After Troubled Past, Barry's Corner in Allston Poised for Development

Today, Barry’s Corner—located at the intersection of North Harvard St. and Western Ave. in Allston—has an air of emptiness, housing an abandoned car dealership, a vacant Citgo, a 7-Eleven, and a large parking lot. But Allston resident Irene S. McCall remembers it as the location of her childhood home.

“We had what they called the backyard, all the houses in a ring, one big backyard that everybody played in and used as children,” McCall says.

But in the 1960s, the location where McCall spent her “beautiful, beautiful childhood” was bulldozed over by the Boston Redevelopment Authority, which seized the land with the intent of building more luxurious housing.

“They just took homes from the people that were well-kept, some of them weren’t, but people had lived there all their lives,” Allston resident Rita M. DiGesse recalls.

In time, the City built the Charlesview Apartment Complex—a concrete cluster of housing for low-income families—that turned the former neighborhood in a ”cement city,” DiGesse says.

Barry’s Corner’s transition from what residents say was a family neighborhood to a lifeless intersection left residents suspicious of the BRA. When Harvard purchased the land decades later, their mistrust shifted to the University.

Today, residents say they feel that Harvard’s newly-approved recommendations for Allston represent a chance for the University to reinvigorate the neighborhood. Still, they say that they are worried that history will repeat itself in what they characterize as a perennial exclusion of community members from neighborhood planning.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE FUTURE

Last month, Harvard approved the five recommendations of the Harvard Allston Work Team—a 14-person group commissioned by University President Drew G. Faust to help plan the University’s next steps in Allston. In a letter to residents last month, University Executive Vice President Katherine N. Lapp outlined Harvard’s intentions to move forward with their plans in two stages. In the first phase, the University will begin planning mixed-use structures in Barry’s Corner, including housing for faculty, graduate students, and other Allston residents, as well as retail outlets. In the second phase, Harvard plans to hire third-party developers to build and maintain the housing and retail units.

Specific plans outlining the University’s next steps in Allston are still in the works. Harvard has spoken casually with many local and national companies, including real estate investment trust Boston Properties, but no deals have been set in stone, according to Mahmood Malihi, who is an executive vice president of Leggat McCall Properties, the firm that advised the Work Team and helped shape the recommendations.

“The idea is to create housing that is similar between graduate housing and neighborhood living, and have a mixture of the two,” says Malihi. “Co-developers enable us to create housing for the market as well, therefore activating Barry’s Corner in the near-term.”

In the past year, Harvard says it has advanced significantly in achieving its goals, leasing land to Stone Hearth Pizza Co. in the heart of Barry’s Corner, and turning the former Citgo into a commercial bakery, Swiss Bakers.

A TROUBLED PAST

The transition of McCall’s cherished home to what DiGesse characterizes as a “cement city” began in the 1960s.

In 1961, the BRA announced its plan to rebuild a neighborhood with luxurious housing, according to “Building a New Boston: Politics and Urban Renewal, 1950-1970” by Boston College Emeritus Professor Thomas H. O’Connor.

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