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Ukrainian House is one of three buildings that are being moved as part of a Harvard construction project.
Ukrainian House is one of three buildings that are being moved as part of a Harvard construction project. (John Bohn/ Globe Staff)

3 old houses to trump traffic

Move will close Mass. Ave.

Traffic crawls on Massachusetts Avenue north of Harvard Square on a good day, so when the entire road is closed all of next weekend to make way for the slow move of two Victorian homes and a carriage house, congestion could be epic, Cambridge and Harvard officials said yesterday.

The three 19th-century buildings -- Ukrainian House, Baker House, and the carriage house -- are being moved as part of a construction project at Harvard Law School. The big move will require the closing of a small but significant section of Massachusetts Avenue at 6 p.m. June 22. It will not reopen until 5 a.m. June 25.

At one point on June 23, all three buildings will be on the road at the same time, rolling north on hydraulic lifts at 2 miles per hour.

"There's no other way to move the houses, so it was really a matter of picking the right moment," said Michael Armini, a Harvard Law School spokesman. "Doing it after commencement obviously makes a lot of sense, too."

Bad weather could delay the move until the weekend of July 6, officials said.

City manager Robert W. Healy said the last major closing of Massachusetts Avenue he could recall was in the early 1990s to film a nighttime scene for the movie "Blown Away."

"I can't recall one for this length of time, but the alternative plans have been put in place," he said. "Obviously, this will be an inconvenience. This is a place to avoid on Saturday and Sunday."

The $1 million move, which has been planned for five years, will be no small feat.

Cars, trucks, and T buses will be detoured on local roads. Harvard will offer free parking to residents at three locations on a first-come, first-served basis.

Workers with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority will have to remove hanging power lines that serve trolleys. City crews will have to remove two light poles and several hanging traffic signals. A Norway maple might have to be cut down, and Harvard will pay the city $50,000 for the tree and other street beautification.

Officials have analyzed the potential impact of hundreds of tons of building inching along above the Red Line tunnel, sewer lines, and other infrastructure.

Ukrainian House weighs 200 tons, is 57 feet high, and is so wide that it will straddle the median on Massachusetts Avenue during its trip. Hydraulic lifts will distribute the weight evenly, so it should have no more impact than a tractor- trailer, Armini said.

The buildings are to be moved to a site next to a Harvard Law dorm at Massachusetts Avenue and Mellen Street. Their current location will become the law school's Northwest Corner project, where a 250,000-square-foot academic building is to be built.

"It's going to be unpleasantly busy," said Mary Ella Feinleib, 69, who has lived in the Agassiz neighborhood between Porter and Harvard squares for more than 40 years. "But it's in a good cause."

Residents are girding for the move, but for some who live near the law school, it will be nothing compared with three years of construction.

"We liked having the old houses there," said Chester G. McCarthy, superintendent of a condominium complex across the street from where the new law school building will be built. "Any kind of a nice view that you can brag about, we're losing it."

Mac Daniel can be reached at

(Correction: Because of a graphic artist's error, a map of Cambridge in Thursday's City & Region section incorrectly labeled Mason Street as Craigie Street. Mason connects Garden and Brattle streets.)

Pop-up GLOBE GRAPHIC: Mass. Ave. closure