On December 6, 1956, the President and Fellows of Harvard College bought 13, 208 square feet of land in front of Lowell House, but for about 25 years, only 40 people used it.
The University bought the land from the trustees of the Fly Club for $33,209 and later purchased an additional 2000 feet. It has paid taxes on it since that time, although the land lay virtually unused by students who were not Fly Club members until 1976.
Today, the College shares the space between Holyoke Place and Plympton Street with the Fly Club and Lowell House. which owns a small parking lot at 61 Plympton St that used to be a house. A fence surrounds the whole complex, but only some hedges separate the University and club land.
Student groups can reserve the space with Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III, and the gate to the garden is supposed to be open during daylight hours in good weather.
The property is managed by Harvard Real Estate, Inc. (HRE)--a for-profit wing of the University that owns and manages many University buildings, including Memorial Hall.
Last year, Harvard paid $6989.08 in taxes on the land, which was valued at $713,900. But although the tax rate is down slightly this year, the University can expect to pay more in taxes in the future because land values in the Harvard Square area are rising.
This year, the garden's assessed value increased more than $100,000 to its current $871,000 price tag. In fiscal year 1989, HRE will pay the City of Cambridge $8030.62 in taxes.
HRE Comptroller Sheldon Tandler refused speculate on why land values increased significantly over the last year but he did say that his office is now. conducting its annual review of tax assessments. Land prices in the area may have gone up because St. Paul's Church recently sold a plot of land on Quincy Street for more than $6 million, a higher price than was expected.
Even though the garden is being used by the College as a park for cookouts and picnics, some claim the University's portion is still very much a part of the Fly Club's domain.
Although Harvard severed ties with the club in 1984 because it violated a College rule requiring all official undergraduate organizations to be coed, the garden remains much the same as it always has.
The Fly Club still uses the University's space for many of its functions and because there is no fence, they have access to the land when other students do not.
But the club has access to the University's land at night and during the winter, although Epps says that they usually keep to their portion of the park. When the club intends to use the University's portion of the garden, it reserves the space through Epps' office. The dean says the club sometimes reserves the garden in an individual's name and, when the garden is used for annual social functions, sometimes in the name of the organization.
In addition, Epps says the Fly Club is responsible for maintaining the University's piece of the garden and for opening the doors each moring.
The Fly Club's use and maintenance of the University's property is viewed as a tie between the two bodies by those who oppose the all-male club. Lisa J. Schkolnick '88 filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination last December charging the club with gender discrimination because it refuses to admit women.
Schkolnick and her lawyer have claimed that the case falls under Massachusetts public accommodations law because it is an important part of life at Harvard, not an exclusive social group with which few students are involved. And they point to the garden as evidence of the Fly Club's continued ties to the University.
But that could change, and Epps says that if it were necessary, the University would change its agreement with the club and divide the land more definitely. Epps says he had developed the current system because he wanted to maintain one large piece of land that could be construed as a park.
"This is an experiment," says Epps. But he added that "if somehow we can't use it this way, we'll put up a fence."
Epps says that if a fence were put up, "that would be a change in the nature of the relationship [between the club and the University]."
Despite the College's role in administering the space, the land is technically owned by HRE, Epps says.
But Tandler also says he was unaware that what he called "vacant land" was being used as a park by undergraduates.
"It's not being used directly for any purpose," says Tandler. He says he had "no knowledge of the Fly Club using that property for anything."
Epps says HRE officials should be aware that the property is used as a park and attributed the misunderstanding to changes in staff.
The official responsible for developing land used by the College says there are no plans to build on the property.
"We have no plans to develop any land that side of Massachusetts Ave.," says Associate Dean for Physical Resources Philip J. Parsons. He added that though the land is expensive, "open space is very precious, too."
And HRE's Tandler says he agrees: "Right now that property has been left intact. It looks pretty in the area."