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11.3.05 When the heater kicks, this gift kicks in

Tufts undergrads living off campus have a kitty to tap if the heat goes or the pipes freeze this winter.

The Capen Street Emergency Fund was created by three friends and housemates from the Class of '85 who donated $50,000 to help student apartment-dwellers confronted by fire, flood, or other unforeseen dilemmas. Grants of up to $500 will be made at the dean of students' discretion, with Medford and Somerville renters given first preference.

Benefactors Larry Brown, A85, Bill Friend, A85, and the actor Hank Azaria, A85, named the fund after the address of a ramshackle but fondly-remembered apartment at 3 Capen St. they shared as Tufts upperclassmen.

"The apartment four of us lived on the third floor was pretty rickety; in fact, it was leaning downhill," Friend said. "It was especially cold in the winter if the oil truck hadn't made a delivery, requiring one of us to venture into the dark, dingy basement with a match to reignite the pilot light on the boiler-heating system which had shut down automatically."

The digs, if dilapidated, are recalled today with nostalgia. The apartment they rented for $157.50 per person a month served as their hub of off-campus activity. "Three Capen was renowned as a place of memorable social gatherings 'back in the day," Brown said, with a smile. Friend said: "We had a fantastic time at school."

The former housemates have come a long way since Capen Street, Friend and Brown as financiers, Azaria as an Emmy-winning and Oscar- and Tony-nominated actor. To mark their 20th year out of Tufts, they chipped in on the gift to benefit today's students who scrape to make rent while dreaming big.

Grant applications are to be directed to Dean of Students Bruce Reitman, who may dispense $5,000 a year from the fund in individual payouts of up to $500.