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Beware attack of the 6-foot history fiends.

Byline: Dianne Williamson


There comes a time when a city must stomp its well-heeled, collective foot and say, "No more."

For years, residents have been forced to stand by helplessly while group homes are sited in their neighborhoods - homes for drug addicts, alcoholics, unwed mothers, even sex offenders. While most of these homes have virtually no impact on the neighborhood, the emotional toll is great. Plus, John Fresolo typically shows up at the meetings and pitches a fit, and that's never pretty.

Now, the American Antiquarian Society is pushing the limits for what civilized society should tolerate. Amid the grand estates off Salisbury Street, the society is proposing a group home. For research fellows. These are the sort of people whose idea of a good time is to pore over dusty old documents and produce papers like, "America's Cultural Deficits: A Transatlantic Debate and Its Reflection in American Literature," which was recently written by a research fellow named Kristina Hinz-Bode, assistant professor of English at the University of Kassel in Germany.

Well, there goes the neighborhood.

I mean, would you want Kristina Hinz-Bode skulking about your neighborhood, frying up weiner schnitzel and contemplating America's cultural deficits? What business is it of hers? How would she like it if we traveled to her country and compiled a list of Germany's cultural deficits? As they say in academia, don't get us started.

The uproar over the Antiquarian Society's eminently benign plan confirms my long-held belief that normally sane individuals go completely bonkers when it comes to their property. How else to explain the behavior of City Clerk David Rushford, typically a fair-minded fellow, who erected a huge sign on his lawn across from the society's headquarters at Park Avenue and Salisbury Street: "The American Antiquarian Society Insults This Neighborhood With Its Expansion Plans."

Yesterday, Mr. Rushford said he could no longer speak publicly about the society's expansion plans because the matter is before the City Council. In the past, however, he and other neighbors have been vocal in their criticism, saying the home for research fellows and an adjoining parking lot will "institutionalize" the upscale neighborhood.

"We put our heads down on pillows here at night," Mr. Rushford has said. "This is a living, breathing neighborhood that the Antiquarian Society just doesn't seem to care about."

At issue is a plan to move the residence for visiting AAS fellows from the 1905 Goddard-Daniels House to a single-family home at 1 Montvale Road, which is under a purchase and sale agreement. Neighbors are especially upset about a 20-space parking lot to accommodate AAS staff and fellows, and they've cited the typically NBMM (Not Behind My Mansion) concerns about alleged traffic tie-ups on Park Avenue.

Furthermore, opponents have suddenly decided that the property intended for the parking lot - an overgrown tennis court that's part of the Montvale Road parcel - holds enormous historical significance, as though Thomas Jefferson and John Adams once exchanged volleys there. They (the opponents, not Jefferson and Adams) insist expansion of the historic district is needed to uphold the integrity of the neighborhood.

The Antiquarian Society folks didn't just fall off the turnip truck.

"I think it's very clear that the motivation here is to block construction of a parking lot," said Robert E. Longden, who represents the Antiquarian Society. Of the planned home, he said, "It's a very unobtrusive use. They wouldn't disturb the neighborhood in any shape or form. We're not talking about a fraternity house."

No, we're not. In fact, I can't think of anything quieter than a house filled with eight scholars, short of the local cemetery. And I submit, lest the fine residents of these lovely houses lose all perspective, that their city counterparts in Main South or even Highland Street would gladly trade their group homes for a gaggle of scholars.

As is frequently the case with such issues, the neighbors need to get a grip. It takes not a shred of research to conclude, in our tough economic times, these are people in search of a problem.

Contact Dianne Williamson via e-mail at
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 18, 2008
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