Things to Come: A Renewal Photo Album

Adams House Renewal: A Primer

Part of the elevation of the C-entry tower from the original 1931 plans for Adams House.

Back in April I had the privilege of sitting down with my friend Merle Bicknell, Assistant Dean for Physical Resources, and the architects of Beyer Blinder Belle, the visionaries who will be shepherding Adams House through the Renewal Project. I’m guessing (strike that, I know) that Merle had some trepidation about the meeting, because I have been a very vocal critic of the restoration work that has gone on at Quincy and Dunster over the past few years, having bent her ear on the subject over many occasions. I wanted to make sure that the architects understood that we consider Adams to be a sacred space and not to be lightly trifled with. On that account, I needn’t have worried, as the architects have done their homework. I’ll let the accompanying photo essay speak for itself. The excellent captions were supplied by architect Nate Rogers (who thankfully is a Harvard College graduate, something I would have considered a sine qua non for the earlier restorations, but alas no).

Rather than supplementing his comments, I will focus on some of the important takeaways from our meeting, which are not apparent from the illustrations.

The most important thing to understand about House Renewal is that fire safety codes have changed drastically since Adams was last renovated in the ’80s. Fire escapes are no longer considered viable egress, for instance, and if a building is to receive renovations above a very modest threshold, rooms need to be provided with two means of internal exit.

The second major factor is the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) which mandates that all portions of new-built or newly renovated structures be made fully accessible. Few of us without mobility issues have given much thought to the fact, for instance, that to enter the Dining Hall from the main Adams entrance requires negociating three separate stair sets. Accessibility will need to be addressed throughout the renovations, and like the fire code, will force certain solutions.

So here is a short summary of the proposed renovations, building by building:

Claverly Hall

Clavery (1893) is fortunate in that its horizontal floor plan already provides for decent accessibility throughout the building. The current suite layout will remain essentially the same, with installation of two new elevators and an additional fire exit at the base of the current main stairs. Of course, there will be entirely new systems – plumbing, lighting, heating, and electrical throughout. (The same is true for all the other buildings, including the much-awaited installation of AC in all public rooms.) Major changes come to the back of the ground floor, which is currently something of a rat-warren of rooms occupied by various clubs, and includes the old Clavery tank, or pool. These are scheduled to be reworked to feature an elegant set of multi-function spaces. A new entrance will also be provided to provide quicker access across Linden Street to Randolph Hall.

The 1931 rendering showing the proposed New Russell (c-entry)

Randolph Hall

Randolph (1897) is the most complicated of all Adams’ buildings from a renovation perspective because of its ornate Flemish Revival architecture and vertical entryways. While the ground floor and Mt Auburn grand staircase will remain essentially unchanged, the upper floors will undergo considerable renovations that will largely reconfigure the layout of the existing suites. Current plans call for the preservation of the unique elliptical staircases, but would insert horizontal corridors along the interior walls of the courtyard to provide equal access to rooms. Space thus lost will be partially reclaimed by the removal of internal flue structures (as will happen everywhere) and the rerouting of current plumbing and electrical lines. To date, precise plans for this work have not been publicly released.

C-Entry, Common Rooms and Library

The C-entry building (New Russell), which was a last-minute add-on in 1932, will be completely reworked. While the main entrance will be carefully preserved, the existing dormitory spaces will be reconfigured to provide new dining, office and housing space. The Lower and Upper Common Rooms, Gold Room and Library from 1931 will be restored and provided with much needed service updates. A new elevator built into the current conservatory space will service these areas for the first time.

The Dining Hall

Perhaps the most remarkable of all the proposed changes come to the 1931 Dining Hall, which will receive an entirely revised seating configuration. In addition to a brand new servery and food prep area, the small dining room, which was formerly a coat room and a latrine, will return to those functions, and additional seating in the main space will be gained by glassing the current garden space, converting the large west facing windows into French doors, and merging the adjacent ground floor rooms in C-entry into a secondary dining area. (Full disclosure: I protested the loss of Adams’ only outdoor dining space and requested a re-thinking of how that roof might be made at least partially retractable. We are the only House that has nowhere to eat outside on a nice day.) The historic wood paneling and floors of the Dining Hall, much worn, will be restored to their 1930s glory, and the tacky ’70s lowered ceiling will be replaced with plaster. The light domes too, will be restored, but most interestingly, current plans call for the construction of a second floor above the Dining Hall, which will be accessed from Westmorly and the new Library elevator, and will serve as a new social/conference/meeting space.  This new floor would not be visible from the dining area below and minimally visible from the street, the later due to set backs required by the Cambridge Historical Commission. These plans are still in the formulate stage and will require various regulatory approvals before construction.

