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Former Harvard Square Theater Still Without Plans

The Harvard Square Theater on Church Street advertises leasing. The brick building remains vacant years after its closing, prompting the Cambridge City Council to look into the owner’s plans for its redevelopment.
The Harvard Square Theater on Church Street advertises leasing. The brick building remains vacant years after its closing, prompting the Cambridge City Council to look into the owner’s plans for its redevelopment. By Gigi M. Kisela
By Alison W. Steinbach and Katherine E. Wang, Crimson Staff Writers

The owner of the former Harvard Square Theater property has not made public his plans for the property more than a month after the Cambridge City Council gave him 30 days to do so.

The theater was a Harvard Square icon from its opening in 1925 until it closed in 2012. Morningside Group, a firm headed by billionaire investor and Harvard donor Gerald L. Chan, purchased the property in 2015 from real estate developer Richard L. Friedman.

The property has remained vacant since 2012, drawing concern from local residents and city officials who say that the property was an important economic driver in the Square. At its Feb. 27 meeting, the Cambridge City Council threatened to seize the building by eminent domain if it did not soon receive a public update.

While the Morningside Group did not respond to repeated requests for comment, City Councillor Jan Devereux said she’s hopeful Chan will respond with plans in April.

“I think the policy order was effective in underscoring the urgency the Council, the City, and the Harvard Square community feel in seeing the Church Street theater site renovated and reactivated without further delay,” Devereux said. “I look forward to seeing some initial plans this spring and to the opportunity to further engage the community in the successful repurposing of this anchor site.”

Denise A. Jillson, executive director of the Harvard Square Business Association, said she is convinced Chan will start to make plans for the property.

“I feel confident that if Mr. Chan gave his assurance to the mayor, that he would comply with their request,” Jillson said. “I think he’s an honorable man and will keep his word.”

Chan owns a bevy of properties in the Square, including a number along JFK St. and the surrounding area. His Harvard Square portfolio is valued at more than $100 million. In the fall of 2014, he donated $350 million to the Harvard School of Public Health, which was then renamed in honor of Chan’s father.

–Staff writer Alison W. Steinbach can be reached at alison.steinbach@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @alisteinbach.

—Staff writer Katherine E. Wang can be reached at katie.wang@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @katiewang29.

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