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House Move To Close Mass Ave

You might have to steer clear north of Harvard Square this weekend....literally. Cars will be barred from a seven-block section of Massachusetts Avenue from tonight through Monday morning.

The closure will cover the stretch from just north of Cambridge Common to Linnean Street. All this because Harvard University is relocating three historic houses to a new home. Here's WBUR's Meghna Chakrabarti with the details.

TEXT OF STORY

[SOUND OF CONSTRUCTION SITE]

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: So everyone hates to move, right? Imagine having to move not only your stuff, but the entire house as well.

CHRIS SEMLIES: "I think it's going to be surreal. Saturday morning, people are going go out for their cup of coffee, bleary eyed, and see a house that basically takes up the full width of Mass Ave. coming at them."

CHAKRABARTI: And not just any house, says Chris Semlies, senior project manager for Shawmut Construction. He's the hardhat in charge of uprooting a giant 57-foot tall, 8,000-square-foot Victorian, and two other 19th-century houses, then moving them two blocks north on Massachusetts Avenue to become Harvard Law School dorms.

SEMLIES: "We've got crews lined up to take down street lights, take down parking meters, street signs, traffic lights. And then we have all the overhead caternary cables for the electric buses."
CHAKRABARTI: "Oh for the T buses, yeah."
SEMLIES: "Exactly."
CHAKRABARTI: "So they're basically going to have to strip Mass Ave."
SEMLIES: "Yup. Everything overhead comes down."

CHAKRABARTI: And everything on wheels will have to go around. Some 30,000 drivers use this stretch of Mass. Ave. on an average Saturday, according to an unofficial count from the City of Cambridge. From six tonight, to 5am Monday, traffic will be detoured to side streets. While the houses inch their way down Mass. Ave. on a platform supported by a dozen wheels. Semlies calls them hydraulic dollies.

SEMLIES: "The dollies carry the houses, and the dollies are self-powered. So they roll the houses forward."
CHAKRABARTI: "So the wheels on the dollies, they look exactly like airplane landing gear."
SEMLIES: "Yeah, pretty much. Similar size."

CHAKRABARTI: Meaning, huge. And get this. For every Tonka Truck-loving, RC-racing kid trapped in an adult's body... the entire system is run by remote control. But the houses won't be flying down Mass Ave. Top speed: 2 miles an hour. The heaviest house weighs 200 tons. Engineering experts say the move won't damage the MBTA Red Line, and major electric and water lines running beneath the street.

[SOUND OF DOOR OPENING TO MONTROSE SPA STORE]

But the move might affect local businesses.

TOMAIS RODRIGUES: "It could be good, it could be bad. We're taking it one day at a time."

CHAKRABARTI: Tomais Rodrigues owns the Montrose Spa and Deli, across the street from where the houses will end up.

RODRIGUES: "Right now in the summer time a lot of my customers they go away for the summer. But, I'm expecting to have a good weekend. One way or another, it's going to be fun."

[SOUND OF CONSTRUCTION SITE]

CHAKRABARTI: And expensive, for Harvard University. The Law School is paying for the one million dollar relocation. After five years of planning, the historic homes roll down Mass Ave tomorrow morning. It's the most complicated move be glad you don't have to make.

For WBUR, I'm Meghna Chakrabarti.

This program aired on June 22, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

Meghna Chakrabarti Twitter Host, On Point
Meghna Chakrabarti is the host of On Point.

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