Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Little Building

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Institution Name: Emerson College
Original/Historic Place Name: Little Building
Location on Campus: 80 Boylston St.
Date(s) of Construction and Designer(s):
1917original construction Blackall, Clarence
1995new roof installation Unknown
Type of Place: Individual building
Style(s): (Glossary)
Foundation: concrete
Walls: concrete (cast stone); stone (Deer Island granite); metal; steel
Roof: Tremco 3-ply built-up system (current, from 1995); cold-applied mastic (current, from 1995)
ca. 1903other (office building with shopping arcade)
1994-present (2007)other (campus radio station, WERS-FM)
1994-present (2007)dining hall
1994-present (2007)gymnasium (fitness center)
ca. 1994-present (2007)residence hall (750 students)

Significance: architecture
Landmark designation:
National RegisterPiano Row District (1980)
Narrative: see below
References: see below

The Little Building was built in 1917 on the site of the Pelham Hotel (1857), the "first apartment house in any city along the Atlantic seaboard of the United States" according to noted architectural historian Walter Muir Whitehill. The Little Building was designed by Clarence Blackall, a noted Boston architect who also built fourteen theatres in this city, of which only three (Wilbur, Colonial, Metropolitan/Wang Center) remain standing today.

When the Little Building opened, it was considered significant enough to be featured in the American Architect and Building News. Whitehill called it "the most glamorous office building of the era of World War I." Known as the "City Under One Roof," it featured 9 floors of office space, a two-story shopping arcade, a post office, restaurants (including an automat), and tunnels connecting it to the subway and neighboring theatres. It even had its own newspaper, the Little Building News, published from April 1922 through March 1925.

Over the years, the neighborhood in which the Little Building was located suffered a slow decline. When Emerson College purchased the building in 1994, it was struggling to survive as an office building and had fallen into receivership. In renovating the Little Building to serve as the College's primary undergraduate residence hall, Emerson has effectively returned it to its roots as a city under one roof. Today, 750 Emerson students live on the upper floors, take their meals in the dining hall, exercise in the fitness center, and shop at the stores in the arcade. An ATM machine and a series of rotating exhibits in cases carved out of former shop windows ensure that the general public still has reason to enter this historic urban structure. Emerson students have also brought a renewed vitality to the streets, which has helped spur new development in the neighborhood.

I. Bibliographic sources:

Fox, Pamela J. Theatre Area Preservation Study. Report. June, 1979. Boston, MA: Boston Landmarks Commission, 1979.

Jenkins, Candace. Piano Row District [Emerson College]. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1980.

Little Building [Emerson College]. Building information form. Boston: Boston Landmarks Commission, [n.d.].

II. Location of other data:
University: Special Collections, Facilities Management Office
Government Offices

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