Table of Contents
Architects: Louis Warren Ross
Design and construction
Arnold House is an approximately 43,000 square foot student administrative building on the Amherst campus of the University of Massachusetts. The building is one of ten structures that comprise the Northeast Residential Area. The complex was uniformly designed in neo-Georgian style between 1935 and 1959, and laid out in a bilaterally symmetrical site plan surrounding an open grassed area that is known as the Quad (quadrangle). Originally designed as dormitories, the group also includes Knowlton House, Hamlin House, Crabtree House, Leach House, Lyon House, Dwight House, Thatcher House, Lewis House and Johnson House. All continue to serve as dormitories in 2008, except for Arnold House, which was converted into offices in 1966.
The rectangular building includes one main 4-story block, with a basement level accessible to grade at the rear (east) elevation. Two 2-story wing blocks, also with basements, are located at the north and south. The main block is 17 bays wide by 3 bays wide with a gable roof. The wings are each 2 bays wide by 3 bays deep and have flat roofs which serve as accessible terraces. The main building entrance occurs at the 3 central bays of the main block, which project from the façade and are distinguished by a cross gable. A wood-frame tower, widows’ walk, louvered cupola, and glazed lantern mark the gable intersection.
The common-bond brick pattern is used throughout all elevations. A molded-brick water table defines the basement level and a limestone beltcourse occurs at the second floor level. All windows are wood, as well as the cornice defining the roofline and the gable peaks. The façade includes a window pattern of primarily double-hung sash. The exposed basement through third floor levels of the building have 8/12 double-hung sash. The fourth floor has 8/8 sash. At the attic level are regularly-spaced demilune copper grilles and the gable ends are framed as pediments with each containing a fan light with brick arches and keys. Copper flashing occurs at the eaves in addition to copper downspouts and collector heads.
The main building entrance features a granite staircase to access the raised first floor level. A portico is framed by two pairs of fluted Doric columns and entablature. The double wood doors have divided lights and a fixed transom. Above the entablature, the second and third floor bays have 3-sided windows composed of double-hung sash and wood paneling. The second floor includes a decorative wrought-iron railing. Secondary entrances are defined at 3-bay projections at the building’s north and south ends. They occur at grade at an inter-floor stair landing. They both feature wood-paneled doorcases. Their locations are vertically reinforced at the upper bays with a pedimented window case at the second floor and a circular radial pane window at the third. The second floor window also has a decorative wrought-iron railing.
The main planning axis of the Northeast Residential Area runs northeast-southwest, in a straight line between the central doors of Lewis House and Arnold House. This axis is the center line of the quadrangle’s bilateral symmetry, meaning that the building footprints and appearance of Hamlin, Leach, Dwight and Johnson Houses, located on the north side of the axis, are mirrored by the building footprints and appearance of Knowlton, Crabtree, Lyon and Thatcher Houses on the south side of the axis. The spatial relationship of Lewis House and Arnold House as the anchors of the planning axis is visually reinforced by the cupolas that top these two buildings.
1931-1941: Great Depression, New Deal
The change in campus orientation wrought by the expansion of the school’s mission began in the 1930s with its name change to Massachusetts State College. With that program expansion there was a concerted effort to modernize and expand the campus facilities. The campus population had grown steadily during the 1920s.
In 1933, the campus was hosting about 1,200 students in its graduate and undergraduate sections. By 1935, there were 1,300 students enrolled representing a 53 percent increase in five years and of 80 percent in ten years, prompting the University to limit the freshman class to 300 students due to the inadequacy of facilities and staff to care for a greater number. This student population was putting extreme pressure on basic resources such as the library.
Despite the growing student population and an identified need for additional and improved campus facilities in the 1920s and 1930s, the onset of the Great Depression with its wide-ranging consequences effectively restricted funding to the bare minimum needed to operate. By late 1933, the funding outlook had improved through the economic stimulus initiatives of the Federal Government, and National Recovery Act funds were available for the construction of a library, a new administration building, and other unspecified buildings for the University.
As part of the University’s planning effort to select a site for the new library, the Campus Planning Committee charged with this work issued a final report in late 1933, which contained five recommendations for campus development: 1) That the general organization and building program on the campus be planned so as not to interfere with the sightliness [sic] and beauty of the present central open space, 2) That buildings of such a general service nature (library, dining hall, etc.) that they affect the entire student body be located in the first zone immediately adjacent to the central open space, 3) That buildings dealing with services more specialized (agriculture, home economics, etc.), and therefore affecting only certain groups of students, occupy the second zone, 4) That buildings used by students, but not directly contributing to organized instruction (dormitories), occupy the third zone and 5) That buildings dealing with problems of general maintenance and physical service (heating plant, carpenter shop, horse barn, etc.) occupy the outer, or fourth zone.