Details of the intricate wood and plaster ceiling of A-entry from the original Warren and Wetmore plans.

Westmorly Court

Westmorly, built between 1898 and 1902, presents similar problems to those of Randolph though less severe, as it already possesses a horizontal floor plan. However, due to fire safety and ADA restrictions, new linking hallways will be required on the upper floors that will essentially reconfigure existing suites on the west and east facades of the building. The FDR Suite, along with its beloved fireplace, will be carefully preserved, and the ghastly sprinkler system that now disfigures many of the rooms and hallways will be hidden. The pool theater is set for perhaps the most dramatic of makeovers, which are detailed in the photo essay. Again, these plans have not been finalized.

The Tunnels

At this point it is unclear how much of the tunnel artwork can be preserved. Current plans call for the photo documentation of all the tunnel panels before construction begins.

In Sum

The architects stressed again and again that throughout all Adams buildings, utmost effort will be exercised to preserve existing architectural features. Where it is impossible to preserve elements in situ, they will be reused in other parts of the buildings. I made the comment—and the architects concurred— that one of the things that makes Adams unique is that each of the buildings has a very distinct character, and it is essential that this distinctness be preserved. One of the criticisms voiced about the previous House restorations is that a heavy-handed modernist hotel style was utilized throughout, already appears passé and has no connection with Harvard. I was again assured that this will not be the case for Adams (and in all fairness, our renovation is the work of an entirely different architectural firm).

So there you have it, my fellow Adamsians. We are about to be launched into the sea of Renewal, albeit with some trepidation. Rest assured however that I and a group of interested Adams alumni , along with our Faculty Deans, and Dean Bicknell, will be monitoring the process and doing our utmost to guide the good ship Adams to a safe harbor.

Gold Coasting

 “A film sketch of life in a Harvard House”, the 1953 Gold Coasting by Nelson Galassi ’53, was long considered lost to the public, as only a negative without sound was preserved in the Harvard Archives. But thanks to diligent efforts by the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Foundation and the wonderful generosity of Joel Mandelbaum ’53, the composer of the original music score, the film has been restored. Using his original notes and prodigious memory, Dr. Mandelbaum, professor emeritus at Queens College, CUNY, re-scored the film and then organized student musicians and vocalists to re-record the soundtrack. With his marvelous efforts an invaluable piece of Adams House history has been rejuvenated and preserved.

Below is a a conversation I had with Joel Mandelbaum ’53 discussing his soundtrack.

MW: First of all, Joel, I want to thank you for your magnificent dedication in restoring the soundtrack for the film Gold Coasting. Had I known the complexity of what I was asking when we first hatched this idea five years ago, I don’t think I would have had the bravado to have made the request.

JM: Actually, Michael, I was glad to do it. In fact, I didn’t prod you too much to find the original score because I was looking forward to having a go at this.

MW: Really? In all fairness, we DID search high and low for the actual soundtrack before asking you to take this on. Nelson Galassi, the writer and director, didn’t have a copy. Nor did the Harvard Archives; only the silent film. We queried everyone we could find, but to no avail. The music, which you recorded post-production, was officially declared lost.
But we’re ahead of ourselves. Let’s start at the beginning: tell me a bit about how you became involved with writing the music for Gold Coasting.

JM: It was all the creation of Nelson Degassi. He was in the House and the Vice President of Ivy Films…

MW: Ivy Films? Was that some sort of student organization?

JM: Yes, a very active one. They produced quite a number of original films every year, and Nelson Dagassi was very much involved. He had this idea to do a short about Adams House…

MW: So, essentially, he just came to you one day and asked you to write the score?

JM: Pretty much. I was a music concentrator, and had written a cantata about Adams House for the Glee Club in my sophomore year. He knew about that, and asked me if I would be interested in writing for the film. It was a departure from what I was doing — I was in the middle of writing a concerto — but it seemed like a fun project, so I agreed.

MW: Being non-musical myself, I can’t imagine how you would even begin such an undertaking.

