Architects: Louis Warren Ross
The Northeast Residential Area was built in the the years surrounding the Second World War as a major dormitory complex. The ten structures that comprise the area 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:
All continue to serve as dormitories in 2008, except for Arnold House, which was converted into offices in 1966.
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:
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, a member of the College’s class of 1917. Ross was also the primary architect for the major dormitory complex in the Central Residential Area and his 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.
The primary architect for the Northeast complex was Louis Warren Ross, a graduate of MAC (1917) who holds the distinction of designing more campus buildings than any other architect. Ross designed at least seven neo-Georgian buildings of this complex, including Thatcher House (1935), Lewis House (1940), Hamlin House (1949), Knowlton House (1949), Crabtree House (1953), Leach House (1953) and Johnson House (1959). In his 1962 history of the University, Cary suggests that the College was able to pay for the construction of new buildings during the years of the Great Depression thanks to the availability of new forms of financial aid from the Federal government, which supplemented more traditional sources of capital-improvement funding ,such as alumni donations. However, the construction of the Northeast Residential Area dormitories was made possible financially through the efforts of the MSC Building Association, a private group that was led by alumnus Alden C Brett (MAC, 1912) and issued bonds to pay for the costs of the construction. This financing was structured in such a way that the dormitories were leased to the MSC Building Association for 20 years, during which time the rent paid by student occupants was used to pay down the bonds. At the end of the 20-year lease, the bonds were to be fully paid and the dormitories were to revert to the State.
The integrated design of the Northeast Residential Area quadrangle is in the tradition of ambitious campus expansion planning of the 1930s. The most notable example of this kind of campus expansion in the neo-Georgian style during the 1930s may be President Lowell’s House plan for Harvard, which includes Dunster House. The similarity between the gable peak scrollwork at Dunster House (1930) and here at Lewis House (1940) indicates that architect Louis Warren Ross sought to create a consistent but distinctive neo-Georgian architectural vocabulary for the Massachusetts State College campus. The development of the Northeast Residential Area quadrangle is unusual for the consistent use of neo-Georgian over a long period of time, from 1935 through 1959, in order to complete the quadrangle in a unified 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.
Hamlin House and Knowlton House were added to the Northeast Residential complex in 1949, forming the beginning of the eastern edge of the complex. A 1954 oblique aerial photograph shows the buildings in place with no foundation planting and street trees along North Pleasant Street. Later historic photographs show limited foundation planting at the entrances and corners of both buildings. 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 and shows additional foundation planting along Hamlin and Knowlton Houses’ western façades. New vegetation has been added along the western façade of the buildings. Street tree planting shown in historic photographs along North Pleasant Street adjacent to Hamlin, Arnold and Knowlton House is intact, with the addition of a new landscaped seating area the southwest corner of Knowlton House.