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History of HGSE Buildings

Summary History

1920: Harvard Graduate School of Education founded in Lawrence Hall and
surrounding houses, on site of today's Science Center.

1961: HGSE acquires several structures and land on Appian Way and Brattle
Street from Radcliffe College, including Longfellow Hall, Read House,
and Nichols House, and Westengard House from the Harvard Law School.

1963: HGSE leaves Lawrence Hall and moves into Longfellow Hall, and begins
construction of Larsen Hall.

1965: Larsen Hall completed.

1969: HGSE moves Read and Nichols Houses and begins construction of
Gutman Library on Appian Way.

HGSE's First Campus

The Harvard Graduate School of Education had its beginnings in Lawrence Hall, an 1848 building that was situated on the site now occupied by the Science Center. As the school grew, it also occupied several nineteenth-century frame houses in the area of Oxford, Prescott, and Kirkland Streets, among them Batchelder, Peabody, Spaulding, and Palfrey. Of these, only Palfrey House, birthplace of the Laboratory of Human Development, survives, having only just recently been moved to a temporary location during the demolition of the Harvard Cyclotron; it is destined to be moved once more to a new site and renovated into four faculty residential units. Lawrence Hall, already vacant, burned down in 1970, and most of the other houses were demolished.

Current Campus

The HGSE left the decrepit and extremely cramped Lawrence Hall for Longfellow Hall in 1963. This building, designed by Perry, Shaw and Hepburn in 1929 as part of their master plan for a Radcliffe campus, was named for the daughter of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Alice Longfellow, who had been a great benefactor of Radcliffe College. It has been called a red-brick version of Bulfinch's 1815 University Hall in Harvard Yard, and it won the Harleston Parker Prize for 1934. Radcliffe sold the building to the HGSE in 1961 for $1,084,000. Renovations undertaken immediately and costing $399,000 created classrooms and offices. Along with the staff, students, and classrooms of the HGSE, the library of the HGSE was also moved to Longfellow's basement from its quarters in Lawrence. However, a great many of the books would not fit in the new space and were deposited in other libraries, notably Littauer. Most of the education collections had been all along, and remained in, Widener Library. Widener, also challenged for space, had in turn stored a good part of the books in its various Education classifications in the old New England Deposit Library (still standing in Allston, next door to WGBH, but no longer used by Harvard). A "working collection" was all that would fit in Longfellow, and there was only space for 46 seats. Planning began before long for a new library building for the School.

Next, however, HGSE embarked on its first new classroom and office building, Larsen Hall, named for Roy E. Larsen, '21, its chief donor and major HGSE supporter, a founder and chairman of Time Magazine and other publications, and major voice in educational reform. The land had been acquired in 1961 from Radcliffe College. This building, designed in 1963 by Caudill, Rowlett and Scott, a Houston firm, was completed in 1965 for $3, 231,000 and was the subject of several articles and critiques. Many commented on the fortress-like appearance and the lack of windows; one former faculty member who sat on the design committee has written that the suggestion of fewer windows arose out of the desire to avoid views of secretaries' knees that resulted from glass-fronted buildings that were popular at the time. Larsen's 7-story design was also partly a response to the restrictive zoning laws in Cambridge, which encouraged the architects to build up rather than out, due to required setbacks from the plot line. One innovation in response to this was to expand the underground area and to open it up as a sunken courtyard with windows, adding significant well-lit square footage to the building. The floor plans on the upper stories were designed to be flexible to accommodate different needs. Today, Larsen includes the first LEED-CI Platinum certified classrooms in the world.  

In addition to the Larsen site, HGSE during the 1960s acquired several buildings in the neighborhood along Appian Way and Brattle Street, mostly historic frame houses, laying the groundwork for future campus development and more growth. The land and houses acquired during this time was mostly sold to HGSE by Radcliffe College, though Westengard House, 3 Garden Street, an 1851 frame house, was purchased from the Harvard Law School; it currently houses the Harvard Family Research Project. The sites along Appian Way included the original location of the Browne and Nichols School (which later merged with the Buckingham School).

Gutman Library occupies a site on Brattle Street between Farwell Place and Appian Way which previously featured two historic Cambridge houses, both of which were moved to a site behind the library and preserved in accordance with the Cambridge Historical Commission statutes. Both are still used as HGSE buildings; Read House, built in 1772 or 73, houses the International Education Office, and Nichols House, built in 1828, is home to the National Council for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy. The Library's official entrance is on Appian Way.

Gutman Library was begun in 1969 and dedicated in 1972. Designed by Benjamin Thompson and Associates, it was built for a cost of $6,000,000, with the principal donation coming from New York financier Monroe C. Gutman, for whom the new building was named. The building was awarded the Harleston Parker Prize in 1972. The fundraising was conducted on a national level, with Roy E. Larsen serving as the chairman of the National Executive Committee. Originally designed to accommodate 300,000 volumes on four floors of stacks plus a ground level housing an Instructional Resources Center and an Urban Information Specialist, the building has undergone several transformations. Originally it was thought that education collections from all over the Harvard library system would be brought to Gutman. In the end, although more than 100,000 volumes came to Gutman, a great deal of older material on American higher education, and extensive resources on the history of education at all levels in other countries, were left in Widener's care. Today there are still about 17 aisles of materials in the Educ classification in the Widener stacks, and many thousands of volumes in the Educ R and Educ U classifications are stored in the Harvard Depository in Southborough, MA, as Widener holdings.

Consequently, the Library proper occupied all of floors 1 and 2 of the building, with a portion of the 3rd floor set aside for older materials that became the Special Collections, and the basement level housing theinstructional/curriculum collections as well as the Library's Media Division. The rest of the upper floors and part of the basement area were devoted to HGSE offices and programs, and remain so today. Eventually, in the late 1970s, the library integrated the curriculum materials from the Ground Floor into the second floor stacks, and the Instructional Services area was converted into today's busy Gutman Conference Center. The Media Division also left the basement area in 2001 to become part of the HGSE's new Learning Technologies Center on the third floor; the space vacated by the Media Division on the Ground Floor has become the new home of the Gutman Library Special Collections, with 13,000 linear feet of shelving, for current holdings and future acquisitions, a Special Collections staff office, and a handsome dedicated Reading Room serving researchers using these collections. Gutman Library's total physical holdings now include over 200,000 volumes in the open stacks on the second floor, in addition to over 70,000 volumes and 1,500 linear feet of archival materials in the Special Collections. Numerous electronic resources and equipment to make them accessible have also been added to the building. 

In 2010, solar panels were installed on the roof of Gutman Library to generate renewable energy for the building and in 2012 the renovation of the first floor, which included the installation of green living walls, received LEED Platinum certification.

Other buildings or office space currently leased or owned by the HGSE in the Brattle Street neighborhood include the following addresses:

  • 8 Story Street
  • 44 Brattle Street
  • 50 Church Street
  • 20 University Road 

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