Developers to Rebuild SW Square

Southwestern Harvard Square is in for a new skyline.

Caught between the Charles Hotel development and Brattle Square, the area is one of the last in Harvard Square not to have fallen prey to the purveyors of chic boutiques and upscale office space.

Five development projects, including an addition to Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, are planned for this Square area. All of them are clustered along Mt. Auburn and Eliot Streets, in an area that even local preservations consider to be short on historic charm.

Only one of the proposals has satisfied city regulators so far, but those farther behind in the bureaucratic maze still hope to start construction in 1988.

When these new developments are completed the Harvard Square shopping district will extend from the Yard to the Charles Hotel. Since the redevelopment of Harvard Square began at the start of this decade, builders have dreamed of removing what they consider uninviting relics of Cambridge's less affluent past and replacing them with the architectural symbols of the yuppie era.

Three of the projects in the southwestern sector of the Square area make up a cooperative effort among three private developers to extend the shopping district and provide more office space. But the largest step in this renovation of the area is Harvard's decision to lease the Harvard Motor House to the same developers who built the Charles Hotel.

The University also plans to use a $6 million gift by an anonymous alumnus to build a new research and office center for the Kennedy School of Government. Kathy Spiegelman, assistant director of Harvard's Planning Department, said the total cost of the project would be about $9 million.

"Too much, too dense," is City Councilor Alice K. Wolf's opinion of all the projects. Those four words sum up hours of argument in public hearings and private dickering sessions. They also predict scores of battles to come.

Several of the projects, including the Kennedy School addition, will seek ways to avoid the city requirement that new buildings provide parking spaces under or next to them. The Zoning Board may decide that these developers can compensate for the lack of parking by paying a fee or providing space for cars elsewhere.

Because parking is one of the greatest concerns for several neighborhood organizations, some of the zoning hearings this fall may be long and bitter.

The developers say they have tried to forestall some of the bitterness through concessions worked out with the Harvard Square Advisory Committee, a group of about 30 developers, neighborhood leaders, preservationists, and University administrators.

Many of the development proposals include more parking, smaller buildings, and less formidable expanses of glass and brick than the original versions did. But many local residents are not satisfied.

Echoing Wolf's sentiments, Councilor Francis H. Duehay '55 said that if all of the proposed buildings are constructed, southwest Harvard Square will become "just another collection of upscale office buildings."

Although Wolf said she wants the city to "take a strong role" in discouraging large developments, she added that "I think a lot of it's going to happen anyway."

The chance opened up for the largest development in the area when the University decided not to renew the contract of the Harvard Motor House, a favored hotel for parents of undergraduates. Instead, it leased the Motor House to the part-owners of the rival Charles Square Hotel. These new lessors plan to replace the House with an office building.