Harvard Overpass Ownership Questioned

Land Over Cambridge St. May Become A Garden

Guests at the 350th Ball who kick up their heels between the Science Center and the Yard will be dancing on the city's airspace.

And if they return to the spot a year from now, they might find themselves in the romantic surroundings of a vegetable garden, according to City Councilor Alfred E. Vellucci and Cambridge activist Deirdre Morris.

It's a long story.

Morris coordinates a community vegetable garden on land belonging to the Youville Hospital in North Cambridge. The hospital's plans for expansion forced the gardeners to seek new ground, and Vellucci is turning them towards the top of the Cambridge Street underpass between Harvard Yard and the Harvard Science Center. According to both, they have every right to make students walk to classes between the rutabagas.

Morris' research has turned up informal Harvard claims to the land, and Vellucci said yesterday that he had heard similar verbal assertions. However, no Harvard administrator has ever claimed in writing that the land belonged to the University.

The 350th Divestment Coalition, which protested against Harvard's investments in South African-related corporations during the celebration in early September, had also planned to create a test case on the overpass. But the group was unable to get a city permit to pitch their headquarters tent on the overpass, apparently because it had not yet been established as city property.

"That land was created--it didn't exist until Harvard built the over-pass," said Jacqueline O'Neill, Harvard's Associate Vice President for State and Community Affairs. "We own it as much as we feel a responsibility for maintaining it and preserving it, but it's also public," she said. However, she insisted that the land was appropriate for a crossing-place but not for a garden.

"If we were going to build a building on it, we would have to clarify [proper use for the land] more specifically," she said. She said that Harvard does not pay the city an annual fee for using its airspace, although the owners of structures built more recently must pay rent for any parts that pass over city land.

Harvard agreed to lower Cambridge street and build the tunnel at its own expense in 1965.

Harvard had promised at first that much the area where the Science Center now stands would be kept as open space. Morris said opposition to the Center's construction was especially strong because it occupies more horizontal area than any other Harvard building.

Still, even this controversy did not raise the question of the overpass' ownership.

"He believes that Harvard has somehow hoodwinked the city," O'Neill said of Vellucci, and complained that "this issue is being kept alive for some reason other than the tomato plants."