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Victorian House Hits the Road

Lowell K. Chow

Construction workers load a Victorian house from Prescott Street—where Harvard is planning to build its new Center for Government and International Studies—onto wheels, for the journey to a new home.

An eight-ton Victorian house rolled past Memorial Hall and traveled along closed-off city streets in a four-hour spectacle Saturday, attracting hundreds of onlookers and clearing the way for Harvard’s biggest new construction project.

Suspended on sets of giant wheels resembling oversized aircraft landing gear, the historic three-story structure left its foundation at 96 Prescott St.—where it had stood for 116 years—around 9:30 a.m., and by mid-afternoon workers pulled the house into its new home on nearby Sumner Road.

The city dismantled all street and traffic lights along the route, and tree crews sawed off branches to make way. Police officers detoured traffic, and tow trucks stood at the ready.

Verizon erected temporary telephone poles and N-Star rerouted electric lines.

This was the second of two houses moved off land where Harvard is building its new Center for Government and International Studies (CGIS), and the mood on Saturday was celebratory.

In front of Gund Hall, Harvard’s community relations office supplied boxes of Dunkin Donuts and jugs of coffee to passersby. CGIS Project Manager Tom Murray looked on with his 4-year-old son Lian. And the project’s architect brought his parents for early Mother’s Day festivities.

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Many of the firefighters and police officers on duty brought cameras to snap photos. Construction workers collected several hundred dollars in a pool betting on when the building would finally be in place.

And as the house made its way past an apartment building on Kirkland Street, a woman leaned out her fourth-floor window—not close enough to touch the slate mansard roof but able to wave at the scores of spectators gathered below.

T. Langdon Allen, who lives just down Sumner Road from the house’s final destination, watched the proceedings with his golden retriever Brodie.

Two years ago, when he and his wife moved into their 1845 Greek revival house on the corner, he says they didn’t realize they were in for years of construction.

A management consultant whose third-floor home office overlooks the CGIS construction sites, Allen says he isn’t getting much work done today.

“The moving is the fun part,” he says. “All the noise, dust and machinery is the bad part.”

“People in most parts of the country won’t ever get to see a house moved,” he adds. “Here in the space of a couple months we’ve seen two moved.”

He laughs—“it’s part of the joy of living in a construction zone.”

But Allen, who took an architecture class at the Harvard Extension School to learn more about the historic buildings in his neighborhood, says he thinks the project will bring long-run improvements.

“In a few years, it should be a beautiful-looking street again,” he says.

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