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Cambridge's Innkeeper


THE DECISION BY Kanavos Enterprises last Friday to proceed with foundation work for a 19-story Holiday Inn adjacent to the Kennedy Library site is but another example of the obstinance which has characterized most building projects in and around Harvard Square. For the past five years, the Square area has been drifting steadily away from the concept of community Local shopowners and businessmen have abandoned the Square in the face of skyrocketing rents and stepped-up insurance rates. In their stead have come more restauranteurs, ice cream vendors and bankers--all of whom cater to a transient population like that which swarms any tourist stopover of the Library's stature. Moreover, ownership of non-Harvard property around the Square has transferred from the hands of several local residents and estates to those of a scarce few who put profit and volume above concern for Cambridge residents.

Already, then, the Square is becoming a high-priced shopping and restaurant district in anticipation of the estimated one million unsuspecting persons to visit the Library annually. In the past two and a half years, the facade of Boylston and Mt. Auburn Sts. has given way to boutiques, eateries and quick-purchase trend stores, housed in expanded and remodeled quarters which purportedly justify rent hikes of well over 50 per cent in some instances. There have been more additions up Brattle Street, and one of the few redeeming features of the new-look Square. Brattlewalk, succumbed to pressure from edgy merchants last Spring. The area from the Mass. Ave. Gulf station to Inman Square has been razed, raked and remodeled, ousting the small merchant to accommodate the well-to-do.

NOW THE BUILDING BOOM zeroes in on the Kennedy Library site. The history of the Library has been one of misunderstanding and a lack of cooperation. The selection of the site at the corner of Memorial Drive and Boylston St. is the root problem in an area already densely populated, plagued by terrible traffic access and almost non-existent parking facilities. Once this site was picked over more realistic ones outside Cambridge, myriad conflicts, easily foreseeable, arose. The foremost has been how to accommodate the Library's horde of visitors.

The solution posed by Kanavos Enterprises, however, does more to aggravate this problem than to ease it. Harold Kanavos, the president of Kanavos Enterprises, maintains that criticism of the designed 19-story inn from "a small group" is "based on vague, uncertain and ambiguous aesthetic concepts and preferences." The small group to which Kanavos alludes includes the Harvard Square Business Association, the head of the Cambridge Planning Department, the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, the Harvard Square Task Force, the Sierra Club, the Cambridge Conservation Commission and the Planning for People Committee. And it takes no genius to envision the oddity of a 19-story Holiday Inn erupting into the Cambridge skyline from a position not 100 yards from Cronin's Restaurant. The incongruity of the Nation's Innkeeper rising twice the height of Holyoke Center--the Square's tallest building by five stories--is not a "vague, uncertain and ambiguous" aesthetic concept. It is common sense.

Despite the criticism being leveled at his 19-story design, and more important, despite the existence of an alternate plan for an eight-story complex with more rooms drawn up by the City Planning Department. Kanavos plodded ahead Friday and began pouring the foundation for his designed structure. He explained that his lawyers advised him to do so to fulfill the requirements of his building permit i.e. to show intent to build. It is true that Cambridge has been stalling Kanavos with irritating delays for almost four years, but Kanavos proceeded with full knowledge of the City's alternate plan and presumably, with an awareness of its willingness to meet his demands for a zoning variance for the eight story complex. Then he turned around and declared that he would accept the eight story plan only if the city would reimburse him for connected expenses--like repouring the foundation.

Obviously it is too late to scrap plans for the Library and return the Square area to Cambridge residents. But at least the parties trying to find some solution to the Library's attendant problems can employ more judgment and forethought than that displayed by Kanavos and the City last week.

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