Lowell House, Harvard College

  • <p>Independence Hall, Philadelphia</p>

Lowell House

Coolidge Shepley Bulfinch and Abbott, 1930

Harleston Parker Medal, 1935

A Harvard alumnus who shared President Lowell’s vision for residential colleges had been carefully acquiring land between the campus and the Charles, and he donated this large parcel to site these new buildings. The damming of the Charles in 1910 had transformed the river from a smelly, tidal, commercial waterway to what is essentially a pastoral freshwater lake, and Harvard took full advantage.

Coolidge Shepley Bulfinch and Abbott designed the first "river houses" – Lowell, Dunster, and Eliot – in high neo-Georgian style. Dormers, chimneys, cupolas and acres of red brick fill the gap between Harvard Yard and the river, looking across to the nascent HBS and giving Harvard’s Georgian “brand” a dominant presence across the campus. The architects integrated references to the old campus, particularly the distinctive pediment and scrollwork of Holden Chapel, in their designs.

Lowell’s tower was modeled on Independence Hall in Philadelphia (see photo), and was originally meant to house a clock. Just before construction started, Chicago plumbing magnate Charles R. Crane (namesake of Crane Beach on the North Shore) donated a set of eighteen authentic Russian zvon, one of few complete sets of pre-revolutionary Russian bells surviving anywhere. With Crane's gift, the planned tower was changed to the blue-capped bell tower seen today. Their chime, “a blend of dirge, railroad-crossing clangor, and shattering wine goblet” results in “a disharmonious sweetness that assails the ears, and, once inside, makes a beeline for the heart” according to Michael Wines, as quoted by Shand-Tucci. In 2008, the bells were returned to the Russian Orthodox monastery where they originated and were replaced here by replicas.

Source: “Harvard University,” Shand-Tucci, 2001