Harvard Adds to Allston Land Holdings

Despite University President Drew G. Faust’s announcement in December that Harvard might slow down the timeline for parts of the Allston expansion, the University closed a deal the day after Christmas that added an additional piece of land to its current real estate holdings, according to an e-mail statement obtained by The Crimson.

“The process surrounding the acquisition began many months ago,” Harvard spokeswoman Lauren Marshall said. “When real estate opportunities arise and are presented to us, we consider them carefully.”

The property, which is adjacent to Harvard’s planned site for the relocated Charlesview Apartments, sits at 90 Antwerp St., Brighton and is currently occupied by the Brookline Machine Company. The company, which has used the building since 1949 to conduct hydraulic and transmission machine work, will “remain on site” despite the transaction.

Even though the property may have no short-term use, Harvard has invested in real estate contiguous to existing holdings because they meet some need for long-term institutional growth or support the university’s mission.

In line with its traditional method of acquiring real estate in Allston, Harvard did not directly receive the property from Brookline Machine Company.

According to city records, Harvard Real Estate-Allston merged with another company, Crown Mechanic LLC, on Dec. 26. John S. Whiting, the registered agent for Crown and the head of Brookline Machine, chartered Crown on Dec. 11. After Crown had been created, he filed on Dec. 14 to give Harvard the rights to execute all transfers of real estate and deeds in Crown’s name.

While Marshall declined to comment on the specifics of the transaction and the price of the transaction was not disclosed in records, Harvard Business School professor Arthur I. Segel said that real estate buyers and sellers’ use of separate corporations to transfer real estate is “not out of the ordinary” and may be used by buyers to shield their other assets from liability claims after the transfer.

“This is the convention to limit downside exposure on any one investment,” Segel said. “The seller may also use corporations to insulate him or herself from any liability going through with the new owner.”

Harry Mattison, a member of the Harvard Allston Task Force who runs a blog that has featured discussion of Harvard’s purchases in the past, voiced concerns about the transparency of such acquisition techniques.

“It obscures the true value of the sale, and I don’t know if that’s legal or not, but from the perspective of tax assessing, if everyone did that, nobody would be able to assess any property,” Mattison said. “The whole reason all those records are public is because someone felt the sale price should be public. There should be that paper trail.”

According to the Boston Assessing Department, the 29,700 square foot building and the land it sits on is valued at a total of $1,714,500.

But Mattison said he was more concerned with Harvard’s ongoing purchases in Allston than with the means of the transfers.

“The real concern is not so much this straw company merger as [Harvard’s] warehousing of all this property,” Mattison said. “A lot of it just sits empty and vacant in the middle of a neighborhood.”

He added that Harvard’s 2007 purchase of the Citgo station in Barry’s Corner, which is now an “empty, abandoned gas station,” was a “monument to Harvard’s damaging real estate practices.”

In the face of historic declines in Harvard’s endowment, “to see real estate acquisition continuing is quite a development,” Mattison added.

—Staff writer Peter F. Zhu can be reached at pzhu@fas.harvard.edu.