Table of Contents
Architects: Louis Warren Ross
Design and construction
Skinner Hall is a three-story brick Georgian Revival building with a porticoed entry facing west onto North Pleasant Street. The building was originally “C”-shaped, with a central section with a gabled roof running north-south, and a north and south wing which had a flat roof and was oriented along east-west axes. In 2006, the center of the “C” was infilled with an addition along with a north-south section of building that now forms the build’s eastern edge and the interior of the building was completely renovated. The brickwork on the building is a common bond with 6th course Flemish headers. A projecting limestone water table is located at the main entry floor level and continues around the original portion of the building. Both the wall below the water table and the two floors above are brick. Portions of the concrete foundation wall are exposed to view at the lowest level.
The center portion of the original building is seven bays wide with the center five bays below the pediment projecting proud of the two side bays. Above the side bays, the central section of the building has roof balustrades that extend between the gable parapet wall which forms the north and south extents of the central section, and the pediment. Behind these balustrades a leadcoated copper sheet metal roof rises up to a north-south ridge. At either end of the ridge are massive brick chimneys which were designed to appear as four-flue chimneys. These chimneys have grilles and actually serve as chases for the building’s mechanical system. Behind both the north and south roof balustrade there is a small round topped attic dormer with roundel window.
The five-bay wide central pediment has painted wood horizontal and raking cornices with applied dentils and a brick tympanum with a tri-partite semi-circular window which includes two fixed side widows and a central double-hung window with brick arch and limestone keystone above. The horizontal cornice extends from the pediment to the edges of the center section of building.
The main entry door, located at the second level in the center of the west façade is a modern glass door recessed into the original painted wood Ionic portico with a broken scroll pediment with pineapple urn.
The north wing is a simple rectangular block that is four bays wide on the western façade and nine bays wide on the northern façade with a flat roof. A simplified painted wood cornice continues the line of the cornice at the front façade. There is a modern entry door located at the third bay from the northwest corner that allows access at grade to the lower floor level. The south wing is a mirror image of the north wing with the exception of a modern projecting bay which has been constructed at the southeast corner of the lower level.
All of the original windows have been replaced with new double-hung aluminum windows except at the two windows at each side of the main entry door where the original window sill level has been lowered to the water table and single fixed light glazing installed, and at the three windows above which have single fixed light glazing in the original window openings. The window openings retain their original jack arch lintels and limestone sills.
Skinner Hall was constructed in 1948 along North Pleasant Street and was the first structure designed specifically for the School of Home Economics. The building was designed by architect Louis Warren Ross, who was a member of the College’s class of 1917. Ross was an active alumnus and a member of the institution’s UMASS alumni corporation which formed in the mid 1930s. From that time until the early 1960s, Ross was the most prolific architect of the campus. He 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 included the 1956 Student Union, which was designed in a more contemporary modern style.
Excepting the Student Union, Skinner Hall is the only non-residential structure Ross designed for the campus. The commission occurred during Ross’s initial work for the Central and Northeast Residential Districts. Although initially planned for male dormitories, the Northeast district was re-designated for female housing. As admissions increased at the School of Home Economics during the waning years of WWII, the need for a new facility became apparent, and a site convenient to the female housing district was chosen. Notably, Skinner Hall was the first academic structure to be built on campus since 1939 and the beginning of the war.
At the time of construction, the building site on North Pleasant Street retained much of its original character since the planting of the elm allée in the early decades of the century. The building was sited at the top of a small embankment and vertically reinforced the campus’s primary circulation corridor.
Although constructed of concrete and steel, the classroom and laboratory building continued the use of mostly Georgian Revival architectural details, previously employed in Ross’s designs for residential buildings. The style had taken on greater significance in this period following the initial restoration of historic Williamsburg, Virginia.
The building was substantially altered during its rehabilitation in 2006. The interior was completely gutted, and the original divided light wood sash windows were replaced with conventional fixed and double-hung sash. A significant addition in-filled the building’s original rear court. Changes in grading to accommodate universal access on the western side of the building also required filling at the building’s front façade, resulting in the removal of the historic entry steps, removal of historic high shrub planting flanking the main entrance, and construction of a retaining wall. The lawn to the west of the building includes new pedestrian circulation routes that do not match historic circulation patterns.
The building is neighbored to the south by the Morrill Science Complex, to the north by the Integrated Sciences Building and to the east by the Life Science Laboratories.
Naming of the building
The building was named for Edna Lucy Skinner, Professor and Adviser of Women 1919-1946; First Dean of the School of Home Economics 1945-1946.
- From the Massachusetts Historical Commission, UMass Amherst Building Survey reports (2009).
- See also the Papers of Hugh P. Baker, Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives, UMass Amherst (RG 3/1 B35)