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Harvard to Preserve Historical Integrity of Mass. Hall in Renovations

Massachusetts Hall, which will soon undergo renovations.
Massachusetts Hall, which will soon undergo renovations. By Megan M. Ross
By Yasmin Luthra, Crimson Staff Writer

The Harvard Planning Office is working with the Cambridge Historical Commission on plans to renovate Massachusetts Hall—the University’s oldest building—this summer while still maintaining its historical integrity.

Built in 1720, Mass. Hall has played many roles in both the history of the University and the nation. The building accommodated hundreds of American soldiers during the Revolutionary War, and as a dormitory housed historical figures like John Adams and John Hancock.

The Harvard Planning Office submitted an application for a certificate of appropriateness to the Cambridge Historical Commission on Nov. 14. The Commission granted approval on Jan. 18 with the condition that “masonry and construction details be reviewed with and approved by CHC staff.”

The application laid out plans to restore the building’s Georgian exterior, including refurbishing the masonry, roofing, gutters, and the clock face on the west facade. It also proposed an installation of a new central HVAC system as well as “significant code and life safety upgrades.”

Swathi R. Srinivasan ‘21, a current resident of Mass. Hall, said these renovations are much needed.

“One of the screws on one of the locks got messed up and I was locked into my room and I had to miss part of my class because I couldn’t get out,” she said. “They slipped me a crowbar underneath and I had to pry myself out.”

The University plans to proceed with pre-construction steps to prepare for the project, which will begin in the summer. According to Yard Operations’s email sent to Mass Hall residents, the clock will be removed for off-site restoration work and some exterior brick work will be done from March 10-16.

Originally a dormitory, Mass. Hall was reconfigured for use as a lecture hall in 1870 and was used as such until it was converted back to a dormitory in 1924.

In 1939 it was renovated significantly to house administrative offices, including the University President’s office, with the top floor set aside for student housing.

Due to the building’s storied history and its location in Harvard Yard, any alterations to Mass. Hall fall under the purview of the Cambridge Historical Commission. The Commission, an unelected body of residents appointed by the City Council, must approve all changes to historic buildings in the city.

— Staff writer Yasmin Luthra can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @YasminLuthra.

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