Boylston Hall

Boylston Hall in the 1800s

At the southeast end of the Old Yard, on the west side of, and adjacent to Widener, stands Boylston Hall. This Italian Renaissance-style building, with outer walls of Rockport granite, was designed by Schultze and Schoen, and its original construction cost was $50,000. In 1871, the top two floors were added.

This building originally housed the physical sciences department. Early in this century, a professor who held lectures on the top floor of Boylston was reducing iron oxide with aluminum when the molten iron escaped from the sand box beneath the iron crucible and burned through the three wooden floors below. Chemistry lectures are now held in the Science Center, in the basement, to prevent such accidents.

Boylston Hall was remodeled in 1929 to house the Yenching institute, and when the Yenching Institute moved in 1958, the University wanted to raze the structure. However, the building was maintained and the interior remodeled since a stipulation in the Boylston will stated that Harvard would continue to receive the income from its bequest only as long as the walls of Boylston Hall stood. Harvard did not desire a legal test, and, therefore, plans were drawn to remove the stones of Boylston but keep them technically standing by incorporating them into the wall around the Yard. However, it was believed that this might antagonize one of the few remaining members of the Boylston family, who was quite wealthy. Consequently, the plans were dropped and the Boylston "shell" remains.

In 1959, Boylston Hall was renovated to add 40 percent more floor space. It was, in the words of architect Rob Olson, "an academic office building inserted within a historic shell."

In the late 1990s, Rob Olson + Associates took on the daunting task of making Boylston work. Olson, along with Capital Projects Manager Elizabeth Randall, set out to meet with representatives of each Boylston department. What did we want? Discussions ranged from our sense of self as a department to our desire for such things as operational windows, soundproofed offices, adequate teaching fellow offices, meeting spaces, a computer work room, and audiovisual equipment in the seminar rooms. After each meeting, Olson would come back with yet another revised plan to which we would respond. After months of meetings and preparation we moved to temporary quarters, and Boylston Hall was gutted except bearing walls and structural elements. Eight months and $8.3 millon later we moved back into a building that was on the outside relatively unchanged but from the inside nearly unrecognizable.

Boylston Hall now houses the Department of the Classics on the second floor. The Linguistics Department occupies half of the third floor. Women, Gender & Sexuality is on the Ground Floor. The administrative core of RLL is on the fourth floor, and we occupy in addition the entire fifth floor, half of the third floor and part of the ground floor.

Boylston Hall Today

Public areas on the first floor and mezzanine include a renovated 144-seat Fong Auditorium, three classrooms, and Ticknor Lounge.

Of special interest to anyone who has ever sat through a class or meeting in a Boylston Hall seminar room is the fact that seminar rooms are now located on the outside wall of the building, and thus have natural lighting as well as windows that open. Romance Languages has two seminar rooms of its own, with an additional seminar room shared between the various Boylston departments.


The days are over when visitors to a Boylston department will need to wander the oval corridors of the building wondering where the "main office" is. Visitors to the fourth floor are drawn, by the lighting and the design of the building itself, toward the brightly lit "center," where they can find the main office, mailboxes, teaching fellow offices and the departmental lounge.

Within the Department, the overall response to the "New Boylston" has been delight.