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Is 29 Garden Street Paradise Found? Or Paradise Lost?

By Joe Mathews, Crimson Staff Writer

Welcome to Eden. Or so the powers that be would like you to believe. But residents of 29 Garden St. Aren't so sure this is paradise on earth.

After a summer spent fretting about their rooms, 166 first-year students moved a week ago into what once housed transfer students and faculty members, finding carpeted suites, freshly painted walls and complimentary green "29 G" T-shirts.

The undergraduates were forced in to the Garden St. building by dorm renovations that have currently shut down Weld Hall and will close Matthews Hall in the spring. These first-years students occupy the space above the Harvard University Police Department.

After the first semester, current Matthews residents will be moved into newly renovated Weld, freeing Matthews for refurbishment.

Initial reaction to the relocation has been mixed. Despite sign-ups for Red Sox games and Happy Birthday announcements that line the hallways, there is an anxiety among students that some say goes beyond normal first-year jitters.

Many still speak bitterly of their housing assignment, the piece of paper that made them Garden Street's first members.

"I thought I was the worst misfit," says Shayne M. Mauricette '96, who hails from Toronto. "I thought there must be something wrong with me that out of 1600 people, they picked me to live here."

New Dean of Freshmen Elizabeth S. Nathans is making integration of Garden Street resident in to Yard life a priority. She has so far dispatched Associate Dean W.C. Burriss Young '55, armed with more than 150 T-shirts, to the dorm. Even Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles has pleaded with first-years to be patient with their living accommodations.

Nathans and other College administrators are also careful to mention the dorm's spacious rooms and full kitchens whenever they talk about the first-years sent there.

"If you're at 29 G, you'll let your T-shirt do the talking as your classmates complain," Nathans told first-years during opening exercises last Sunday in Tercentenary Theater.

At 29 Garden St., students occupy all four floors, each with long carpeted hallways, freshly painted walls and elevator service. The ground floor has a huge common room with seven couches, and underground tunnels are convenient to Harvard Real Estate's recycling center and a very full student bicycle rack.

As for the rooms, each suite comes with a fully equipped kitchen, with a stove, oven, microwave and refrigerators, which students use to hold everything from late-night munchies to ice cold beer.

But some first-years say the T-shirt's message--"Every Yard Needs a Garden"--has a flip side. Some Garden St. residents say they are relying almost exclusively on the Yard for entertainment. And others say there has been little in the way of Garden St. spirit.

"The whole thing here was that people were supposed to bond--that hasn't happened," says Julie Zikherman '96. "If I hadn't gone on FOP [the Freshman Outdoor Program], I don't know how many people I would know."

Some residents say they are already using their Garden St. rooms as nothing more than sleeping quarters, with some stocking personal items with friends in the Yard.

"We know it's easier if you know somebody in the Yard and can just spend the night there," Mauricette says.

According to some residents, the relative comfort of the rooms and the long corridors that resemble a hotel more than a Harvard entry way discourage socializing.

"Our rooms are incredible...and I feel little motivation to trek into the main campus," says Rob Lucier '96 of Carlise, Mass.

Even the much ballyhooed T-shirts have proved to be a disappointment to some. One resident, who requested anonymity, compares Nathans's attempt to dub Garden St. "29 G" to poultry giant Kentucky Fried Chicken's bid to remake itself as the hip-hop "KFC."

"In the beginning, I tried to say '29 G' but Garden Street is easier to say," says Zikherman. "Plus, the shirt is too big so I only sleep in it."

As for the nightlife, Garden Street is not a den of inequity by any stretch of the imagination. According to some residents, several first-year parties have been broken up by overzealous proctors as soon as the first soundwave escapes in to the hall.

One Garden St. party that got too loud resulted in a letter from Young to the resulted. In the letter from Young said Hathaway H. Green, director of community relations, had received a call from a Cambridge resident complaining of "loud noise coming from the building." (see related story, page 1.)

The letter, door-dropped last Tuesday, instructed residents "to behave in a more thoughtful and considerate manner in the future."

Some residents say they read Young's letter as a message to party elsewhere. And many say they are heeding that advice.

"I don't know if it's because there are neighbors living near here, but proctors are very strict," says Seth Weintrob '96, as he and his roommate prepared an afternoon snack of noodles on their stove. "But we're usually in the Yard at night anyway."

For all the talk, many Garden residents concede that their main complaint is the distance between their rooms and the Yard, indisputably the center of student life.

They talk constantly of "The Walk," a trek most make at least four times a day. According to an informal Crimson investigation, it takes six minutes and 866 steps to make the walk from 29 Garden St. to the Yard's North Gate. The walk would take even longer if you don't take the shortcut through the Cambridge Common.

Some Garden residents have already bought bicycles to avoid The Walk. A special shuttle runs between the dorm and the Union during the break-fast and dinner hours, but service has been erratic to this point, several residents say.

The Walk, however, is not all bad, say some residents.

"I really don't mind the walk at all," says Sara Saperstein '96 of Clayton, MO. "I really need to get exercise after all."

And the talk about 29 Garden St. has not all been negative. Several first-years say they have been won over by the facility's creature comforts.

"It doesn't get any sweeter than this," says Mauricette as he climbed out of his private shower one afternoon last week. "We love it, and we're going to win intramurals, too."

"In one sense, this apartment is the nicest one I will have for many, many years," says Zikherman as she surveyed the refrigerator she stocked with hot dogs, yogurt, peanut butter and pita bread. "But it's also a pain in the neck and I'd much rather be in the Yard."

Many Garden Street residents say they are still "feeling things out." And there is a small but growing faction of Garden St. residents quietly growing accustomed to the advantages of these unusual first-year digs.

Some have already begun to eat meals at Currier and Cabot Dining Halls, which are closer to the dorm than the Union. And the location has proven to be convenient to the Cambridge Common and the QRAC.

"It's very convenient," says Kahn Vu '96, as he and Allen Woo '96, left 29 Garden St. to play tennis. "The QRAC's just up the street."

And some residents say they have overcome their initial disappointment to find a little piece of paradise.

"I think this whole thing being a big problem is overblown," says Lucier of life with his two room mates in Garden 202.

"We have grand plans for the future--getting flour and eggs and stuff and making crepes for the morning."

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