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Take a peek inside BU’s castle, which underwent an extensive makeover

News Allston-Brighton Fenway-Kenmore
Dahod Family Alumni Center at Boston University
Dahod Family Alumni Center at Boston University Courtesy of Jane Messinger

Sometimes even castles need extensive TLC, and that was certainly the case for the iconic one that stands on the Boston University campus.

The beloved building, a “Tudor eclectic Victorian,” had begun showing its age. The once-bright sandstone needed to be cleaned, and there was water damage, Rebecca Berry, president of Finegold Alexander Architects, the company hired to restore the building, said in an interview with Boston.com. Then there was the lack of modern systems — air-conditioning units were propped into windows during the warmer months.

Formerly the home of William Lindsey Jr., an author and businessman, and later donated to the university, the sandstone edifice has stood on the campus for more than 100 years, according to a news release from Finegold Alexander. Now the Dahod Family Alumni Center, it reopened last fall after a restoration that extended beyond a year. University officials and those who worked on the building hope the work will carry the building forward for another century.

Dahod Family Alumni Center at Boston University —Courtesy of Jane Messinger

Along with scrubbing away the grime that gave the building a dingy gray hue and fixing the water damage, the restoration included installing a new commercial kitchen to serve the BU Pub, dining for faculty on the first floor, and function space. A new roof was put on, and the original windows were restored and reinstalled, according to Berry.

“At one point the building had been completely covered in ivy, and the ivy was removed,” Berry said of the exterior. “One of the things that [ivy] did is it accelerated the deterioration of the mortar.”

This allowed water to come in, she said, noting that this happens with age. The exterior is sandstone, which is soft, and “it had literally worn away.” These areas had the stone replaced or salvaged.

Water damage was also apparent in other areas. The building has bays and crenulations as part of its style, Berry described. But the roofs over the bays were also worn down, and water seeped into the upstairs.

“We did have ceilings that were pretty much shot, and we had to reconstruct them,” she said.

Fortunately, the more ornate plasterwork adorns the ceilings on the first floor; it was much simpler upstairs where the damage was, according to Berry.

“The first-floor areas were frankly in pretty decent condition,” she said of the plaster. “There was very careful protection done during the construction for all of those surfaces.”

The castle also retained its original windows, complete with leaded patterns. Those were taken out and sent off to a specialist, Berry said. As part of the restoration, paint was stripped off and an analysis was done so the windows could be painted their original color.

“That was a labor of love,” she said. 

Dahod Family Alumni Center at Boston University —Courtesy of Jane Messinger

For the pub, careful consideration was made to maintain its character and environment.

“It had a charm to it,” Walt Meissner, BU’s associate vice president for operations, said in an interview with Boston.com. “The design was very careful to maintain that same look and feel.”

The addition of the new commercial kitchen also helps the facility handle events as well as the pub, he said. Plus, the pub can now serve a varied menu beyond sandwiches, according to Berry.

The back of the building also now has a terrace encased in glass, Berry said.

What isn’t easily viewable are the additions to the building’s systems. A new heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning system has been added so those window air conditioners can be retired or moved elsewhere. There’s also new audio-visual equipment, according to Berry.

“Obviously that is very deliberately done,” she said of hiding the modern equipment. “Wiring runs carefully up and over coves or behind baseboards; [there was] minimal cutting into walls and careful patching.”

Alumni were willing to step in and help pay for the building’s face-lift. Some 335,000 alumni donated to the cause, Steven Hall, the university’s vice president for alumni relations, said in the news release. They exceeded their $5 million goal, Meissner said.

“I think it turned out marvelous,” he said of the transformation. “It was always sort of a beautiful, interesting building, but we had no idea once we cleaned the outside and did the restoration just how beautiful a building it is.”

Berry said the best part of the project was getting to see the castle reopened and the reactions from alumni.

“These alumni are coming back to a castle,” she said. “It doesn’t happen at most campuses. … I think my favorite part was just how pleased and how proud everyone was of this building and being able to say, ‘This is part of us, this is part of Boston University.’ ”

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