HARVARD has temporarily put its plans to build a new hotel on the former site of the Gulf station on hold--at least until a review by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) is complete. The University agreed to listen to faculty proposals after several professors, citing a severe shortage of library and office space for faculty members, argued that the lot could be put to better use.
While it is gratifying to see the University open itself to negotiation with FAS, Harvard's attempts to deal with the community have not been encouraging.
Two days after Christmas, when the wrecking crews were called in to tear down the Gulf station, students were on vacation, the City Councilors were on holiday, and many city residents were away visiting family. In short, no one was around to put up a fuss.
The destruction should not have surprised anyone--the University announced last spring that it intended to demolish the building and replace it with a five-story hotel. What was disturbing was the timing of the move and the University's straightforward admission that it destroyed the building before it was eligible to attain landmark status.
In addition to the bad faith Harvard showed in timing the demolition and the issues that faculty members have raised, students and city residents have their own reasons to protest the hotel plans.
HARVARD Square is currently a tenuous balancing act--part commercial boom-town, part residential neighborhoods. One end is increasingly dominated by high-rise developments and ritzy boutiques; the other has remained free from pricey stores and restaurants.
Putting a hotel on the Gulf station site would upset the balance. The bustle and commotion of the Square's western end--now relatively self-contained--would be pushed outward, destroying the area's neighborhood atmosphere.
University administrators have certainly considered this objection. Their proposed hotel would include only "limited service"--no shops or added luxuries.
But whether the restaurants and shops are inside the hotel or not is immaterial. A hotel will open the gateway for new developments in the area. Harvard may not plan any extra amenities into its hotel, but once the building trend starts, someone eventually will. In addition, a hotel with a 200-car garage will exacerbate traffic conditions in the already-congested Harvard square area.
Events in recent months have raised questions about security on campus. A hotel immediately adjacent to the Yard will definitely not help matters in this regard. Any building designed to be a focal point for large numbers of people--and a hotel certainly fits this category--will attract hangers-on as well, making it increasingly difficult for the University to provide adequate security.
THESE objections might be overlooked if the University really needed the hotel space in Harvard Square. But Harvard owns another site in the Square that is perfect for a hotel--so perfect, in fact, that there is already a hotel there. The University has leased the Harvard Motor House to a developer, who plans to replace it with a seven-story office building.
Harvard currently has an opportunity to satisfy everyone. FAS could have its office space, students and city residents could keep their neighborhoods, and the University could have its hotel, albeit in a slightly different place.
Now that the Gulf station is down, the University should reassess its priorities, weighing the need for new hotel space with the problems it might entail. With the addition of even a "limited service" hotel on the Gulf station site, Harvard Square might become a nicer place to visit, but you certainly wouldn't want to live there.