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Sills Hall and Smith Auditorium

Sills Hall and Smith Auditorium
1950
McKIM, MEAD AND WHITE

Sills Hall construction, 1949-1950. Catalog no. 2868.1.

Attention to the campus and buildings had been delayed by World War II; because of the war, the Sesquicentennial of 1944 was a modest celebration. After the war the Sesquicentennial Fund was launched, and plans were made for new college facilities. The most dramatic outcome of this activity was the 1948 rerouting of Harpswell Street which led it through the Pines to Federal Street. The old Delta where Adams Hall and the baseball diamond stood was united with the rest of the campus. What is now Sills Drive was built by the College with the approval of the town of Brunswick. This bold move made it possible to develop a new area of the campus. The President's Gate was moved and placed to allow automobiles access to the new cross-campus road.

No new classrooms had been built since 1894. In December 1948 the faculty committee for a new classroom building was appointed, as was the committee of the Governing Boards, chaired by Harold L. Berry '01. It was natural, by now, to turn to McKim, Mead and White for designs for the classroom building and the new chemistry building.

Ground was broken for Sills Hall in October 1949 after a several-months' delay to rework the plans. The following September the new building was dedicated, and in May 19 51 James Kellum Smith, the architect for McKim, Mead and White, was given an honorary degree for his work on this and other buildings at Bowdoin and at other colleges. It was not until two years later that the building was named for Kenneth Charles Morton Sills, who had announced his retirement.

During the early planning stages the Orient reported: "In view of the importance of visual education, and as a provision for larger classes, the committee also hopes that an annex may be added to the new building as soon as possible, containing a two hundred seat auditorium."1 The final plans did include the Smith Auditorium.

President Sills had once remarked that money tended to come from unexpected sources. Such was the case with the Francis, George, David, and Benjamin Smith Fund, left to Bowdoin from the estate of Dudley F. Wolfe in 1941. Mr. Wolfe, who died scaling K-2 in the Himalayas, was from Rockland and a graduate of Harvard. The fund honors his grandfather, Benjamin Smith, and his great-uncles, Francis, George, and David Smith. The sum of $150,000 came to the College in 1941 with the stipulation that it be used for a building or kept as a fund. The war intervened, so that an appropriate building was not built until 1950.

With the new space acquired by rerouting Harpswell Street and the strong axis provided by the campus drive, the architect planned another, smaller, quadrangle for the new classroom building and the new chemistry building. It was decided to run Sills Hall parallel to Bath Street and place Smith Auditorium at a right angle, making an L-shaped building. One entrance faces Adams Hall, and the second is on the south flank. The Sills building block is two stories high, while the Smith block is one story. The transition is handled by the recessed, arched entranceway on the south side. Tall, round-arched windows recessed in the brick wall line the first stories of each block, providing visual continuity.

The western entranceway is also arched, a stylistic feature often repeated in the work done for Bowdoin by McKim, Mead and White. A parapet, rather than the more sculptural balustrade of the Moulton Union, crowns the roofline. The tripartite window over the entranceway and the splayed lintels argue for some Federal influence, while the door itself is difficult to place. This facade owes something to the oldest dormitories but lacks two stories.

The south flank is more interesting, with some generosity of proportion and courting of light and shade, its original effect now rather obscured by trees.

It was reported in the Orient that the architect wanted to lower Adams Hall to make it conform with the new building.2 This must have been the time when the trim on Adams was painted white and the grey-brown paint of the quoins and window surrounds was allowed to weather and almost disappear.

Today Sills houses the Departments of Classics, Education, German, Romance Languages, and Russian. The Language Media Center, a speech center, and the film library are also here.

Text From: Patricia McGraw Anderson's The Architecture of Bowdoin College (Brunswick, Maine: Bowdoin College Museum of Art, 1988). ©Bowdoin College.

1. March 23, 1949.

2. Ibid.

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