The Campus of the Future? The Chestnut Hill Campus, Real and Imagined

The Chestnut Hill campus of Boston College (BC) has beautiful architecture, views, greenspaces, and recreation areas. Construction projects occasionally add less peaceful notes to the scene, but the resulting disruption is a sign of growth. As the university develops, new facilities follow. 

The University Archives contain resources illustrating campus growth, with examples of aspirational as well as actual building projects. They are used here to illustrate a sampling of campus facilities that were planned – but never completed.

In 1913, BC faculty and students began to occupy its new Chestnut Hill property on the Boston-Newton border. At the time of the purchase, the area included a house and barn atop a dramatic cliffside expanse overlooking orchards and fields, with a view of two reservoirs – only one of which remains. BC President Thomas I. Gasson, SJ, named the spot “University Heights.” The school’s first building on the site was the Recitation Building, now known as Gasson Hall. Plentiful photos of the early Chestnut Hill campus exist in the work of intrepid local photographer, Clifton Church. Early plans for BC’s imposing Gothic buildings can also be seen through drawings which are part of the Boston College building and campus images collection (BC1987-012). A1930 drawing from campus architects Maginnis & Walsh includes the four buildings completed at that time (Gasson Hall, St. Mary’s Hall, Bapst Library, and Devlin Hall) and many others that were never begun – including a student chapel on what’s now St. Mary’s lawn, and a gymnasium on what’s now the Bapst lawn.

Proposed campus by Maginnis and Walsh, postcard, undated [1930], box 29, folder 7, Boston College building and campus images (BC1987-012).

Boston College President’s Office records provide high-level and detailed administrative information on decisions and changes at Boston College. A 1921 fundraising pamphlet in the records of William J. Devlin, SJ includes drawings of individual buildings that were part of the original Maginnis & Walsh campus plan. Shown is the gymnasium, which is depicted with Gasson Hall in the background.

Detail of Building Fund Campaign pamphlet, box 1, folder 14, William J. Devlin, SJ, President’s Office Records, (BC1986-020F).

Soon after BC began to plan its campus in Chestnut Hill, there was a movement in Boston to build an Irish Hall of Fame – a cultural center for the area’s Irish Americans – between the proposed Gasson Hall and Bapst Library. The plan did not go forward, but its legacy is the stained glass window, St. Patrick at Tara, in Gasson 100, which was funded by money that had been raised. Evidence of the Hall of Fame can be found at Burns in the Charles D. Maginnis and Timothy F. Walsh papers (MS1998-034).

“Irish Hall of Fame for Boston,” clipping from the Boston Globe, 15 Aug 1909, Scrapbook, 1902-1942, box 5, Charles D. Maginnis and Timothy F. Walsh papers (MS1998-034).

In addition to student newspapers, changes to the campus are also featured in publications aimed at Alumni. These began in 1933 and can also be found online. The cover illustration of a proposed Law School building in the Gothic architectural style of the Chestnut Hill campus decorated the cover of BC’s alumni magazine in 1949. 

Detail of the cover of Alumni News, June, 1949.

The Boston College athletic programs collection (BC1997-006) includes programs, media guides, and occasional score sheets for both men’s and women’s athletic teams and clubs for home events and tournaments. They often include articles about athletic topics. The first Alumni Stadium opened in 1957 in the approximate location of today’s newer stadium. Of the three connected buildings labelled in this drawing, the gym and hockey rink were eventually built as the Roberts Center and McHugh Forum, but the proposed student union remains only a dream. The Service Building, a constant feature amidst the continual campus expansion surrounding it, is visible in the drawing.

Scorecard for BC vs. Holy Cross, June 7, 1957, Football, 1956-1958, box 8, The Boston College athletic programs collection (BC1997-006)

An excellent general resource is the database newspapers.bc.edu. It includes full text searchable newspapers published by the students and administration of BC, 1883-present. In 1975, the long-running student newspaper, The Heights, published an article about transportation to and around the main campus. Within it was the report that the addition of an escalator between Lower and Middle Campus was under consideration. Sadly, no illustration was included, leaving this unfulfilled innovation to our imaginations.

There is a section of the Boston College building and campus images collection called “Proposed buildings (unbuilt).” An example is a set of images for a proposed student center and Humanities building in 1995. The images in the collection are arranged into six main series: Individual buildings and structures; Multiple buildings; Exteriors and landscapes; Devlin Hall/Higgins Hall interiors; Aerial views; and Bound volumes. They are described in the collection’s finding aid where you’ll see links to images already digitized. Those that haven’t been can be used at Burns.

Burns Library’s University Archives Guide describes a variety of resources for many BC history topics. The Libraries’ BC Digital Collections page Boston College History is also a good starting point.

-Shelley Barber, ​Outreach & Reference Specialist, Burns Library

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