Harvard Hall is a brick, granite, and brownstone classroom building situated at the edge of Harvard Yard and Harvard Square. Originally designed to hold a library, chapel and classrooms, the interior has changed over time to be used specifically as a classroom building; one storey with brick wings on either side of the central projecting bay were designed by Ware and Van Brunt Architects in 1870 for additional classroom space. Brick pilasters with stone capitals and bases were replicated from brownstone precedents on pilasters at the adjacent Holden Chapel. A wood balustrade was built on the addition’s roofs and a detailed wood cornice with dentils unified the south façade.
Major preservation accomplishments of the exterior restoration project include reconstituting deteriorated brownstone profiles with new stone, reuse of original brownstone harvested from the building, reconstruction of the cupola’s belfry and execution of a thorough paint analysis and historic paint colour selection. The building was returned to the 1870 time period with new stone at the addition and its period paint colour reinstated at window trim, cornice trim and cupola cladding. The comprehensive and highly detailed restoration of Harvard Hall’s exterior contributes to Cambridge’s historic character by re-establishing the coherence of its masonry surfaces and profiles and colour scheme from 1870 and masonry from 1766 as distinct from earlier and later buildings within Harvard Yard.
Brownstone band courses, window sill courses, and cornices with dentils were architecturally significant when the building was constructed. The original stone was quarried from the Connecticut River Valley and is thought to be from Portland, Connecticut. Quarries carrying this stone have been closed for decades, requiring a different stone to replace stone too deteriorated to remain. The brownstone replacement and repair strategy retained and reused as much original stone as possible, integrated new stone at the 1870 addition, and eliminated a safety concern for spalling, of deteriorating stone above pedestrian routes. Extensive effort went into sourcing a suitable stone match, testing existing and new stone properties for compatibility and longevity, reviewing samples of surface finishes, measuring profiles to replicate stone, cutting replacement stone and installing it to match the original construction.
Most of the stone deteriorated past repair was found at the 1870 addition; this area of stone was removed and harvested to use as raw material to replace other deteriorated stone. This sustainable approach permitted new pilaster capitals, cornice fascia and dentil pieces to be fabricated from original stone. The east raking cornice at the chimney was severely eroded due to water ingress. Harvested stone replaced eight linear feet of the cornice stones on both sides of the ridge. Rectangular band course stones that were too deteriorated to redress in place, were removed and the depth of stone buried within the brick exterior wall was harvested. Cornice stone was redressed throughout and replaced only where required for safety concerns. Other stone repair methods beyond redressing included full face stone dutchman with harvested stone, and mortar and crack repairs with a tinted stone repair mortar.
The 30 ft tall wood clad cupola has an octagonal floor plan and an open belfry. The lowest level consists of structural brick walls topped by a course of brownstone that serves as the base for eight wood posts. The masonry and wood posts were covered with one-inch thick wood cladding. Paint analysis determined that the earliest layer of paint was applied to the wood cladding in 1870, theorising that the brick structure was originally exposed with a cementitious parge coat on the brick.
A wood framed open belfry level has arched openings and the uppermost level consists of a copper covered dome with weathervane. The cupola leaned visibly towards the north because of rot in the posts of the octagonal framing. There was further rot among the primary posts, infill framing and wood cladding boards. During construction, the dome was cut from the posts and methodically lowered to the ground with a crane. The original dome structure was repaired on the ground while the belfry level was reconstructed with laminated posts to match the size and shapes of the originals. A rainscreen cladding system with proper flashings was detailed for the cupola reconstruction. All wood moldings and shiplap siding were replaced with mahogany. The wood moldings at the connection between the copper dome and the belfry were reconstructed in copper to prevent premature deterioration. After the dome received new copper roofing, it was lifted back into place and secured to the new posts with stainless steel saddles and bolts.
Other restoration accomplishments included regiling and reinstalling the operable weathervane, installation of new thermal window sash within the existing wood frames and new wood entry doors with vision panels. Inappropriate modern mortar was removed and replaced with more compatible mortar. Original mortar was spot-repointed as required. Copper gutters and flashings were replaced, snow guards were installed, and the majority of disturbed slates were reinstalled.
Damage to the copper balustrade due to falling ice was repaired and the failing wood cornice and dentils were reconstructed. Exterior lighting upgrades included a new handrail with an integrated light at the south stairs, additional custom lanterns to match the Harvard Yard standard, and copper sconces on either side of the north accessible door. Cupola lighting is confined to soft illumination of the belfry ceiling. This National Register building will continue to be a contributing building in the Harvard Yard and Cambridge Common National Register Districts as well as locally in the Old Cambridge Historic District.