Saluting Andover Hall at 100 Years

East view of Andover Hall, pre-1960.

On a Friday morning in early fall 1911, members of both Andover Theological Seminary and Harvard Divinity School gathered in the chapel of the newly built Andover Hall to dedicate the building. One hundred years later, after repairs and additions (and even some subtractions), the building is, in many ways, the centerpiece of life at Harvard Divinity School.

Now in its second century, Andover Hall will undoubtedly endure further transformation in future years. Yet, as one might expect of a historic Harvard building, much about it remains virtually the same. Below is some history of the building and its construction, along with a few highlights about Andover Hall's defining spaces and features.

A Castle in Cambridge

Andover Hall was not originally a Harvard building. It was constructed for Andover Theological Seminary (ATS), at a cost of around $300,000, as a result of a 1906 vote by the trustees of ATS to move the school to Cambridge.

In the fall of 1911, the building was ready for occupancy. According to records, "incorporated in the building was a library wing, with ample stacks for 200,000 books; a large reading room, furnished with a model minister's library as well as reference books; a living room large enough for alumni meetings or receptions; a chapel of generous proportions; offices for the faculty; and rooms for the students."

After a briefly successful attempt to merge the schools, ATS and HDS dissolved their formal educational partnership in 1926. Harvard bought Andover Hall from ATS in 1935.  

Sperry Room

Most people today who think of the Sperry Room today think of a fairly nondescript lecture hall with creaky folding seats and, in warmer months, poor ventilation. But this room was formerly a reading room of the Divinity School library, known as the Moses Stuart Reading Room and equipped with shelving for 6,500 books of reference. The room was converted to a lecture hall when the library building was added in 1961 and was then named for Willard Learoyd Sperry, Dean of the School, 1922-53.

Even though the purpose and design of the room has changed from the original layout, a unique feature of the Sperry Room remains the printers' marks found in the windows in the rear and front of the room. These marks were the trademarks for book printers who were working from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries in Germany, England, Italy, and other parts of Europe.

Unfortunately, there does not appear to be a record indicating who designed the windows. As Frances O'Donnell wrote in January 2005:

the only known document that mentions the windows directly is a letter from Allen & Collens to Albert Parker Fitch, who was president of the faculty of Andover Seminary from 1909 to 1917. This letter, dated October 10, 1910, reads:

"I am enclosing herewith some printers marks, which I wish you would turn over to Dr. Gates, and between yourself and Dr. Gates pick out twenty-four printers marks for the Library windows. I have arranged with the leaded glass contractor to simplify the glazing in the Library windows and in place of the simplification to install a printers mark(s) in the middle of each window. As soon as you have decided on the printers marks, we will bring the matter up before Mr. Whittemore and get the approval of the Building Committee for the mark selected."

The "Dr. Gates" of the letter was Owen Gates, a former librarian at Andover and the first librarian of the combined library. William Whittemore was the treasurer of Andover Seminary and evidently a member of the building committee for Andover Hall.

Braun Room

Until the late 1950s, the common room located at the northern end of Andover was known as the Farrar Room. William J. Braun, STB '57, paid for the redecoration of the room while he was a student. The room is named in memory of his grandfather, the Rev. Samuel J. Braun, who was a successful businessman and a minister of the Apostolic Christian Church.

Just inside the door of the room is a plaque with the following words: "Braun Common Room – In the Year of Our Lord 1956 this room was refinished to the Glory of God and in loving memory of Reverend Samuel John Braun, 1856-1938, Leader of Men, Preacher of Christ, by his grandson, William J. Braun, student of HDS for the enhancing of the community life of the School."

Many who visit the Braun Room ask about the shields emblazoned on the windows of the east and west oriels. There are eight shields in total, four in the west oriel—of Oxford, Cambridge, Leyden, and Harvard—and four in the east oriel—of Yale, Dartmouth, Amherst, and Williams College.

Today, seven portraits hang in the room. They are of Constance Buchanan, Francis Parkman, Margaret Miles, the Rev. Samuel J. Braun, Douglas Horton, George Foot Mason, and, the most recent addition, Preston Williams.

The room was originally designed as a social space for students, and today it is used for a variety of purposes, ranging from hosting faculty and staff meetings to serving as a function space for weekly Community Tea and special receptions.


In the basement of Andover Hall, near a bay of computers located by the elevator, there is located a curious sight: biblical scenes whimsically painted on the walls. First appearing in 1956-57, they were the creation of Laurence H. Scott, who was a graduate student not of divinity, but of art. Scott was living in Andover Hall at the time, and he painted small panels representing various biblical stories on one wall and a large mural of Noah and his animals on the opposite wall.

Included among the smaller panels are scenes of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego standing in a furnace; David playing his harp for King Saul; and Absalom getting his hair tangled on a tree branch.      

The scenes, however, have begun to show their age. As Kit Dodgson wrote in 2005: "[The murals] have been carefully painted around and deliberately smeared, they've faded with time and been sporadically (and amateurishly) touched up. They've lost bits as plaster has dried and cracked and fallen away, and they've been partially covered up by building improvements."   

Though most people find the paintings charming—perhaps believing them to be the work of a child of a faculty member—not everyone has found them endearing. The May 1971 issue of Harvard Divinity Bulletin notes that they "offended at least one divinity student who doused the ark picture with a bucket of water."

If You Look Closely …

Directly beneath the parapet on the exterior of Andover's central tower (the "Founders' Tower," as it was originally called) are carved the faces of the "four evangelists": Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The four heads that support the cross-beams in the main foyer are those of Dante, Michelangelo, Johann Sebastian Bach, and John Milton. On either side of the main tower door on the western terrace are the seals of the University of Geneva and the University of Leyden.

