'It's Lovely, I Think': Sun Glimmers On (Almost) New Memorial Hall

As the bright November sunshine filtered in through the recently-washed stained glass windows of Memorial Hall's new first-year dining room, employees of the Fogg Art Museum washed an armless statue of John Adams.

Nearby, the bust of W.E.B. DuBois lay on the floor, protected by bubble wrap.

Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles and Associate Dean for Physical Resources and Planning David A. Zewinski '76 simply beamed.

The most complicated renovation project in the history of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) was eight years in the planning and required massive reworking after estimates came in way over budget. But now, two months before members of the Class of 1999 are expected to take their first meals in Annenberg Hall, the remodeling is almost done.

This week, construction crews and contractors are moving out of the renovated building. And Harvard Dining Services, along with more than 100 tables and 600 chairs, is moving in.

Yesterday, the busts which had been removed for renovations returned to their perches on the pillars in the Great Hall.

And Zewinski took Knowles, Vice President for Administration Sally H. Zeckhauser and FAS Administrative Dean Nancy L. Maull on a tour of the building, from the new Loker Commons student center in the basement to the heating system in the attic.

Most of the scaffolding is gone. The first level smells of fresh stain, fresh paint and just-cleaned surfaces. The new steel in the kitchen and serving space gleams.

Downstairs, in Loker Commons, things look a little less finished. But the transformation from the days when tiny classrooms filled the dingy basement is spectacular.

"It's lovely, I think," Knowles said yesterday. "I love it."

Tables stand at the end of the seating area. Chairs, with crimson-colored seats, are stacked in the coffee house. The spaces are ready for an ATM machine and telephones. Yesterday, a construction worker was touching-up the wall of the computer room.

Today, the electrician will install the lighted message board which will run the length of the Commons, as well as an electronic billboard on the back wall.

Loker Commons includes the original poets which support the entire building. The structures dot the open space in the middle, which will be used for seating.

"It's very idiosyncratic," Knowles said. "Some are brick, some are steel."

And then there's the post that cracked. At the end of the "street," which is bordered by the open seating area and private booths, stands a reinforced pillar.

"There is a war story," Knowles said. "This is the column that moved. It moved a tremendous amount--three-eighths of an inch."

Knowles recalled visiting the building right after the crack was found, early in the renovations. Twenty steel beams had to be used to prop the building up, he said.

Though the Loker Commons are located underground, they are bright and airy. The wood paneling, in contrast to the Great Hall upstairs, is a pale shade.

"The primary feature in this space is light," Zewinski said.

Light filters into the seating area through stencils cut out of a floor-to-ceiling wood panel at the entrance to the Commons.

"We've kept natural light in here," Knowles said. "[From the coffee house], there are funny, interesting shapes of light as you look outside."

Upstairs, in the Great Hall and in the transept between the hall and Sanders Theatre, ancient details and decorations, long lost under layers of grime, have been recovered.

The ceiling is again its original blue with black stenciling. The walls, likewise, have stencil designs on them.

"It used to be black because it was sooty and horrible," Knowles said.

In the transept, workers uncovered shiny white slabs inscribed with the names of the Union dead, also covered by years of dirt.

Despite the dark wood, the Annenberg Hall, as the first-year dining hall will be renamed, is as bright as the Commons downstairs. The stained glass windows have been cleaned. And new wagon-wheel shaped chandeliers aim light both at the ceiling and down on the floor.

The Mystery

In a hallway underneath Sanders Theatre stands a piece of the bell which hung in the old Memorial Hall tower, which burned in 1956. The bell was discovered by workers during the renovations.

"It was tucked under a stairway," Zewinksi said.

Likely, the bell fell through the tower during the fire and landed on the transept floor, where it broke.

"It bounced along like a live animal," Knowles said. "It was red hot."

But Zewinski pointed out, "It's a mystery nobody can confirm."

Katherine Bogdanovich Loker, who donated money for the student center, has also given $1 million to begin a fund to rebuild the tower