Architects: Louis Warren Ross
Knowlton House House is an approximately 35,000 square foot residential building on the Amherst campus of the University of Massachusetts. The building is one of ten structures that comprise the Northeast Residential Area. These ten buildings were uniformly designed in neo-Georgian style between 1935 and 1959, and laid out in a bilaterally symmetrical site plan surrounding an open grassed area that is known as the Quad (quadrangle). Originally designed as dormitories, the group includes Knowlton House, Arnold House, Hamlin House, Crabtree House, Leach House, Lyon House, Dwight House, Thatcher House, Lewis House and Johnson House. All continue to serve as dormitories in 2008, except for Arnold House, which was converted into offices in 1966.
The main planning axis of the Northeast Residential Area runs northeast-southwest, in a straight line between the central doors of Lewis House and Arnold House. This axis is the center line of the quadrangle’s bilateral symmetry, meaning that the building footprints and appearance of Hamlin, Leach, Dwight and Johnson Houses, located on the north side of the axis, are mirrored by the building footprints and appearance of Knowlton, Crabtree, Lyon and Thatcher Houses on the south side of the axis. The spatial relationship of Lewis House and Arnold House as the anchors of the planning axis is visually reinforced by the cupolas that top these two buildings.
The L-shaped building is 4-stories with a basement level accessible to grade at the rear (east) elevation. The south wing is 8 bays wide by 3 bays deep with a gable roof. The north wing is 8 wings wide by 3 bays deep and also has a gable roof that forms a hip at the building’s northwest corner. The main building entrance occurs at the 3 central bays of the north wing’s west elevation. These bays project from the façade and are distinguished by a cross gable. This elevation also includes a 2-story wing with flat roof that serves as an accessible terrace. The terrace is bounded by a wrought-iron railing.
The common-bond brick pattern is used throughout all elevations. A molded-brick water table defines the basement level and a brick beltcourse occurs at the second floor level. All windows are wood, as well as the cornice defining the roofline and the gable peaks. The façade includes a window pattern of primarily double-hung sash. The exposed basement through third floor levels of the building have 8/12 double-hung sash. The fourth floor has 8/8 sash. At the attic level, the gable ends are framed as pediments and contain circular radial pane windows with decorative brickwork. Copper downspouts with collector heads are still in place.
The main building entrance features a granite staircase to access the raised first floor level. The doors are framed by a rusticated wood doorcase with pediment. The double wood doors have divided lights and a fixed transom. Above the pediment, the second floor bay has a wood-paneled window case. The secondary entrance at this elevation occurs at grade at an interfloor stair landing. It features a wood-paneled doorcase and is vertically reinforced at the upper bays with a large arched window and smaller fixed divided light beneath.
By 1933, the University of Massachusetts, then known as the Massachusetts State College, was facing a severe shortage in student housing. Between 1929 and 1933 at the onset of the Great Depression, student enrollment had grown by more than 40 percent, from 862 to 1,220 students, partly influenced by the limited job market. No new dormitories for men had been added to the campus since 1868 and the one campus dormitory for women, Abigail Adams House, was completely filled, which prompted the College to stop enrolling additional women in 1932.
In response to this housing shortage, the College began construction of two dormitory complexes; one at the crest of Clark Hill and the second at the southeast corner of North Pleasant Street and Eastman Lane. The complex at the northern edge of campus ultimately consisted of ten Georgian Revival buildings now known as the Northeast Residential Area. The first building of this complex was Thatcher House, which was constructed in 1935 to the design of architect Louis Warren Ross, who was a member of the College’s class of 1917. Ross remains the most prolific architect of the campus and was responsible for the design of more than twenty structures, including nearly all the dormitories constructed between 1935 and 1963. This body of work established the Georgian Revival style as a dominant tradition for the residential quadrangles of the campus. However, Ross’s later work for the school also includes the 1956 Student Union, which was designed in a more contemporary modern style.
Although originally planned as a men’s dormitory complex, the Northeast Residential Area was re-designated a women’s complex in 1947. The construction of the two primary dormitory complexes was phased over a span of nearly 30 years, and alternated between development at the separate male and female housing districts. The Northeast Residential District occupied a relatively level site which supported a symmetrical arrangement of structures and open quadrangles. The construction sequence began with L-shaped structures which quickly defined the boundaries of the new district- beginning first in 1949 with Hamilton and Knowlton at the west, then Crabtree and Leach at the east in 1953. In 1954, the district’s North Pleasant street boundary was completed with the construction of Arnold Hall, a long rectangular structure with a central cupola. Arnold Hall’s low flanking blocks connected to Knowlton and Hamlin via breezeways and emphasized the landscaped street and sidewalk corridor.
Hamlin House and Knowlton House were added to the Northeast Residential complex in 1949, forming the beginning of the eastern edge of the complex. A 1954 oblique aerial photograph shows the buildings in place with no foundation planting and street trees along North Pleasant Street. Later historic photographs show limited foundation planting at the entrances and corners of both buildings. A 1959 campus plan shows the complex complete, with a large parking area to the east of Arnold House in place. A 1969 oblique aerial photograph confirms the location of the parking area and shows additional foundation planting along Hamlin and Knowlton Houses’ western façades. New vegetation has been added along the western façade of the buildings. Street tree planting shown in historic photographs along North Pleasant Street adjacent to Hamlin, Arnold and Knowlton House is intact, with the addition of a new landscaped seating area the southwest corner of Knowlton House.
Named in honor of Helen Knowlton (1879-1941), Professor of Home Economics 1924-1941 and first Head of The Homestead 1928.