JM: Well, as I said, I had written the cantata, which provided the frame and fit nicely into some of the scenes. The fight song, for instance, worked well for the opening and credits, the “good food” song for the dining hall sequence, etc. Then it was just a question of writing the linking passages.

MW: I really think the score is fantastic, Joel: it goes from the lyrical — I’m referring particularly to some of the marvelous solo bassoon parts — to the downright jaunty, à la Gilbert and Sullivan.

The 1953 world premiere of Gold Coasting

JM: (Smiling) I’ve been a Gilbert and Sullivan fan all of my life, so if you hear a resonance of Gilbert and Sullivan there, I’m pleased. The bassoon part you mention was due to the fact that one of my great friends was an incredibly talented bassoonist and I wanted to give the part full range.

MW: And then there is that amusingly honky-tonk music for the formal dance. Do I sense something of a parody there?

JM: (Sounding a bit sheepish) Yes, there’s a story behind that…

MW: Go on….

JM: I had written a little ditty with ribald lyrics as a joke for my friends. They of course recognized the tune when they heard it in the film…

MW: How ribald? This is the early ’50s after all, it can’t be that indecorous. Can we know the lyrics?

JM: (Smiling) Absolutely not, and I want a promise from you not to go digging for them.

MW: (Laughing) So sworn!  But I can pretty much guarantee you they are safely lost to posterity.
Music aside for a moment, it’s really remarkable how in watching this now, you get a sense of pent-up sexual angst. It’s almost palpable.

JM: (Simply) Of course.

MW: Of course?

JM: Yes, of course. You know one of the songs from my Adams House Cantata is about why Adams House was so popular then. It had to do with location  — and all those doors! It goes:

For the greatest delight,

Just try starting your night at an Adams House dance,

Everything will go right

What a place to entertain your girl!


MW: (Laughing) Indeed! As a classicist, I can assure you that the Romans didn’t call those single narrow entrances to their houses fauces, “jaws,” for nothing! How the residents of Kirkland or Lowell must have envied you! Speaking of that: There is a scene I don’t fully understand. At 11:40 a man in uniform enters a room and hands the occupant a paper. It looks like a citation. A violation of the parietal rules?

JM: That’s what I think it was, too. Though I never saw a uniformed man giving a notices like that, but then again, I never violated those rules.

MW: Seriously? Just between us… Never?

Harvard’s 1952 Parietal Rules

JM: Nope. (Pause, sensing my disappointment)
Sorry! (Laughing)
They were very serious about those rules, and no one I know ever violated them. But then again, there was really no reason to disobey them, because if you were determined, you had plenty of opportunity to get up to “whatever” during official visiting hours, so to speak; there was no reason to risk anything after hours — despite what you see in the film plot.

MW: (Smiling) I see… creative license!  Getting back to the music. How long did it take to record the score?

JM: Originally? I really don’t remember. This time, we spent three hours in the studio with our undergraduates [of Queens College] and then a number of hours of post-production. The musicians and vocalists were very talented. The hardest part was getting my arms to last through conducting all those speed-ups and slow-downs. Quite a feat at my age!

MW: How did you even go about restoring the score? Had you kept the music all this time?

JM: No, only my notes.

MW: Saving notes for 60 plus years, that’s amazing!

JM: (Laughing) I’m a pack rat. So, for this go-around, I had a large portion of the original score preserved. The major difference between the original score and the new soundtrack is that the linking passages were originally for solo piano or piano and violin, and now they are scored for orchestra.

MW: Well the result is nothing short of spectacular. It brings a long-lost piece of Adams history back to life. Tell me, Joel, in going back to something you wrote 65 years ago, what were your impressions? After all, you’ve had an immensely successful career composing and teaching music. How do you think your young self measured up?

JM: Reasonably well. That is to say, I didn’t feel the need to alter anything significantly. Of course, there was a touch of careless craft here and there: we did the project fairly casually, never suspecting that we’d be discussing it six decades later.

MW: Yes, 66 years in fact! The black and white images on film are so much of a lost age — completely different in almost every way from the Harvard undergraduate experience of today, and as such, really requiring a bit of imagination to interpret even for someone like me who arrived on the scene just 30 years later, and even more so for our current students 30 years on again. But what struck me is how your music alters those dated images — and how  the music, in contrast to the pictures, has not aged.  When I first saw this film without sound, it was intriguing, but lifeless. Now, thanks to you, Gold Coasting is alive again.

