City, University Discuss Fogg Bridge

Overhead Connector Sparks Local Controversy

As construction on the new wing of the Fogg Art Museum draws to a close, an old debate is reopening whether the University should be permitted to build an overhead footbridge connecting the two buildings.

Residents of the area, known as Mid Cambridge, have charged that a bridge spanning Broadway would reduce sun light, create a traffic hazard and in general detract from the aesthetics of the neighborhood.

University officials, however, say the connector will actually add to the appearance of the site, calling it "an architectural accent for the area where the neighborhood and the University meet."

"We wanted to work closely with the neighborhood to come up with a plan that was acceptable to people in the immediate area," said Philip Parsons, assistant director for operations at the Fogg.


In addition to meeting regularly with community members. Harvard last week sent a mailing to all Mid-Cambridge residents, giving details of the plan and listing the pros and cons of the bridge from perspectives of both the University and the neighborhood.

"It cost us roughly $2500 to do the mailing but it was well worth it," said Jacqucline O' Neill, associate vice president for state and community relations.

The mailing includes a letter from the Mid-Cambridge Neighborhood Association announcing an April 24 open meeting at which Fogg officials will present their plan to members of the community association.


Neighborhood residents have been satisfied with the dialogue between Harvard and the neighborhood, said Joan Lorentz, chairman of the Mid-Cambridge association.

"Our only concern now is whether Harvard and the Fogg will abide by the decision when out vote is taken," Lorentz added.

Lorentz said she is unsure how the vote will go next Tuesday, but said people have been "very much interested in the proceedings."

But the neighborhood's decision either way is non-binding. The final authority to grant approval rests with the Cambridge City Council, which will make a decision later this year after hearing both sides.

Architect James Stirling designed the Fogg extension formally known as the Arthur M. Sackler Museum--so that the building can function with or without the connector.

But University officials say the overhead bridge would enhance the safety of both museum visitors who would otherwise have to cross the busy Broadway intersection--as well as valuable works of art being transported from building to building.

"The museums are really one unit, with one director and one staff, and the bridge will make an enormous difference in our ability to operate our museum effectively," Parsons said.

The 18-foot-wide and 150-foot-long connector will house three galleries, and midway across the bridge two large circular windows will give pedestrians a view of the street according to Parsons.

To address neighborhood concerns about the overall visual impact on the area. Harvard hired a landscape architect. Carol Johnson, who designed a tree-lined plaza on the Fogg side of Broadway and a row of trees reaching down both sides of the street to the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School several blocks away.

The Fogg will pay the city $16,000 for "air rights" to the space over Broadway officials said.

But neighborhood residents say the financial compensation is not adequate "The $16,000 per year... amounts to approximately 16 cents per resident of Cambridge," the neighborhood's "con" statement says. "Let us forego this bounty and stand united in opposition to the gallery-connector... this proposal is detrimental to our neighborhood."

No Policy

City Councilor Alice J. Wolf said that without having heard both sides of the argument, she could not make a decision on the Fogg case. But Wolf did express concern over the city's lack of a united policy to deal with overhead bridges.

"We have no standards or procedures--now it depends on whether you like the institution building it," Wolf said.

The Cambridge firm Draper Laboratories has also recently proposed a similar bridge spanning Broadway at the other end of the street in Kendall Square.

Construction on the Sackler Museum started in 1972, but the issue of the connector became prominent only last year, when the University presented the idea to the community.

A model of the proposed connector is on display at the Cambridge Public Library, where the April 24 meeting will be held.