Major Square Building Project Inches Forward

Historic Buildings Would Be Razed

The battle line has been drawn between Harvard Square preservationists and a local bank which plans to demolish four historic buildings.

Architects and officials with Cambridge Savings Bank continued yesterday with efforts to gain approval for their proposal to replace the rotting wood-frame buildings with a modern shopping arcade.

The detailed plan for the development was unveiled before the Harvard Square Advisory Committee, a local zoning board, last night.

While the proposal inches its way through the city's bureaucratic maze, its fate remains uncertain, as preservation groups and tenants renewed their objections.

The bank and Stubbins Associates, a local architectural firm, propose to raze the buildings between the bank and Pizzeria Uno's on JFK Street. These four buildings are joined by a single wooden facade and house 14 tenants. Neither Cambridge Savings Bank's building nor Pizzeria Uno's is part of the proposed project.


A new four-story building would be constructed on the site and would contain 60,000 square feet of retail space, according to W. Easley Hemner, president of Stubbins Associates.

"We propose to link several alley ways and entrances from the street and adjoining buildings into a new arcade," Hemner said. "There would be cafes on the outside, retail space on the first and second levels, a restaurant and offices on the fourth floor."

Hemner also suggested overhauling the Pit and redesigning the entrance to the MBTA subway system to permit more open space and easier access to the arcade.

The architect, who helped design Boston's Prudential Center, described the proposed complex as a "public place" which will attract pedestrians year round because of its design. He said it would blend traditional storefronts with an open-air shopping center.

History Worth Preserving?

The proposal, which even its supporters acknowledge could take years to gain final approval, is far from securing the necessary support.

The chief objection raised is that all four of the structures slated for demolition are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The earliest dates from the 1780s, while Farwell's store at the main intersection was built in 1792, according to Charles M. Sullivan, executive director of the Cambridge Historical Commission.

The historical commission will likely resist efforts to demolish the buildings because of their historical value, Sullivan wrote in a memo to the advisory committee yesterday.

"Please be aware that there will be a good deal of future discussion before this proposal officially reaches the Advisory Committee, and that the final proposal may be radically different from the present one," he wrote.

Pebble Gifford, president of the Harvard Square Defense Fund, a watchdog group that has opposed construction of a McDonald's and other developments in the Square, also attended last night's meeting and voiced concerns.

"There is strong opposition," Gifford said. "We would like to see the issue of preservation more fully explored."

Recommended Articles