JM: That’s very kind of you to say that.

MW: On behalf of Adams House and the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Foundation, I can’t thank you enough, Joel.

JM: It was my pleasure, Michael.

Letter from Cambridge: Changing of the Guard

When I first came up with the idea of starting an Adams House alumni magazine 8 years ago, there were the usual number of nay-sayers. “Oh, there will never be enough content to sustain it.” “How many people will read the thing, anyway?” “Who is going to staff it for free?” The answers to those questions proved to be, in order of asking: “we have access to almost unlimited content as there are 400 talented new Adamsians every year”; “some 6000 readers annually”; and finally, “there will always be dedicated alumni willing to volunteer.”  This last has thankfully proved to be the case, as Sean Lynn-Jones (tutor ’84-’92), Claire Mays ’81, and Christopher Alessandrini ’15 have given immense amounts of their time and energy to produce past issues. Still, I remained the nexus, and that was problematic, for as the Foundation has grown exponentially in size and programming, my ability to juggle so many balls became compromised, and last year we didn’t get out our 2017 annual issue, which was entirely my fault.

Our new managing editor, Santiago Pardo Sanchez

Fortunately, the cavalry has come to the rescue in the form of Santiago Pardo Sanchez ’16. We first met Santiago way back in the Autumn 2013 issue, when he was profiled as an up-and-coming sophomore. Since then he’s graduated with honors, completed a Peace Corps assignment in Vanuatu, and now is eying Marco Rubio’s senate seat. (In a few years’ time, of course.) Meanwhile, he has volunteered to become our managing editor, promising to breathe new life and new features into the Gold Coaster. I can think of no one more capable. An avid student of the late Roman world, Santiago was Adams House Committee chair in 2015, and while in that capacity organized and catalogued the extensive Adams House Archives, in addition to working assiduously to restore the Adams Library book system to its 1930s glory. I am honored to call him a friend, and truly delighted to place the management of the Gold Coaster in such knowledgeable hands, as no one is more familiar with Adams than he. I’ll still retain the title of editor in chief, but I fully expect that role to become one of an advising, contributing, and almost certainly, applauding nature, as future issues appear.

So, my dear fellow Adamsians, to the changing of the guard: I give you Santiago Pardo Sanchez!

Take it away, Santiago!  

The Class of ’92 Returns to Adams and Learns Five New Golden Rules

On May 27, 2017, members of the Adams House class of ‘92 returned to celebrate their twenty-fifth reunion. Not content to mark the occasion with their classmates at solely the various events held by the College, the Adamsians organized their own activities in Adams House and elsewhere. The plan was initiated over dinner in New York by Jenny Davidson, Linda Rattner, and Tanya Selvaratnam, who then reached out to their classmates via Facebook. The result was a series of special celebrations by a special class.

The Adams House class of ‘92 stands out in many ways. It was the last class to enter Adams under the “ordered choice” House assignment lottery in which freshmen listed three Houses in order of preference and were assigned in a way that maximized the number of students who received their first choice—and sent many of those who didn’t to the Quad. Adams was thus the first choice of almost all of the students in its class of ‘92 when they entered the House as sophomores in the fall of 1989. The following year, Harvard assigned freshmen to Houses on the basis of “non-ordered choice.” That system, which had each rising sophomore list four Houses without indicating an order of preference and then randomly assigned the student to one of the choices, began the slide down the slippery slope to completely random assignment, which was implemented in the spring of 1996.

The Adamsians of ‘92 also were the last class to have the opportunity to swim in the legendary Adams House pool before it closed forever in 1990. They could enjoy the watery monument to luxurious decadence during their sophomore year. By all accounts, members of the class of ‘92 were especially active in the pool. They organized the “Bungle in the Jungle” party that culminated in the “party to end all pool parties.” Reportedly, the class of ’92 was particularly well represented among the dozens of nude swimmers encountered by Senior Tutor Janet Viggiani at that event in the wee hours of March 18, 1990. (For more on these events and the Adams pool more generally)

The class of ‘92 left a lasting legacy at Adams. The two Foo Dogs (actually Chinese guardian lions) that continue to adorn the Dining Hall arrived at Adams thanks to Thomas Lauderdale ‘92. Thomas, representing the House Committee, saw the Foo Dogs in a long-since-closed Newbury Street shop known as Gargoyles, Grotesques, and Chimera and instantly decided that buying the Foo Dogs would be the best possible use of House Committee funds.

