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CAMBRIDGE EYESORES: Loathed and Foreclosed

CAMBRIDGE EYESORES: Loathed and Foreclosed

By Karen Klinger

In Porter Square, it's the building people love to hate.

Some find it an odious structure that not only clashes in its stark modernism with the Victorian buildings in the surrounding neighorhood, but towers over--and obscures--the landmark St. James's Church across the street. To others, it is more of a metaphorical insult, a daily reminder that the city poked an entire neighborhood in the eye by allowing its construction over the strenuous objections of residents.

"It is universally loathed, and rightly so," says Porter Square Neighbors Association President Susan Hunziker.

But the 15-unit condominium complex at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Beech Street, still known as "Long's" for the funeral home previously located on the site, is more than that. As a housing development it has been an abject failure.

In its five-year existence, it has been the subject of contentious city hearings, a lawsuit brought by neighbors, an appeals court ruling, a state supreme court ruling, liens instituted by the city for non-payment of real estate taxes and to top it all off, foreclosure, which currently cannot happen because developer Husam Azzam has filed for bankruptcy.

Through it all, not one unit was ever sold, including the two units designated as affordable housing. The development has been partially rented, but not finished. Visible from the street are the studs in the walls of the unfinished interior of a penthouse unit that overlooks Mass Ave.

Last October, Azzam's lender foreclosed on the property and scheduled an auction for November 16. But before it could take place, Azzam filed for bankruptcy, postponing any sale indefinitely. Around the same time, the plaintiffs in a lawsuit brought against the city for granting Azzam a building permit won a key decision by the state supreme court allowing the case to be heard in Middlesex Superior Court. But the lawsuit, too, is stalled by the bankruptcy proceedings.

Neighbors involved in the case figure the city so far has spent thousands of dollars in its defense for allowing the building to go up despite complaints of abutters and other residents that the complex lacked the required number of parking spaces, among other problems.

On February 21, a legal notice appeared in the Cambridge Chronicle sure to add insult to injury for the long-suffering, taxpaying Porter Square residents who have to live with "Long's" every day. The notice said the city was placing liens on the property because Azzam had failed to pay property taxes on it.

A check of the city's database indicates that Azzam's current tax bill (unpaid since 2006) for the 15 units tops $45,000--and counting, with interest piling up daily.

Needless to say, the story of this very imposing, very expensive mistake in the heart of Porter Square is far from over. When it comes to this now notorious eyesore, there's always a next chapter.

Comments

I love that building and think that it is hilarious and clearly unfounded that Karen Hunziker claims it is "universally loathed". Um, thanks for checking with all of the neighors Karen! The building is fantastic and is a welcome break from the somewhat boring architecture in Porter Square. Why not focus this random architectural hatred on something more important, like the homeless problems in porter square?!

I think is a very interesting building, many of the neighbors welcome the new structure and modern look into our city/neighborhood - an interesting modern design, lending artful contrast to its surroundings. Lets face it - this stretch of mass ave. has been hideous for years, the porter square shopping areas -- Shaw's parking lot mess/dunkin donuts trash - junky/homeless violence near the T,is the real enemy to the neighborhood.

I'm also surprised this is described as universally loathed. I find it refreshing. Nothing wrong with a bit of contrast.

It's fair to say it's an "eyesore" and "universally loathed" when not one person has chosen to live in it. Aesthetically, I don't have much of a problem with it, but if no one wants to live there, the neighborhood simply has an empty, expensive piece of art.

I am very much in favor of modern architecture of quality and imagination. "Long's" looks like what it is: a building botched in both concept and execution that rightly failed to attract buyers.

I'm sorry, but as an architect there is no way to apologize for this grotesque structure. Everything about it is wrong ... scale, context, finish, total lack of subtlty in design - ham handed ... and all done on the cheap. It's an exhausting failure and needs to come down. Cambridge needs some serious Design Review by Planning/Zoning with the ability to enforce the regulations. If you want the wild west, take a project like this to Houston. Clearly the client's program and budget didn't fit this site ... and the designer (and City) should have had the judgment to tell him that. Shame on the lot of 'em.