Northeastern’s Campus Transformed, Evolving into City Retreat

Ell Hall, Northeasten

The Northeastern University campus has changed dramatically changed since 1971, becoming larger, greener and more welcoming. If all you recall are trolley tracks, endless acres of blacktop parking lots and rectangular buildings of gray brick, and you haven’t been back to the campus since your Commencement Day, you probably would be surprised by many changes.

Ell Hall, Northeasten

A familiar view of the entrance to Ell Hall, but with a prettier garden to soften the gray brick

A returning visitor first would notice how much cleaner the buildings they remember are now. This is partly due to long-serving Boston Mayor Tom Menino and the Fenway A returning visitor first would notice how much cleaner the buildings they remember  are now. This is partly due to long-serving Boston Mayor Tom Menino and the Fenway Development Corp., an alliance of local residents and businessesoriginally formed to pressure Northeastern and other nearby colleges not to take over the entire Fenway neighborhood,thereby forcing current residents from homes many had occupied since the 1950s. Mayor Menino and the FDC foundwilling allies in then-local Rep. Barney Frank, and Northeastern’s Community Relations Office.

Ell stairway repainted

At the rear of the Ell Building, an old stairway is refreshed with color

Meanwhile state and federal officials facing America’s Bicentennial Celebration in 1976 were sprucing up many Boston neighborhoods, including the nearly century-old red-brick apartment houses surrounding Northeastern. As always, the cleanup also was encouraged by real estate developers who saw an opportunity to market the area as “old-fashioned charm” but with all new appliances and wiring suitable for personal computers.

Marketing the area also was easier for realtors because of the coherent city planning that had created theBack Bay: townhouses of uniform size, height and materials bordering Olmsted’s “Green Necklace” of parks to keep residents in touch with nature.

The Back Bay in the early 1900s became home to the Museum of Fine Arts, New England Conservatory of Music, the Opera House, the Gardner Museum, Horticultural Hall and, in my opinion, the finest music venue in the world, Symphony Hall. At that time there was plenty to draw “respectable” residents, but over the years the buildings had changed as more college students replaced the “refined” class, which had moved elsewhere. Today you’d find that the two-bedroom you shared on St. Stephen Street with 3-5 roommates in 1970 is renting for more than $3,000 a month.

sculpture garden at Northeastern

Spring is much prettier in the Sculpture Park behind Curry Student Center. Between trees you see “Orb,” a sphere over 6 feet high by Kathleen Van Deusen; then a mural commissioned from street artist Daniel Anguilu to reflect the movement of people and vehicles on the neighborhood streets. To the right of the mural is “Reclining Figure,” by movie director Blake Edwards

Northeastern’s collaboration in giving the local residents a welcoming neighbor involved building green spaces, planting flowers and trees, placing sculptures on campus parklands and designing a place the locals would get pleasure from walking past or viewing from their own windows nearby

The campus landscaping improved along with the quality of campus architecture. Repurposing extant buildings of variousshades of brick or stone was only the start. At last, purely functional rectangular boxes gave way to curvilinear stairwells of glass, exterior walls with wavy patterns of solids and voids and much more visual variety than the 1970s students would have imagined.

Apart from time changing the quality of buildings, during the last quarter of the 20th century the student body also significantly changed. During the 1970s Northeastern was largely a body of students from communities around Boston who would drive to campus — thus the endless parking lots.

International Village, Northeastern

International Village is at the intersection of Ruggles St. and Columbus Ave. Its cafeteria offers foods from several countries; its Common Area features a glorious view toward the Pru and downtown beyond

As the millennium approached, students from abroad became far more numerous, requiring more dorm space. The West Village complex of taller dorm buildings mixed with more academic buildings, and later, International Village, betweenColumbus Avenue and Tremont Street.

The atrium view of the Marino Recreation Center shows how many types of exercise equipment are available for students to use. Promoting personal fitness and team sports, the center offers a suspended track for walking or jogging. There are also cafes and a lounge for socializing and relaxing

The university also took over residential buildings on Columbus Avenue that had been affected by the expansion of tracks for the Acela rail service to South Station and the MBTA Orange Line expansion. By the 1990s almost all the townhouses remaining on the south side of Columbus Avenue were used for housing Northeastern students and the new Alumni Services building with a dining room overlooking the Carter Recreation fields.  That sports facility is also available for use by local neighbors and ball teams, making better  use of land once occupied by a meat-packing plant and a cigar factory.

17th floor view

Panorama from the 17th floor Presentation Hall in the East Village dorm, rising above the YMCA, where it all began

On the north side of Huntington Avenue, Speare Hall dorm is still there, but what had been a parking lot beside it is    nowthe site of the Marino Recreation Center, which is like a private health club, but without huge membership fees. It featurespersonal trainers, squash courts, basketball courts, lockers, hair dryers and other facilities for helping keep students fit and (slightly) more relaxed.

Egan Research Center is surrounded by plazas and gardens, not just blacktop.

Go back and visit the campus when you are in the Boston area, and if it has been a long time since you were there, you will be amazed and pleased to see a much more welcoming, comfortable campus than you recall

Leon and Greenleaf intersection

The intersection of Leon and Greenleaf Streets leads to a plaza with a metal sculpture clock and more tree-lined gardens