Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
Making It Modern

Academics

Student Alumnae Building

Student Alumnae Building: Campus Facade. Hornbostel and Bennett. Graphite, marker, pen, paper. 41 x 66 cm. 1938.Student Alumnae Building: Plot Plan. Hornbostel and Bennett. Graphite, marker, pen, paper. 41 x 66 cm. 1938.

Student Alumnae Building Floor Plan: Main Floor. Hornbostel and Bennett. Graphite, marker, pen, paper. 41 x 66 cm. 1938.Student Alumnae Building Floor Plan: Ground Floor. Hornbostel and Bennett. Graphite, marker, pen, paper. 41 x 66 cm. 1938.

Most of the space in the Student Alumnae Building consisted of lounges/parlors or assembly rooms, which served multi-purpose uses. Dances and other activities were held in the large ballroom. The balcony adjacent to the northwest side of the ballroom must have provided a wonderful view of Chapel Field.

An interesting feature of the ground floor plan (lower right) is the bowling alley, which survived until SAB was expanded into the Balfour-Hood Center in 1986. The plans also show a living area for a live-in caretaker couple including a bedroom, living room, bathroom, and kitchen.

The plot plan (upper right), oriented with the south at the top, gives a sense of SAB’s position relative to surrounding buildings. Prior to SAB’s construction, every building on campus fell along the lines of the “Court of Honor,” positioned on an east-west or north-south axis. SAB, in a distinctively Modernist twist, breaks those lines with its doglegged footprint. The circular drive to the south of SAB is one of the first architectural elements on campus designed with the automobile in mind.

-Evan Morse, Class of 2009

SAB Model. Unidentified Photographer (Wheaton Alumnae Quarterly). Photograph. 10 x 15 cm. August 1939.This photograph of the model for SAB was a gift from Caleb Hornbostel, one of the building’s architects and of the winners of the 1938 competition for an Art Center at Wheaton. The model differs from the final product in some respects, but take note of the vertical ribbon windows, which remained in the final design of SAB and were maintained in the exterior and interior of Balfour-Hood Center.

-Shannon Ryan, Class of 2010

Along with the pencil sketch by Hornbostel and Bennett, this photograph of the main campus entrance to SAB demonstrates the minimalism of the International Style. Planters on either side of the door are the only decorative elements. This contrasts sharply with the 1986 Balfour-Hood entrance, which includes a decorative overhang supported by pillars that mimic the Greek Revival columns of the library and the pediment of Cole Memorial Chapel. SAB’s original doorway still exists as an entrance to the Balfour-Hood Café, in back of the staircase to the Office of Student Life.

-Evan Morse, Class of 2009

Plimpton Hall Across the Courtyard. Unidentified Photographer. Photograph. 33.5 x 26.6 cm. ca. 1940s.Plimpton Hall Across the Courtyard. Unidentified Photographer. Photograph. 33.5 x 26.5 cm. ca 1940s.

The Student Alumnae Building (SAB), built in 1940 from a design by Hornbostel and Bennett, was the first Modern building on Wheaton’s campus. Today, the outline of SAB is largely visible, even though it was incorporated into the Balfour-Hood Center. SAB ingeniously combined industrial as well as traditional materials as can be seen in the white pipe rails of the balconies, which create a stark contrast against the red brick walls. The building’s unconventional broken ‘L’ shape, placed at a 90 degree angle to the Court of Honor’s north-south axis, also mark it as a breakthrough in campus architecture at Wheaton.

This courtyard-side view of Plimpton Hall shows the indoor and outdoor utilization of space in SAB. The vertical ribbon windows seen in the photograph are still visible in the current SGA offices in Balfour-Hood Center.

-Maria Escudero, Class of 2010 Kendra Lawrence, Class of 2009

Student Alumnae Building from the Motor Entrance. Unidentified Photographer. Photographer. 25 x 34 cm. ca. 1941.

One of the most exciting and popular features of the Student Alumnae Building was the addition of a motor entrance. It provided a covered entrance for Wheaton students to be picked up and dropped off by their dates. The motor entrance also allowed easy access to Plimpton Hall, the venue for many formal dances. The Motor Entrance was constructed on the south side of SAB and was often used as the place for students to be picked up from, or dropped off at, dances and other events. It was built over the potato cellar, which was constructed in the mid-1930s. Both of these structures exist today.

-Mell Scalzi, Class of 2009 -Ross Culliton, Class of 2009

SAB interiors in Architectural Forum.SAB interior: Parlor.SAB interior: Alumnae Parlor.

While the exterior of the Student Alumnae Building (SAB) was quite striking, the interiors were just as wonderful. The interior decoration was designed by Ann Hatfield, who was chosen for the job in a separate contest organized by the Museum of Modern Art. Interiors Magazine called SAB “a living building for active young girls.” Elements of the interior design are highlighted in photographs displayed throughout section of the exhibition and include furniture, rugs and draperies.

-Mell Scalzi, Class of 2009

Named for the room’s brightly colored walls, upholstery, and rugs, Yellow Parlor juxtaposed traditional and modern decoration within the Student Alumnae Building, which was the first International Style building constructed on a college campus in the United States. After SAB was converted into the Balfour-Hood Center in 1986, Yellow Parlor was transformed into New Yellow Parlor, and painted a paler shade of yellow.

-Shannon Ryan, Class of 2010

The game room in the Student Alumnae Building provided space for students to relax and take a break from their studies. The room featured a shuffleboard court on the floor and tables for card games. Its design incorporated fantastic geometric forms, with square hanging light fixtures and exposed beams. The game room also provided access to the two-lane bowling alley, which remained in the building until the mid 1980s, when SAB was renovated to become Balfour-Hood Center.

-Mell Scalzi, Class of 2009

All-in-one Media Center. Unidentified Photographer. Photograph. 26 x 25.5 cm. 1941.To left, one can see the all-in-one media unit that was located in SAB’s game room. It included a radio, piano, turntable, and bookshelf. This piece represents the Modernist principle of functionality in aesthetic.

-Shannon Ryan, Class of 2010

Light Fixture. Unidentified Photographer. Photograph. 26 x 25.5 cm. 1941.This photograph of the light fixtures used in SAB’s Plimpton Hall draws attention to the Modern aesthetic in which architects Caleb Hornbostel and Richard Bennett, and designer Ann Hatfield were fluent.

-Mell Scalzi, Class of 2009

Chairs. Unidentified Photographer. Photograph. 26 x 35.5 cm. 1941.

Plimpton Hall, the east wing of SAB, represents the International Style in its interior as well as its exterior. The building’s interior was planned by Ann Hatfield, who collaborated with Hornbostel and Bennett to ensure that the interior spaces conveyed their functions as much as the exterior design did. Here, Walker Evans captures the pure functionality of rows of chairs installed in Plimpton Hall, which was a popular location for campus functions ranging from concerts and films to dances. Because the space was used so often for a variety of purposes, the chairs needed to be easily set up and put away. They were designed to fold and fit onto sliding tracks that were stored under the stage. During the Making It Modern physical exhibition, sets of these chairs could be found in front of the windows at the back of Beard Gallery.

Though many of Evans’ photographs of Wheaton focus on the more traditional, Georgian Revival buildings on campus, the few he took of the exterior and interior spaces of SAB show his appreciation for the beauty and the functionalism of the International style.

-Jessie Landau, Class of 2000

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