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Campus Hidden Gems

"Applecore" staircase at Wannalancit Mills


Sure, there’s Allen House and its showy sunsets. The Saab Center’s not too shabby, nor is the Rec Center. Hard to turn your nose up at the Riverwalk behind the Tsongas, hard to avoid the “Wicked Blue” turf alongside Cushing Field. But there are other, lesser known (or understood) gems on campus. Some of them are hidden in plain sight; others are just plain hidden.
  1. An Arch Opening
    In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, American architects often left empty spaces in their blueprints with the text, “Guastavino here.” One such space is now the arch at the entrance to Southwick Hall. Built in 1903 by Rafael Guastavino, who brought his celebrated “Tile Arch System” from Spain, the arch can be seen in major U.S. constructions like the Boston Public Library arch, the Plymouth Rock portico and the Queensboro Bridge in New York.
  2. History at Your Feet
    Between the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell and the Merrimack River is a cluster of small 19th century mill buildings. Demolished in the 1930s, the structures’ foundations are today marked by granite stones throughout the grassy terraces behind the Tsongas Center. Three penstocks like this one—which held the water that was converted by turbines into power— are preserved.
  3. A Winding Path
    Today with offices and research facilities, the university is part of a masterful re-use and re-imagining of one of Lowell’s mills, where the American Industrial Revolution was born. But where cotton was once king at Wannalancit Mills (known as Suffolk Mills from its 1830s birth to the 1950s), there remain monuments to its former life, like this “applecore” staircase where mill girls trod up and down to work.
  4. That 70's Show
    North Campus’s concrete creation Olsen Hall greets visitors with a lobby surprise—a retro modern look, with colorful panels placed strategically on the walls and artistically cupped black chairs to hold you. It’s a perfect spot to linger and dream of ‘70s grandeur.
  5. Bench Warming
    Thought-provoking quotations were affixed to dozens of benches across campus between 2004 and 2006 as part of the “Take a Stand, Have a Seat” project. The idea was to celebrate diversity by displaying lines espousing social justice, equity and integrity. The notables vary greatly, from Goldie Hawn (“I have witnessed the softening of the hardest of hearts by a simple smile”) to Martin Luther King (“True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice”).
  6. Sky Ladder
    The centerpiece of the atrium in University Crossing is the Lantern, a sculpture that reflects light and dampens sound. The polished panels and large wood lattices diffuse the light and give scale to the variety of central spaces. The changing play of natural light on the Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood tapestry is meant to evoke both the future and textile history of the university.
  7. For the Birds
    When a peregrine falcons’ hideaway was discovered on the top of Fox Hall in 2007, the female had laid eggs on a bed of gravel on the roof, but the eggs didn’t hatch. The university’s carpentry shop, in consultation with the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, designed and built upgraded digs for the endangered birds. Featuring HD-quality cameras that provide live, streaming video of the interior and exterior, the nest box has been home to the successful raising of more than two dozen chicks.
  8. Mystery Man
    He sports a glorious handlebar mustache and fixes you with an arresting gaze as you descend the stairs from the first floor of Cumnock Hall. But no identification accompanies his portrait—who is he? He is Alexander G. Cumnock, the first president of the board of trustees of the Lowell Textile School, founded in 1895, as the earliest predecessor of UMass Lowell. An agent of the Boott Mills, Cumnock was respect - ed for his technological expertise and his understanding of the economic and competitive forces challenging the textile industry at that time.
  9. Treasure Trove
    Down a hallway in the Patrick J. Mogan Cultural Center on French Street sit the treasures of Lowell, piece by piece. Sorted, organized and preserved are stories of Lowell’s people and places. It’s the university’s Center for Lowell History, established in in 1971. Perhaps the deepest vein of Lowell’s history, the center houses the university archives. Janine Whitcomb, shown here, manages special collections—including the new Kerouac Room, which houses the university’s Beat Literature collections and is open to the public.
  10. State of the Art
    These murals of mill girls at work and at leisure are the only visible examples of a set of murals painted by Works Progress Administration artists during the Great Depression and mounted in Coburn Hall. A large group of murals in the Assembly Room depicting students at Lowell State Teachers College was painted over by the early 1970s and awaits restoration, says Marie Frank, associate professor of art history and architecture.
  11. Cast in Stone
    A series of 10 plaster casts of men on horses and a singing choir, made more than a century ago, hang in Coburn 205. The Boston-based Caproni Brothers made the casts from the frieze at the Parthenon, and they were installed in Coburn around 1911. They’re rare and valuable—and when art history Prof. Marie Frank realized what they were, they’d been the victims of coal dust from an old heating system. Frank and her students painstakingly used conservation tools to heal the art. 
  12. Window to the Past
    Coburn Hall, named for Frank F. Coburn, the first principal of Lowell Normal School, is unique among the university’s structures. Dedicated in 1898, the four-story structure is a reminder of our roots as a school for educators. Designed by architects Stickney & Austin, it remains a sturdy study in grey brick and arched windows. Every now and then, its windows catch a timeless cloudscape.
  13. Oh, Joan
    She is in a corner of Coburn 205, in plaster on a pedestal. She kneels, hands clasped in front of her, head slightly tilted back. She is Joan of Arc, and seems poised for instruction from the heavens. All over her are the signatures of former students, mostly from the 1960s, in pen and pencil. Like the casts that share the room, says Prof. Marie Frank, it is by the Boston-based sculpture studio Caproni, probably purchased around 1911 for Lowell Normal School.
  14. Heart Line
    This heart is one of a series connected by an EKG line that graces the central stairwell at O’Leary Library. The Teen Arts Group from The Revolving Museum created the mural in the summer of 2008 as part of the Healthy Campus Initiative. Faculty in the College of Health Sciences also installed sensors to study whether motivational signs on the previously blank, concrete walls would inspire more people to climb the stairs instead of riding the elevators. They did, says Associate Dean Deirdra Murphy.
  15. Sign of Honor
    It is fastened to the University Avenue side of the engineering-rich Ball Hall on North Campus, and it’s easy to mistake the root of its design. The insignia is reminiscent of the Masonic “square and compasses” symbol, but it’s actually the official symbol of Tau Beta Pi, the second-oldest collegiate honor society in the nation. It’s a watch key with a bridge trestle as part of the design, says Plastics Engineering Department Chairman Robert Malloy.