Harvard's New Frontier

For Now, University's Future Campus Remains a Paper Dream

Before a crowd of Boston and Harvard officials gathered in the newly-constructed Spangler center at the Business School in March, Dean Kim B. Clark ’74 turned and pointed out the window to Allston.

“All you see is a parking lot,” he told the crowd of 400, “and if you look further, you’ll see a trailer truck depot. But that is not the future. This building is symbolic because it faces Boston. It’s the first building on this campus to do that and we did it on purpose. We wanted to signal the future of this school and the future of this University.”

The land, just across the Charles from Harvard College’s river houses, wasn’t much to look at—a parking lot with some sparse shrubs, a busy roadway of squat industrial buildings, and beyond, a railway lined with low warehouses and resting trailers.

Left with nowhere else to grow in Cambridge, Harvard over the past thirteen years bought one hundred acres of this land in Allston beside the river—three times the area of the current business school campus—bringing its total Allston holdings to 271 acres. It has 220 in Cambridge.

Over the next century Harvard will make massive moves across the river. Harvard planners have identified enough space for the relocation of several graduate schools, the construction of graduate student dorms, a new museum and administrative offices, all blended into a new campus along the Charles, with the road running through its center remade into a commercial boulevard, a front door from Cambridge into the new campus.


But for now, that campus is a paper dream, conceived by a University-wide Physical Planning Committee charged with the task of imagining the future of this new land.

To get there, Harvard must face the reality outside Clark’s window: 48 acres of land, some tied up in sixty year leases, split by a railway branch with permanent rights-of-way, on soil that will require environmental cleanup after a century of industrial use.

But with a quarter of a billion dollars spent so far, and another half billion budgeted for the next five years, and with an incoming president set to move the project from paper to concrete, Harvard’s future in Allston is certain, though the shape and time it will take are anything but.

Land Fit to Build On

Buying the land was the first step on the road to Allston. Now, the university must fashion a stretch of industrial land into a pollution-free plot ready for the foundations of a future campus.

In order to do that, Harvard must first contend with current tenants occupying the land under long-term lease. The Public Broadcasting Company WGBH sits in four buildings along Western Avenue with a lease until 2044. The Genzyme Corporation owns a pharmaceutical production plant beside the Charles on a lease until 2057, and CSX transportation owns railroad rights of way, known as easements, through the center of the property in perpetuity.

Of the three, only WGBH has plans to move. The broadcasting company has leased its main facility from Harvard since the 1960s, and now rents space in three other buildings Harvard purchased in the 1990s. The station plans to gather itself into one building in the next several years, possibly on land it recently bought in Brighton, according to Jeanne M. Hopkins, WGBH Vice President of Communications.

The other tenants, however, are more firmly planted. Henry J. Fitzgerald, Vice President of Engineering and Facility Development for Genzymre, says, “we have no exit strategy,” from the Allston site, which Genzyme constructed for $112 million in the early 1990s, and that the company plans to stay until 2057 as long as the facility stays viable.

CSX and Harvard are in contact, but no offers made, according to CSX spokesperson Robert Sullivan.

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