Bowing to Tradition

Harvard's 212-year-old theater company gets new digs.

September 01, 2007 |

As the home to Harvard's Hasty Pudding Theatricals—the oldest theatrical company in the nation—12 Holyoke Street had its share of opening nights. In April 2002, however, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences decided the 1888 Georgian Revival building no longer met the needs of the company and hired Boston-based architect Leers Weinzapfel Associates to design a more contemporary facility.

The goal: construct a large, modern theater and space for arts activities while keeping the building's historical details intact. The $23 million project included restoring the building's façade and anteroom bay and tearing down the existing theater to make room for an addition.

Before the show could go on, the Building Team had to deal with a cramped site whose property lines were only 18 inches from adjacent buildings' foundations. Municipal height restrictions added to the complexity, so the team had no choice but to build down. They used a slurry wall foundation system, which prevents groundwater encroachment and can be built immediately next to adjacent properties.

On each side of the façade, two symmetrical entrances—with stone slab steps, a wooden roof, and glass and brick details—are an integral part of the building's character. In order to construct the slurry walls and bring in excavation equipment, the team had to remove the building's south front porch. Construction manager Kevin Sullivan of Shawmut Design and Construction, Boston, used drawings, blueprints, and photographs to document the original porch. Much of the original granite, brick, and stone were reused in the new porch.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle was fitting a crane onto the small site. Not wanting to station it on Holyoke Street—a one-lane, one-way residential street—the team threaded a 130-foot-tall self-erecting tower crane through an eight-and-a-half-foot alley, leaving just two inches on each side. Extra care had to be taken while using the crane to deliver steel support beams, HVAC equipment, lighting and acoustic systems, and two stage lifts.

“This was an extremely difficult, tight site,” said Reconstruction Awards judge Jeff Pratt, principal with KJWW Engineering Consultants, Naperville, Ill. “The design and construction team had to work closely to solve significant logistical issues.”

Today 12 Holyoke Street—now dubbed New College Theatre—features a 274-seat theater, rehearsal space, a prop shop, orchestra and stage lifts, and a dance studio. As required by the city's historic commission, the addition is hidden behind the historic façade, giving it much the same street presence as it has had for the last 119 years.

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