Table of Contents
Van Meter Hall
Architects: Louis Warren Ross
Design and construction
Van Meter is an approximately 86,000 square foot student residence hall on the Amherst campus of the University of Massachusetts. The building is one of nine structures that comprise the Central Residential Area. All nine buildings were designed and constructed between 1940 and 1963, and sited according to a Beaux-Arts formal plan. Van Meter House was completed in 1957 and along with Wheeler, was one of the final buildings to define the residential district.
Seven of these buildings (Butterfield, Brooks, Van Meter, Greenough, Chadbourne, Baker, and New Africa) were uniformly designed in Georgian Revival style. Wheeler and Brett, which are both sited at the bottom of the hill and constructed last, are less ornate structures and have subtle Art-Deco details. All buildings continue to serve as dormitories in 2008.
The main planning axis of the Central Residential Area is perpendicular to the ridgeline of Clark Hill and extends northeast to southwest. The axis is defined by the center of Van Meter and Baker Houses, with the remaining dormitories sited to the north and south. The bilateral symmetry and duplication of building footprints and appearance only deviates with the location of Butterfield House and the design of Brett House. The spatial relationship of the planning axis is visually reinforced by the central block and cupola of Van Meter House. The steep grade of the overall site was graded to create narrow terraces between the individual structures.
The rectangular building includes two 4 ½-story wings linked by a wider 5 ½-story central block. The central block is 5 bays wide with a hip roof and regularly-spaced dormer windows. The north and south blocks are each 14 bays wide and 3 bays deep. Each wing includes a cross gable and façade projection at the 3rd-5th bays. Both wings have attic levels with regularly-spaced demilune louvers. The basement level is partially exposed at the west elevation due to the steeply sloped site. The commonbond brick pattern is used throughout all elevations, with a limestone beltcourse at the top of the first floor level. All windows are wood, as well as the cornice defining the roofline and the gable peaks. Copper downspouts include decorative collector heads.
The façade includes a window pattern of primarily double-hung sash. The basement through third floor levels of the building wings have 8/16 double-hung sash. These also occur on the 4th floor of the central block. The 4th floor wings and 5th floor block all have 8/8 double-hung sash. The top level of the central block has 6/6 double-hung sash within dormers. Circular 9-panel windows are located at the attic level of the gable ends.
At the long elevations, façade embellishments also include window groupings and projecting bays. On the west elevation of the central block, the three central bays are unified with wood paneled spandrels. Beneath these, a deep 5-sided, wood-framed bay unifies the first floor and basement levels, and is topped with a decorative wrought-iron railing. At the wings, windows at the central bay of the cross gable are also unified with wood paneling and a wrought-iron balcony railing. This façade pattern is continued at the east elevation with the following distinctions. The window of the central block is limited to one bay and only projects slightly to unify the first and second floors. Above, a pitched copper roof is connected to a decorative wood window case. Beneath the bay window and its wrought-iron balcony, the main building entrance is detailed with a rusticated wood casework. At the wings, the 2nd floor window at the central bay of the cross gable has a wrought-iron balcony and is framed with a decorative wood casework and pediment. A similar detail occurs at the central bay of the north and south elevations.
In addition to the main entrance at the center of the east elevation, two additional entrances occur at the north and south wings. Six entrances are located at the first basement level of the west elevation north and south wings. All entrances feature decorative wood casework.
The most prominent aspect of the building is the copper-domed wood lantern and cupola, with surrounding widows walk. These features accentuate the highest point of Clark Hill and are a focal point of the larger campus. The building site is located to the north of Clark Hill Road and the east of Chancellor’s Way atop a steep hill with limited views of the campus below. Access to the Van Meter House is provided by a bituminous concrete vehicular drive with a bituminous concrete curb off of Clark Hill Road. Parking is provided along the east side of the drive. A bituminous concrete pedestrian walk borders the west side of the drive. The landscape along the east side of the foundation of the building features deciduous trees and perennials. Near the parking lot, vegetation includes a mixture of deciduous and evergreen trees with scattered stone boulders.
The landscape on the west side of the building features mown lawn with deciduous trees and high evergreen shrubs and overlooks the campus. Site furnishings include pole lights around the building and a stockade fence.
Naming of the building
Van Meter House was named for Ralph Albert Van Meter (1893-1958), president of the University of Massachusetts from 1948 to 1954.
- From the Massachusetts Historical Commission, UMass Amherst Building Survey reports (2009).
- See also the Papers of Ralph Van Meter, Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives, UMass Amherst (RG 3/1 V36)