The Class of 92 in the Lower Common Room

The Class of 92 in the Lower Common Room

The returning Adamsians assembled this year in the Lower Common Room in the early afternoon of May 27 for a “choco-holiday” reception featuring Burdick’s chocolate provided by Jenny Davidson. Beloved former Adams Masters Robert and Jana Kiely were honored guests, much to the delight of the alumni. Tanya Selvaratnam recalled the impact of the Kielys on the class of ‘92: “We were the misfits who did good, in part because the Kielys encouraged us to take risks and be as creative as we could be.”

Master Robert Kiely welcomed the class of ‘92 and took the opportunity to tell them about the five “rules” he had learned while spending twenty-six years with Adamsians.

Rule Number One: “Never ask for permission unless you absolutely have to.”

Master Kiely recounted the example of how students came to him with a plan to paint the tunnels that connect the various buildings of Adams House. He loved the idea, but knew that it would violate the Harvard rule that common spaces could not be decorated without the approval of a dean. Kiely thus decided the best approach would be not to ask for permission. Students painted during a January weekend when the House superintendent was away. The painted tunnels were thus a fait accompli, and even the superintendent learned to like the paintings.

Prof. Kiely shares his five rules in the Lower Common Room

Rule Number Two: “Don’t worry about going over budget if you know the boss can pay.”

Master Kiely’s prime example of this rule in practice was the Adams House meal pool, the fund that the College provided for members of the Senior Common Room and guests to eat in the Dining Hall. Kiely never hesitated to add to the list of people entitled to free food, despite the complaints from Harvard’s administrators. (Your reporter learned to follow this rule, too, by submitting receipts to get reimbursed for lavish entry parties that featured champagne and caviar, among other things.)

Rule Number Three: “Don’t ever turn down an invitation to preside at a wedding.”

With pride, Kiely recalled how he had been invited to conduct a commitment ceremony for two women at the Hasty Pudding.

Rule Number Four: “Don’t think you own the place.”

Master Kiely related the story of how while he and Jana were living in Apthorp House, some Apthorps from Ohio came to look for East Apthorp’s original belongings in the house.

Rule Number Five: “Don’t leave the party until you’re sure it’s over.”

The class of ’92 explores the Pool Theater

Appropriately enough, given that he was speaking to the last class to enter Adams under the ordered-choice lottery system, Master Kiely cited the example of how he waged a long, albeit ultimately unsuccessful battle against randomization before stepping down as Master.

The returning Adamsians found signs of continuity and change in the House. Several were pleasantly surprised to see that their paintings on the walls of the Adams tunnels were still there. They saw much evidence of change when they visited the former pool and the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Suite in B-entry, both of which were open for tours during the mini-reunion.

As the class of ‘92 walked into the Adams House Pool Theatre and looked around at the transformed space, a few murmured “If walls could talk…” and the rest thought it. Memories of late-night swims came flooding back. A few alums lamented the closing of the pool and wondered if there was any chance that the notorious natatorium would reopen, perhaps as part of the House Renewal project. (The latest word is that the chances are slim.)

A tour of the FDR Suite is not complete without playing a couple of songs on the piano

After visiting the pool, most of the group stayed in B-entry to tour the FDR Suite, which enticed visitors with the strains of music emanating from its player piano. During the years the class of ‘92 spent in Adams, the FDR Suite had been the office of Robert Coles, and few students had seen it. Many were only vaguely aware that Roosevelt had lived in Westmorly. Jaws dropped as the members of the class of ‘92 crowded into the lovingly restored quarters where Roosevelt had lived for four years.

Later on the night of May 27, the unofficial Adams reunion activities culminated with a midnight opera and sing-along in the Lower Common Room with China Forbes and Thomas Lauderdale, who are principal members of the band Pink Martini. The event was very much in the spirit of the Adams House that ‘92 Adamsians remembered. “It was a little surreal,” declared P.J. Karafiol.

After the events of the day were over and the Adamsian alums had left Cambridge, Tanya Selvaratnam took satisfaction in what she had helped organize: “I feel reborn after the reunion, especially because of the Adams mini-reunions.”