions, and the renters anxiety increases.
The confusion apparently arose when Dupree Brothers, another firm involved in prior contract negotiations, specified that the land would be delivered to them "free and clear of any tenants." This, according to Simon, was a standard business contract and his office accordingly sent the required notice to the renters.
Wasserman then purchased the agreement that Dupree had initiated and kept the same terms. The deal was closed on Thursday and Wassermann was legally prevented from contacting the various tenants before that.
Beal is now engaged in consulting the tenants, a process he promises to finish before the end of the month.
The legal impact of the eviction notice is to free Wassermann from carryover contractual obligations and to leave the new owners free to arrange new agreement with the tenants. These new agreements will entail extensive remodeling and, presumably, higher rents.
The tenants themselves are confused and unhappy, not knowing if they must leave or stay. "I'm not going. They'll have to force me out in court," said Artie Dyer in the Leather Design Shop at 1 Mt. Auburn Street. He hasn't received a notice, but everyone around him has and he's worried.
The consensus of the tenants is that the area will be leveled and some type of high-rise constructed. "Ridiculous," scoffs Beal, "there are no plans whatsoever for a high-rise of any sort. The land itself is simply not suitable for that type of project."
What will be involved, according to Beal, is a "rehabilitation of many of the buildings." including remodeled store fronts, standardized signs and internal improvements.
"We're trying to upgrade the situation," Beal explained," but we're going to take care of these people. We're consulting to relocate people wherever necessary. The exact plans are not yet final."
Another company spokesman indicated that new architectural designs are to be implemented, utilizing basement space and adding second stories to some buildings to create new commercial opportunities and redevelop old ones.