Workers Resculpt, Paint Eliot House Tower

Katherine M. Gray

Restoring Eliot House’s Tower this summer will cost $500,000. Internal renovations of the House will cost an additional $800,000.

In a $500,000 project that is expected to last until September, a team of workers is repainting and resculpting the picturesque Eliot House tower this summer in an attempt to return it to its 1930s appearance.

Plans to restore the 231-foot tower began last September, and construction began June 11, according to Larry McNeil, the manager of mechanical and structural maintenance at FAS Physical Resources.

The tower was last restored 15 years ago and was repainted in 1998. McNeil said that the tower’s cornices—the wooden ornate engravings just above the columns that encircle the tower—have significantly deteriorated in several places since the last restoration, and paint is peeling away due to weather damage.

The contracting and construction management firm Shawmut Design and Construction is coordinating the project. After workers resculpt the missing sections of the cornices, the cornices will be covered with HyPoxy mold—a resin-water bond agent.

The entire tower, including the individual numbers on its clocks, its turquoise cupola, and its weather vane will all be repainted.

“We’re not cutting any corners,” McNeil said.

The Dunster House tower is also in need of renovations, but McNeil said that because Eliot’s tower is the “worst case,” its construction was scheduled first. Dunster House’s tower will be restored in two years, and restoration of Lowell House’s bell tower is also “on the books,” he added.

McNeil predicted that the tower’s colors will look noticeably brighter in the fall. He said that the project aims to make the tower look as it did when it was first opened in 1931. The Cambridge Historical Society inspected the paint colors Tuesday afternoon and confirmed that they matched the original colors closely, McNeil said.

Eliot House is also undergoing extensive internal renovations, as are Kirkland, Adams, and Dunster Houses. If all goes as planned, these Houses will have new showers, water-saving toilets, and high-efficiency lighting by September 8. Kirkland House will also have fire alarm and sprinkler upgrades.

Each of Harvard’s 12 residential houses undergoes renovations every four years, at a cost of $800,000 per house.

—Staff writer Katherine M. Gray can be reached at