Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Schneider Center

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Institution Name: Wellesley College
Original/Historic Place Name: Music Hall; Billings Hall
Location on Campus:
Date(s) of Construction:
1880original construction; music hall Ware & Van Brunt
1904original construction; Billings Hall Angell & Swift
1968-1970Music Hall and Billings Hall joined to form Schneider Center Gillespie, Donald
Designer: Ware & Van Brunt (Music Hall); Angell & Swift (Billings Hall); Donald Gillespie (Schneider Center)
Type of Place: Individual building
Style: Gothic revival, Modern/post-WWII (Glossary)
Significance: architecture, education
Narrative: see below
References: see below
Foundation: granite
Walls: red brick with terracotta trim
ca. 1880auditorium
ca. 1880classrooms
ca. 1880-present (2006)other (offices)
ca. 1970-present (2006)dining hall
ca. 1970-present (2006)student union

The Schneider College Center is a 1970 remodeling of Music Hall (1881) and Billings Hall (1904), which have been connected from the time of the Billings Hall construction.

At the laying of the cornerstone of Music Hall, Mrs. Durant, the wife of the college founder, perpetuated the tradition which she started with the laying of the cornerstone ceremony for College Hall in 1871, that of giving each workman a Bible. Music Hall is said to be in the shape of a large organ with many recitation rooms. The main purpose of Billings Hall, constructed in 1904, was to have an auditorium larger than the one in College Hall and with more flexibility than the newly built Chapel, which seated over 900 persons. A donation was found from the estate of Robert Charles Billings, as he left the residue of his estate to be used for educational purposes. Following the construction of Billings, the organ, built for the College Hall Chapel by Hook & Hastings of Boston, was moved to the new concert hall. The cost of refurbishing the organ, which has over 1500 pipes, was covered by a donation from the Class of 1903.

The Music Department was housed in Music Hall until the construction of the Jewett Arts Center in 1959. At that time, the Music Hall/Billings Hall building was renamed Billings Hall and it was converted to the Student Organization Center. In 1968 plans were revealed for the total rehabilitation of Billings Hall to provide a new student or community campus center. The project was guided by the architect Donald Gillespie. The major changes in the structure were the removal of what was acclaimed to be a beautiful porte-cochè re, the addition of a low one-story entrance, the replacement of diamond light sash with large shingle light glass, and the decks and terrace configuration on the west side.

Now known as the Schneider Center, this red brick building displays a combination of architectural styles, but is predominantly Gothic Revival with Romanesque details, as seen in the classical design of some of the ornamentation as well as in the building symmetry.
Music Hall faces north and is the southern edge of a loosely formed quadrangle with the chapel on its east side and the Clapp Library on the west. The rough-faced granite foundation supports brick walls that are rusticated to the first-story windows. Corbelled string courses that wrap the building help to restore unity to the otherwise complex design. The rounded arched opening of the central entrance with its recessed oak double-door with glass and wood raised panels, is flanked by projecting round bays with turret tops next to a recessed bay and a projecting end squared bay. Each bay with the exception of the turrets has a parapeted dormer of Flemish design with terracotta elaboration ranging from sunburst designs to keystones to figures or flora. Other intricate details include terracotta shields with musical instruments, piers, and pilasters with composite capitals differentiating the end bays and the central entrance bay. The east and west facades of Music Hall have three bays each of brick with brownstone and terracotta trim.

Billings Hall is attached at the rear or south side of Music Hall and was constructed of water-struck hard brick of similar color to Music Hall. Billings Hall is solely of Gothic Revival influence and has four parapeted gables with copper copings piercing the expansive green and gray slate shingled roof on each of the east and west sides. There is a cupola at the roof ridge near the rear of the building. The turret top and finial of the cupola are made of copper.

Modernization of the Schneider Center includes the low, one-story flat-roofed entrance projecting from the west side, facing the east facade of the library. The windows and doors are set in light oak frames similar to those used on the new Billings windows. The entrance is part of the link between the buildings and wraps from the rear of Music Hall into the connecting link of Billings Hall. On the east side of Billings, exterior decks have been added. A low brick ell has been added at the rear of the building on the east side to house the kitchen facilities. A brick wall extends from this addition towards the tennis courts to act as a screen for the receiving and service entrances at the rear of the building. The two parts of the building are distinct, despite the low flat entrance attached to the west side and the alterations of stairs and balconies on the east side facing the tennis courts.


Fergusson, Peter, James F. O'Gorman, and John Rhodes. The Landscape & Architecture of Wellesley College. Wellesley, MA: Wellesley College, 2000.

Gaines, Thomas A. The Campus as a Work of Art. New York: Praeger, 1991.

Horowitz, Helen Lefkowitz. Alma Mater: Design and Experience in the Women's Colleges from Their Nineteenth-Century Beginnings to the 1930s. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984.

Views of Wellesley College, 1886. Gardner, MA: Lithotype Printing and Publishing Co, 1886.


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Last update: November 2006