Architects: Louis Warren Ross
Van Meter is an approximately 86,000 square foot student residence hall on the Amherst campus of the University of Massachusetts. The building is one of nine structures that comprise the Central Residential Area. All nine buildings were designed and constructed between 1940 and 1963, and sited according to a Beaux-Arts formal plan. Van Meter House was completed in 1957 and along with Wheeler, was one of the final buildings to define the residential district.
Seven of these buildings (Butterfield, Brooks, Van Meter, Greenough, Chadbourne, Baker, and New Africa) were uniformly designed in Georgian Revival style. Wheeler and Brett, which are both sited at the bottom of the hill and constructed last, are less ornate structures and have subtle Art-Deco details. All buildings continue to serve as dormitories in 2008.
The main planning axis of the Central Residential Area is perpendicular to the ridgeline of Clark Hill and extends northeast to southwest. The axis is defined by the center of Van Meter and Baker Houses, with the remaining dormitories sited to the north and south. The bilateral symmetry and duplication of building footprints and appearance only deviates with the location of Butterfield House and the design of Brett House. The spatial relationship of the planning axis is visually reinforced by the central block and cupola of Van Meter House. The steep grade of the overall site was graded to create narrow terraces between the individual structures.
The rectangular building includes two 4 ½-story wings linked by a wider 5 ½-story central block. The central block is 5 bays wide with a hip roof and regularly-spaced dormer windows. The north and south blocks are each 14 bays wide and 3 bays deep. Each wing includes a cross gable and façade projection at the 3rd-5th bays. Both wings have attic levels with regularly-spaced demilune louvers. The basement level is partially exposed at the west elevation due to the steeply sloped site. The commonbond brick pattern is used throughout all elevations, with a limestone beltcourse at the top of the first floor level. All windows are wood, as well as the cornice defining the roofline and the gable peaks. Copper downspouts include decorative collector heads.
The façade includes a window pattern of primarily double-hung sash. The basement through third floor levels of the building wings have 8/16 double-hung sash. These also occur on the 4th floor of the central block. The 4th floor wings and 5th floor block all have 8/8 double-hung sash. The top level of the central block has 6/6 double-hung sash within dormers. Circular 9-panel windows are located at the attic level of the gable ends.
At the long elevations, façade embellishments also include window groupings and projecting bays. On the west elevation of the central block, the three central bays are unified with wood paneled spandrels. Beneath these, a deep 5-sided, wood-framed bay unifies the first floor and basement levels, and is topped with a decorative wrought-iron railing. At the wings, windows at the central bay of the cross gable are also unified with wood paneling and a wrought-iron balcony railing. This façade pattern is continued at the east elevation with the following distinctions. The window of the central block is limited to one bay and only projects slightly to unify the first and second floors. Above, a pitched copper roof is connected to a decorative wood window case. Beneath the bay window and its wrought-iron balcony, the main building entrance is detailed with a rusticated wood casework. At the wings, the 2nd floor window at the central bay of the cross gable has a wrought-iron balcony and is framed with a decorative wood casework and pediment. A similar detail occurs at the central bay of the north and south elevations.
In addition to the main entrance at the center of the east elevation, two additional entrances occur at the north and south wings. Six entrances are located at the first basement level of the west elevation north and south wings. All entrances feature decorative wood casework.
The most prominent aspect of the building is the copper-domed wood lantern and cupola, with surrounding widows walk. These features accentuate the highest point of Clark Hill and are a focal point of the larger campus. The building site is located to the north of Clark Hill Road and the east of Chancellor’s Way atop a steep hill with limited views of the campus below. Access to the Van Meter House is provided by a bituminous concrete vehicular drive with a bituminous concrete curb off of Clark Hill Road. Parking is provided along the east side of the drive. A bituminous concrete pedestrian walk borders the west side of the drive. The landscape along the east side of the foundation of the building features deciduous trees and perennials. Near the parking lot, vegetation includes a mixture of deciduous and evergreen trees with scattered stone boulders.
The landscape on the west side of the building features mown lawn with deciduous trees and high evergreen shrubs and overlooks the campus. Site furnishings include pole lights around the building and a stockade fence.
The Clark Hill development grew to be known as the Central Residential Area. The first building of this complex was Butterfield House which was constructed in 1940 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.
The Central Residential Area was developed between 1940 and 1959 as a men’s dormitory complex. Buildings in this area included Butterfield House (1940), Greenough House (1946), Chadbourne House (1947), Mills House (New Africa House) (1948), Brooks House (1949), Baker House (1952), Van Meter House (1957), and Wheeler House (1958). The buildings were laid-out in a Beaux-arts style plan with a central axis of symmetry and a distinctive hierarchy of spaces.
The integrated design of Van Meter House and the other structures of the hillside Central Residential Area is in the tradition of ambitious campus expansion planning of the inter-war and postwar era. The layout for Baker House and Van Meter House respected the east-west axis formed by the symmetry of Greenough Hall and Chabrourne House, and the relative symmetry of Brooks House and Mills House. The two new buildings structured courtyard spaces to the east and west of Greenough House and Chadbourne House. A campus map from 1959 shows the completed complex with pedestrian paths providing access to all sides of the buildings (extant). Evergreen trees are shown in the areas to the east and west of Baker House (extant). An historic image of Baker House shows upright evergreen shrubs framing the entrance to the building (no longer extant). Vegetation shown around Van Meter House is minimal, consisting of deciduous trees over lawn.
In general, the Central Residential Area complex retains a great deal of its landscape integrity, modified by the addition of parking along Infirmary Way, to the east and west of Butterfield House, along the east of Chancellor’s Way, and to the east of Van Meter House. The Y-shaped intersection formed by Chancellor’s Way and Clark Hill Road was removed by 1955 and rerouted to a spur off of Chancellor’s Way located to the east of Greenough House and Chadbourne House that existed since at least 1943. Removal of this portion of Chancellor’s Way enabled the construction of Van Meter House. Many changes in vegetation patterns are the result of new construction, much of which occurred prior to 1959. The loss of foundation planting at Butterfield House, Chadbourne House, Baker House, and Wheeler House, along with the introduction of new foundation planting at Butterfield House, Greenough House, Chadbourne House, Baker House, and Van Meter House has changed vegetation immediately associated with the buildings.
Van Meter House was named for Dr. Ralph Albert Van Meter (1893-1958) who served as the president of the University of Massachusetts from 1948 to 1954.