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Crabtree House

Constructed: 1953

Architects: Louis Warren Ross

Design and construction

Crabtree House
Crabtree House
Crabtree House
Crabtree House

Crabtree House is an approximately 33,000 square foot residential building on the Amherst campus of the University of Massachusetts. The building is one of ten structures that comprise the Northeast Residential Area of the University of Massachusetts – Amherst. These ten buildings were 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 includes Knowlton House, Arnold 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 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.

In 1953 Crabtree House and Leach House were added, forming the beginnings of the north and south sides of the complex. Later buildings completed the east and west sides of the complex consistent with the existing spatial organization. In 1954, Arnold House completed the western edge of the area. A 1959 campus plan shows the complex complete, with a large parking area to the east of Arnold House in place. A 1969 oblique aerial photograph 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. Historic photographs do not show vegetation associated with Crabtree House or Leach House. All vegetation at the houses, consisting primarily of trees over lawn and shrubs at the buildings’ foundations, are new additions from the time the buildings were constructed.

The L-shaped building is 4-stories with a basement level accessible to grade at the rear (west) elevation. The south wing is 7 bays wide by 3 bays deep with a gable roof. The north wing is 8 wings wide by 3 bays deep and also has a gable roof that forms a hip at the building’s southeast corner. The main building entrance occurs at the 3 central bays of the north wing’s east elevation. These bays project from the façade and are distinguished by a cross gable. This elevation also includes a 2-story wing with flat roof that serves as an accessible terrace. The terrace is bounded by a wrought-iron railing.

The common-bond brick pattern is used throughout all elevations. A molded-brick water table defines the basement level and a brick 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, the gable ends are framed as pediments and contain demilunes openings which were originally windows though some have been replaced by aluminum grilles. The openings are framed with brick arches and keys. Original copper flashing at the eaves and copper downspouts with collector heads have been lost. The main building entrance features a wood doorcase with Ionic columns and entablature. The double wood doors have divided lights and a fixed transom. Above the entablature, the second floor bay has a pedimented window case.

=====Crabtree House 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.

Naming of the building

Named for the popular actress, comedian, and supporter of the University, Charlotte Mignon “Lotta” Crabtree (1847-1924).


  • From the Massachusetts Historical Commission, UMass Amherst Building Survey reports (2009).
  • For additional information, consult the University Archives (RG 36/101).
buildings/c/crabtree.1350583307.txt.gz · Last modified: 2013/12/18 13:25 (external edit)
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