The committee went on to note that with these five recommendations in mind, they would site newly proposed buildings according to the defined zones. These zones were basically the ones that Professor Waugh had recommended in his 1907 and 1919 planning reports and Manning had proposed in his 1911 plan. The zones or sections were designed to focus significant elements of the college’s mission to its physical core which was defined as the broad, central bench with its hallmark pond. Everything that supported these core elements were dispatched to outer zones.
By 1933, the University of Massachusetts, then known as the Massachusetts State College, was facing a severe shortage in student housing. Between 1929 and 1933 at the onset of the Great Depression, student enrollment had grown by more than 40 percent, from 862 to 1,220 students, quite unlike periods during earlier depressions when student enrollment had declined. No new dormitories for men had been added to the campus since 1868 and the one campus dormitory for women, Abigail Adams House, was completely filled, which prompted the College to stop enrolling additional women in 1932.
In response to this housing shortage, the College began construction of a dormitory complex at the southeast corner of North Pleasant Street and Eastman Lane, which ultimately consisted of ten neo-Georgian buildings now known as the Northeast Residential Area. The first building of this complex was Thatcher House, which was constructed in 1935 to the design of architect Louis Warren Ross, who was a member of the College’s class of 1917. Ross’s later works for the school include the Student Union, which was constructed in 1956. Ross also designed Johnson House in 1959, which was the last structure of the quadrangle to be completed.
Despite documents entitled “Final Report of the Campus Planning Committee,” the group operated in one form or another as the primary planning unit on campus for the next 15 years, until 1948. The committee continued to focus on where buildings and facilities would be best sited relative to the campus missions.
By 1933, the University of Massachusetts, then known as the Massachusetts State College, was facing a severe shortage in student housing. Between 1929 and 1933 at the onset of the Great Depression, student enrollment had grown by more than 40 percent, from 862 to 1,220 students, partly influenced by the limited job market. No new dormitories for men had been added to the campus since 1868 and the one campus dormitory for women, Abigail Adams House, was completely filled, which prompted the College to stop enrolling additional women in 1932.
In response to this housing shortage, the College began construction of two dormitory complexes; one at the crest of Clark Hill and the second at the southeast corner of North Pleasant Street and Eastman Lane. The complex at the northern edge of campus ultimately consisted of ten Georgian Revival buildings now known as the Northeast Residential Area. The first building of this complex was Thatcher House, which was constructed in 1935 to the design of architect Louis Warren Ross, who was a member of the College’s class of 1917. Ross remains the most prolific architect of the campus and was responsible for the design of more than twenty structures, including nearly all the dormitories constructed between 1935 and 1963. This body of work established the Georgian Revival style as a dominant tradition for the residential quadrangles of the campus. However, Ross’s later work for the school also includes the 1956 Student Union, which was designed in a more contemporary modern style.
Although originally planned as a men’s dormitory complex, the Northeast Residential Area was re-designated a women’s complex in 1947. The construction of the two primary dormitory complexes was phased over a span of nearly 30 years, and alternated between development at the separate male and female housing districts. The Northeast Residential District occupied a relatively level site which supported a symmetrical arrangement of structures and open quadrangles. The construction sequence began with L-shaped structures which quickly defined the boundaries of the new district- beginning first in 1949 with Hamilton and Knowlton at the west, then Crabtree and Leach at the east in 1953. In 1954, the district’s North Pleasant street boundary was completed with the construction of Arnold Hall, a long rectangular structure with a central cupola. Arnold Hall’s low flanking blocks connected to Knowlton and Hamlin via breezeways and emphasized the landscaped street and sidewalk corridor. A 1959 campus plan shows the complex complete, with a large parking area to the east of Arnold House. A 1969 oblique aerial photograph of the Northeast Residential Area confirms the location of the parking area. A sand volleyball court has been added to the area to the east of the parking area. Although a new addition, the volleyball court does not impact the open character of the space, which is defined by a strong east-west axis of open lawn.
Naming of the building
Arnold House was named for Sarah Louise Arnold, the first dean at Simmons College in Boston and the first woman to serve as a trustee of Massachusetts Agricultural College. Appointed to the board in 1926, her six-year term spanned the school’s transition to Massachusetts State College in 1931.
- From the Massachusetts Historical Commission, UMass Amherst Building Survey reports (2009).