Lowell House is one of the twelve undergraduate residential houses within Harvard College, located on Holyoke Place facing Mount Auburn Street between Harvard Yard and the Charles River. Officially, it is named for the Lowell family, but an ornate "ALL" woven into the ironwork above the main gate discreetly alludes to Abbott Lawrence Lowell, Harvard's president at the time of construction. Its majestic neo-Georgian design, centered on two landscaped courtyards, received the 1938 Harleston Parker Medal and might be considered the model for later Harvard houses nearby. Lowell House is simultaneously close to the Yard, Harvard Square, and other Harvard "River" houses, and its blue-capped bell tower, visible for many miles, is a local landmark.
History and traditions
Lowell was one of the first Houses built in realization of President Lowell's long-held dream of providing on-campus accommodations for every Harvard College student throughout his career at the College. (See Harvard College house system.) Its first Master was Mathematics Department chairman Julian Lowell Coolidge, who also instituted Monday-night High Table. Historian Elliott Perkins was the first to hold the position of Resident Dean (until recently known as the Allston Burr Senior Tutor) then was Master from 1942 to 1963. Classicist Zeph Stewart was the third Master, and William and Mary Lee Bossert served from 1975 to 1998. Current co-Masters Diana Eck and Dorothy Austin are thus only the fifth Masters in Lowell's 80 years. Lowell's sister college at Yale University is Pierson College.
House traditions include Masters' Tea on Thursday afternoons, a May Day Waltz at dawn on the Weeks Footbridge, High Table, and the annual Lowell House Opera mounted in the dining hall. Springtime brings the Bacchanalia Formal, often with a live swing band in the courtyard.
Each ArtsFirst weekend, the first weekend in May, there is a courtyard performance of the 1812 Overture, during which those not part of the official orchestral ensemble are encouraged to assist on kazoos; in lieu of cannon, hydrogen-filled balloons are ignited by the House chemistry tutor; and until recently (see below) the performance would climax with the role originally scored by Tchaikovsky for authentic Russian zvon (a set of bells similar to a carillon), being played (appropriately enough) by Lowell's own authentic Russian zvon.
There is a winter holiday dinner, and various sophomore, senior, Roundtable and faculty dinners take place throughout the year. Language tables and special-interest tables are common features of everyday lunches and dinners. Many House events are organized by Lowell's "House Committee" of elected undergraduates from within the House. The committee operates separately from the Harvard Undergraduate Council (UC), to organize student events and manage funding. The HoCo, as with the other student government organizations in the Houses, are funded by the UC.
Lowell House was the residence of Silas (Method Man) and Jamal (Redman) in the 2001 comedy How High.
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Designed by the firm of Coolidge Shepley Bulfinch and Abbott and constructed in 1930 for $3,620,000, the House was named for the prominent Lowell family, closely identified with Harvard since John Lowell graduated in 1721. The busts of President Abbott Lawrence Lowell (1909-1933) and poet James Russell Lowell, are featured in the main courtyard. In the Dining Hall are portraits of President Lowell and his wife; his sister, poet Amy Lowell; his brother. astronomer Percival Lowell; and his grandfather John Amory Lowell.
Prior to the 1996 transition to randomized House assignments, Lowell's central location, picturesque courtyard, elegant dining hall, and charming traditions made it a popular housing choice.
The Lowell House arms are those of the Lowell family, blazoned: Shield: sable, a dexter hand couped at the wrist grasping three darts, one in pale and two in saltire, all in argent. Crest: a stag's head cabossed, between the attires a pheon azure. Motto: Occasionem Cognosce. (In more prosaic terms: A shield with black field displaying a right hand cut off at the wrist and grasping three arrows, one vertical and two crossed diagonally, in silver. Above, a male deer's head mounted behind the ear, and between its antlers a barbed, broad arrowhead in blue. The motto means "Recognize the opportunity.") The house colors are blue and white.
The Lowell House Bells
For three-quarters of a century, the pride of Lowell House had been its authentic Russian zvon-- one of the few complete sets of pre-revolutionary Russian bells surviving anywhere -- hanging in the House's signature bell tower. Eighteen bells were bought in Russia around 1930 by Thomas Whittemore with the financial aid of millionaire Chicago plumbing industrialist Charles R. Crane -- who reportedly paid merely their value as scrap -- just as they were to be melted down by Soviet authorities. Crane donated them to Harvard in 1930 just as plans for Lowell House were nearing completion.
Like those seen today on Dunster and Eliot Houses, Lowell's tower was originally meant to be a clock-tower -- Lowell's in particular is reminiscent of Philadelphia's Independence Hall, although it was actually modeled after a Dutch church. With word of Crane's gift, the planned tower was changed to the blue-capped bell tower seen today. (One of the eighteen bells did not harmonize with the others; it was hung in the Harvard Business School's Baker Library.)
The bells originally hung in Moscow's Danilov Monastery (now the seat of the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church) and were installed with the help, at first, of musician Konstantin Konstantinovich Saradzhev, and Vsevolod Andronoff, a former resident of the monastery They range in weight from 22 pounds (10 kg) to 26,700 pounds (12,100 kg, and known to Lowell House students as "Mother Earth"). The bells are consecrated, and are of great significance to the Russian Orthodox Church, in the liturgy of which bells play an important role.
At Lowell, the bells were usually rung on Sundays at 1pm by resident Klappermeisters. After the annual Harvard-Yale football game, Harvard's score would sometimes be proclaimed on the Mother Earth, with Yale's score tolled on the Bell of Pestilence, Famine, and Despair.
With the reopening of the Danilov Monastery, it was suggested that the bells be returned to their original home. At Harvard's June 2008 Commencement, they sounded for the last time at Lowell House, after which the bell tower was partially dismantled so that the bells could be withdrawn. In their place were hung newly cast near-replica bells obtained with the financial assistance of the Link of Times Foundation, created by Russian industrialist Viktor Vekselberg.
The now-departed bells may still be heard on the Lowell House Virtual Bell Tower. The new bells can be heard every Sunday from 1-1:30pm, and visitors are welcome to visit the tower.
Notable former residents and alumni of Lowell House include:
- John Ashmead, American author and scholar (Room N44)
- John Berendt, American author (Room M31)
- Harry Blackmun, Justice of the United States Supreme Court (Room C12)
- Zachary Bogue, American lawyer and investor
- Michael Crichton, American author and producer (Room D42)
- Matt Damon, actor and philanthropist (Room M42)
- Philip F. Gura, American literature scholar (Room J52)
- Walter Isaacson, magazine editor and foundation president (Room K22)
- Nicholas Kristof, journalist (Room E31)
- Ned Lamont of the notable Lamont family (Room C21)
- Vanessa Lann, composer and pianist (Room N35)
- Tom Lehrer, singer-songwriter (Room R13)
- Alan Jay Lerner, lyricist and librettist (Room D41)
- Robert Lowell, sixth Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (Room L12)
- Anthony Lewis, intellectual and former columnist for The New York Times (Room O21)
- Crown Princess Masako, wife of Crown Prince Naruhito of Japan (Room E11)
- Natalie Portman, Academy Award winning actress (Room I43)
- Frank Rich, columnist for The New York Times (Room O34)
- Ryan Max Riley, skier on the United States Ski Team (Room M21)
- Christian Wolff, composer (Room B24)
- David Souter, Justice of the United States Supreme Court (Room C32)
- John Updike, novelist, poet, and literary critic (Room K22)
- David Vitter, Republican Senator from Louisiana (Room M41)
- Chris Wallace, journalist (Room J32)
- Andrew Weil, author and physician (Room D14)
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