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Lesley and Real Estate: Difficulties All its Own.


This is the first in a series of articles on Harvard's physical boundaries.

Up north, in the far reaches of Cambridge's institutional belt, Lesley College sits in the chilly shadow cast by its neighbor to the immediate south.

"We don't have the endowment, Harvard has, we don't have the resources," James Blake, public relations director for the college, said yesterday. "Everything we have is mortgaged, and no matter what we would like to do we have to temper it with our pocketbook," he added.

But Lesley officials have as many plans and as much real estate acumen as the best of their rivals at Harvard.

Lesley has already begun renovating one of their latest acquisitions, a vacant home at 7 Mellon St., into office space. Tenants in 22-24 Wendell St. will have until the summer to vacate. "We don't use the term 'eviction,' but they know we are interested in taking possession," Blake said. Both buildings came to Lesley through Harvard.

City councilors have taken to the council floor repeatedly in recent years to decry the school's policies.

"It is much harder to bring pressure to bear on Lesley," one councilor explains. "No one writes stories about it; it's harder to attack it as a big, nasty institution."

Lesley will maintain two other buildings, also recently acquired from Harvard, as rental housing "for an indefinite period," Blake added.

There is little doubt that someday the college will use the properties to help consolidate its eight-block campus into the four-block area bounded by Wendell, Everett, and Oxford Streets, and Massachusetts Avenue.

"It will be much more convenient for our students and staff and much more economic for us to have the campus consolidated," Blake said.

Although residents of the Lesley area don't have to fear immediate expansion, neighbors have tried to set up some legislative "No Trespassing" signs anyway. Long-standing attempts at down-zoning--making the area harder to develop--succeeded last year. And an in-the-works ordinance to control institutional use of property may hit Lesley harder than Harvard or MIT.

Harvard occasionally numbers among Lesley's defenders. The University sold Lesley the four properties last month, in return for a crack at some property Lesley owned on Sacramento St.

But Lesley may need more than Harvard on its side. "They will always take an uphill battle here," one city official said.

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