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Parker Cleaveland Hall

Parker Cleaveland Hall

Cleaveland Hall, circa 1950-1965. Catalog no.: 1373.1.

A new chemistry building was an important item on the Sesquicentennial Fund list, and the building committees were working on plans well before Sills Hall/Smith Auditorium was finished. A handsome brochure with photographs of the construction of Sills/Smith concluded with a perspective drawing of the redevelopment of the old Delta, including the new chemistry building.1

Two factors were responsible for the importance at Bowdoin of the sciences in general and chemistry in particular: the reputation and longevity of Parker Cleaveland, and the presence of the Medical School of Maine. Cleaveland was instructor, then professor at Bowdoin from 1805 to 1858. During that time he taught all the sciences in Massachusetts Hall. After Adams Hall was built, the science faculty doubled. When Cleaveland Hall was built, there were three faculty members just for chemistry. Today there are eight faculty members, four fellows, and a director of laboratories for chemistry alone. The history of science since the days of Parker Cleave -land's natural philosophy reveals the gradual classification of areas of knowledge and inquiry. It was not until 1882 that separate departments of chemistry, physics, and biology were organized at Bowdoin. By that time Adams Hall was no longer adequate, shared as it was with the medical school, and the old Commons on Bath Street had been appropriated for an analytical laboratory. Searles Science Building answered the need for space as well as up-to-date equipment in 1894.

When ground was broken for the new chemistry building in March 1951, there had been at least three sets of plans and three different proposals for the principal facade. For the faculty building committee and its chairman, Samuel E. Kamerling, Charles Weston Pickard Professor of Chemistry, the challenge was to provide the latest and safest laboratories as well as storage spaces, faculty offices, private laboratories, a library, classrooms, and a large lecture room. The three-member chemistry department was probably more concerned with the interior disposition of spaces than with the exterior style. The three different proposals for the exterior, however, suggest considerable discussion about the visual impact of the building on the Bowdoin campus.

The first drawing, signed by James Kellum Smith of McKim, Mead and White, was included in a fund-raising brochure entitled Science for the Common Good.2 The design can best be described as Art Deco Georgian: the first and second story windows are organized in tall strips separated by decorative panels; the entranceway is very tall and surmounted by a tripartite window; and the roofline contains a white parapet decorated with horizontal panels.

The second drawing, which was published in a later fund-raising brochure, shows an exterior closer to the final plan but with the central bay projecting rather than recessed and the entranceway arched instead of trabeated.3

The final solution, while in no way daring, is far more agreeable. The masses of the facade assert themselves, and the projecting portico becomes a sculptural element. This facade is reminiscent of the Moulton Union, but the placement of the building on a considerable rise and its broad expanse make it imposing and aloof. The architect seems to have been trying to maintain a domestic scale, though, for he hid the third full story by elaborate banking on the front.

The stern face this building shows the world comes as close to symbolizing science as any architecture has done. College and university science buildings are usually indistinguishable from other academic structures. Even when the spare, clean, technological lines of modernism came to the college campus, they served science, humanities, and dormitories equally.

Searles Science Building, which is equally neutral iconographically, was reworked on the interior by McKim, Mead and White at this time, too. The brick was painted in an effort to Georgianize Vaughan's handsome collegiate Gothic. It should be noted that other campuses, in Maine and elsewhere, acquired buildings like Sills/Smith, Cleaveland, Moore and Cole-man, the Moulton Union, and Gibson. And other campuses, too, saw older buildings reworked to confer a spurious homogeneity.

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


2. Sp. Coll., Bldgs.: Cleaveland Hall.

3. Sp. Coll., Sesquicentennial Campaign.

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