Harvard's Only Gothic Building

As the Rev. Peter J. Gomes wrote in Foundation for a Learned Ministry, Andover Hall "with its front door facing firmly east and giving its rear to Harvard, was meant to stake a claim to a singular and continuing identity."

But the decision to build a Gothic-style building was mostly a practical one. According to building records, the original drawings for a new building were actually for a structure in the Colonial style, similar to Divinity Hall. But the Building Committee discovered that, if the Colonial style were pursued, at least three separate buildings would have to be erected to accommodate all the needs, thus dramatically increasing both the total cost of construction and future maintenance.

Andover Theological Seminary wanted a building that would combine several different purposes under one roof. Separately, those buildings would be: the library; the reading room (once the Moses Stuart Reading Room and now known as the Sperry Room); and the main building and Founders' Tower, which would hold lecture rooms, dormitories for a dozen or so students, a chapel, offices, and faculty studies. Since a Gothic design permits an irregular roof line and "varied fenestration," the Collegiate Gothic style was chosen.

Andover-Harvard Theological Library

By 1852, HDS's library collection totaled only 3,500 volumes, but its collection grew rapidly, thanks to the generous gifts of faculty and alumni. The first HDS library building was constructed in 1886-87 near Divinity Hall. That building still stands, at 20 Divinity Avenue, and today is part of the Harvard University Herbaria.

In April 1910, while Andover Hall was still under construction, an agreement between HDS and ATS for a new combined library was approved, and Andover-Harvard Theological Library was thus established.

The library was first expanded in 1960-61, with a two-story addition and with a provision for two more stories. The new section was constructed of a slightly pinker shade of granite.

On November 30, 2001, 300 people gathered to celebrate the completion of the renovation and expansion of the library. This long-anticipated project cost about $11 million and involved the creative displacement of books, periodicals, and staff during the entire 2000-01 academic year. During a champagne reception, visitors explored the new reaches of the library's four floors. The renovation provided improvements in traditional services and enhanced technological facilities and information systems.

The architect's signature stone can still be found by the door to what used to be the main library entrance, at the rear of Andover Hall, to the right of the main entrance.

"I had seen Andover Hall from the outside when I was in college," says research librarian Cliff Wunderlich. "We all converged during spring break up here in Cambridge. I did a lot of wandering around the Harvard campus. I never thought that this building was going to be part of me for a while. I look up sometimes and can’t believe I work in a place like this."    

Today, Andover-Harvard Theological Library is used by scholars from around the world, and its collection contains more than 500,000 volumes, while annually acquiring roughly 5,000 new titles. The library hosted a centennial celebration event in October 2011.

Andover Chapel

Andover Chapel is one of the most visually appealing chapel spaces at Harvard. It is finished in dark English oak with a quartered oak roof and trusses; its walls are made of gray limestone. The windows for the chapel were made by the firm of James Powell and Sons—also known as Whitefriars Glass—London, and are painted to resemble the thirteenth- and fourteenth-century glass of English cathedrals.

The original organ was made by Ernest M. Skinner, one of the most prominent organ builders of the early twentieth century. Skinner's organ factory was located in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood. The organ, which is part of the building's structure—can easily go unnoticed, as it sits discreetly to the far right of the front of the chapel. Because of mechanical problems, it has gone unused for years, and a temporary organ is played in its place.

For many members of the community, the chapel is a space of contemplative reflection. For others, it can be a place of refuge, both spiritually and physically. The academic year 1968-69 began with a 39-hour occupation of the chapel in Andover Hall, when students gave symbolic sanctuary to an AWOL U.S. marine, and ended in the spring with the University-wide student strike.

Today, the chapel is a busy place. During the semester, sitting meditations are held there, and various fitness, dance, and singing groups meet in the space. The annual Billings Preaching Competition Final takes place in the chapel in April and draws a standing-room-only crowd. Noon Service, a regular opportunity for religious and spiritual practice, is also held in the chapel each week.

"When I look at a building, the bricks and mortar are incidental," says Ralph DeFlorio, director of operations at HDS. "It's really the things that happen within the building that make it special. And what a unique thing that, in the middle of the week, in the middle of the day, you can have a Noon Service that people feel inspired by."

What's Next?

Unlike the regularly tweaked Fenway Park—another well-known building in the Boston area that recently celebrated its centennial—Andover Hall hasn't been renovated in decades. It does not have central air conditioning, and it lacks many modern amenities. As spring semester ramps up and the warm weather clamps down, classrooms, offices, and the Sperry Room can feel like a sauna.

The HDS operations team is overseeing a five-year project of repairs and maintenance that started in 2010. The work, however, only takes place during a 10-week period in the summer to avoid disrupting classes.

There are a number of ways the building will need to be modernized to enhance accessibility and efficiency. According to DeFlorio, discussions have begun with both architectural consultants and members of the HDS community about a renovation plan for Andover Hall. But, DeFlorio says, a large-scale plan is still many years away. There are some things, however, such as classrooms, that can't wait that long to be modified.

Less apparent than the need for improvements to the building, but just as important, are the financial demands that come with a large-scale renovation project. A significant fundraising effort would need to take place, and the School would count more than ever on the support of alumni and friends of HDS to help ensure that Andover Hall is suitable for multireligious education in the twenty-first century.

"I think a renovation of Andover Hall would transform the School," DeFlorio says, "because it would give us a center of gravity we don't have. It would give us accessibility comfort and would create a better teaching and learning environment."