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The Houses That Built Us

Victorian homes-turned-dorms foster lifelong friendships

Victorian Homes

By Samantha Mocle

"On graduation day, all of the girls from Carpenter House gathered on the front lawn and wept. You would have thought they cut off our legs, the way we were behaving! We cried like our world had come to an end.”

Ann Reeves Burton ’58 recalls that emotional day with bittersweet fondness. After all, in the case of Lasell University’s Victorian homes-turned-dormitories, a house is a home. She recalls her time at Lasell, but particularly in Carpenter House, as “absolutely spectacular.”

Many alumni still identify themselves by the houses they lived in, particularly those who attended7 Lasell in its junior college days. Self-proclaimed “Karandon Gals” or “Gardner Girls” still stay in touch, with their closest groups of friends being their housemates. Though Lasell students now live in mixed grade-level and gender-neutral housing over their four years on campus, the intimate, familial nature of the Victorian dorms has not changed.

Current students in Carpenter House

Modern Day: Inside Carpenter House

Students catch up in one of Carpenter House's stained glass nooks.

In her senior year, Gail Winalski Burd ’58 lived in Gardner House with 35 other women … and one bathtub.

“There was no privacy, but that made you very close with the other gals,” she recalls. “If you wanted to take a bath, there would be other girls coming in and brushing their teeth and washing up while you were in there. So, you would chat and catch up on the day!”

Facts & Folklore: The oldest of the Victorian dorms are Pickard and Carpenter, both built in 1874.  Fast forward to 2005, when Melissa Vizvarie ’07 lived in a single room in Saunders House … complete with a claw-foot tub in the attached bathroom.

“I don’t know anyone who went to college with that kind of setup,” she says. As a resident assistant (RA), she utilized the unique feature as a way to connect with others. If someone had a stressful day, they could count on Vizvarie to let them unwind in the lush, private space.

“The community in those houses was different. It didn’t feel like a dorm. It felt like a home. You live in a house with family, and that’s what it was,” she says. She describes the houses as a realistic way to transition from living at home in high school to living on your own as a young adult.

“At 18 years old, I wanted a transition that still felt a bit like home,” she says.

Then and now photos of Gardner House at Lasell University on a floral wallpaper background

Then & Now: Gardner House

Gardner House was built in 1884 and is known for its original woodwork, fireplaces, and stained glass. The home is named for renowned artist Elizabeth Jane Gardner, Class of 1856, whose famous painting, The Judgment of Paris, still hangs in Brennan Library.

“There was something about the Victorian dorms that drew me in on my first campus tour. They were so ornate and full of character. Those houses are the heart of Lasell.”

Judy Moss Feingold ’62 had a supreme connection with her housemates in Karandon. “I had a lot of fun with them,” she says. “So much, that I lived with women from Lasell after I graduated for many years until each of us married. I enjoyed that.”

Facts and Folklore: Lasell owns 16 Victorian homes on campus; 12 of them are currently used as residence halls. Barbara McAlary Kashar ’60 spent her senior year living in Converse House (now Saunders) with Faith Maloney ’60 and Barbara Rahner Reese ’60. Though the women lived together for just one year, they have remained friends for a lifetime.

“You couldn’t stop us,” Kashar says. She, Maloney, Reese, and as many of their housemates as possible gather yearly for long weekends on Cape Cod or around New England. The three of them met recently for what Maloney calls a “little pajama party,” a throwback to nights spent around the grand piano in Converse House’s extravagant sunken living room.

“That’s the beauty of Lasell,” says Maloney. “They treasure and preserve those buildings with an appreciation that shows. The houses speak of our past, and the campus would not be the same without them.”


Students in front of Karandon House

Modern Day: Karandon House Porch

Wraparound porches are a favorite feature on campus. Pictured here are students in front of Karandon House. 

At most colleges and universities, older buildings are often neglected and in disrepair. At Lasell, it is the opposite; the oldest buildings on campus benefit from historic preservation and community respect.

Facts and Folklore: Four of the buildings are home to special interest housing groups: Briggs (Wellness House), Case (Equity and Intersectionality House), Hoag (Quiet Study House), and Carpenter (All-Female House)“I have always been impressed by the number of students who cite the Victorian houses as an important part of their Lasell experience,” says David Hennessey, associate vice president and dean of student affairs. “College residents tend to live hard and have a real physical impact on their environments.” In the case of these homes, he says, there is clear evidence that students treat them with care.

Diane Parker, associate vice president for administration and operations, notes that the University’s focus on these homes always tends toward restoration.

“We want to keep the dignity of the architecture and the heritage of the institution intact while still serving our students,” she says. Upgrades to heating systems, electric wiring, and more are done with the utmost care for preserving each house’s iconic look and feel.

Then and now photos of Karandon House at Lasell University on a floral wallpaper background

Then & Now: Karandon House

Built in 1893, Karandon House was constructed under guidance from Lasell Principal Dr. Charles C. Bragdon, who named it after his wife: KAte RANsom bragDON. The home was used by Bragdon and his family, as well as Presidents Guy Winslow and Raymond Wass, before becoming a student-only residence in 1953.

The houses remind students of our campus history, says Scott Lamphere, director of residence life. That provides a sense of legacy to current residents, who feel connected to generations of students before them and to those they share the homes with today. The unique environment fostered by such close quarters is a bonus for those looking to not just make new friends, but to form a family.

Facts and Folklore: Gardner House is known for its beautiful wraparound porch, lush hills ... and ghost stories. April Gusler Sprague '07 and her housemates shared strange yet memorable experiences during their time there. "We'd hear singing and things in the walls, the water would turn on by itself in the middle of the night, and lights would turn off when we talked about the supposed ghosts," she says. "It was definitely haunted, and like all of the Victorian dorms, so unique."“The Victorians have a more relaxed feel that makes it easy to bring people together,” says Lamphere. “They add as much charm to the outside of our campus as they do to the residents’ experiences inside. They provide a wonderful option for students to live in small communities where they can develop those family relationships.”

“It isn’t like living in a dorm in the traditional sense,” says Kendall Morin ’16 G’21. “My room had a fireplace! It felt much homier, which brought everyone together.” Morin and her housemates, including now-fiancé Dan Capulli ’16, hosted Friendsgiving and gathered frequently in the home’s many common areas.

“Being in a smaller space allowed us to get to know each other. I made lifelong friends in Pickard,” she says.

Capulli lived in hall-style dorms for his first two years on campus and spent his junior and senior years in Pickard and Karandon, respectively. He enjoyed meeting larger groups of people in Woodland Hall, but preferred the closeness afforded by the Victorian homes.

“That smaller scale of living allowed you to get closer to those people. We had all of these rooms to hang out in: the kitchen, foyer, basement … and I feel like that’s something I couldn’t have done in a standard residence hall,” he says.

Students outside of Case House at Lasell University

Modern Day: Outside Case House

Students hang out on Case House's front lawn and porch. 

Of course, these non-traditional living experiences also come with their share of hijinks. Gail Winalski Burd and her housemates were wary of the many rules in place during their time at Lasell, including an 8:30 p.m. curfew.

Facts and Folklore: In 1918, Carpenter House became the temporary home for the Woodland Park School for Children. The school's intended location, what is now Woodland Hall, was being used by Newton Hospital to house patients at the height of the flu epidemic. “We all decided when we arrived that we didn’t want our house mother [who lived with them] nosing in on our lives. We all pitched in money to rent her a TV for the year to keep her in her room. It worked.”

The 1958 Gardner residents also took it upon themselves to decorate for the holidays. They snuck out at night and walked to Woodland Country Club, where they sawed down a pine tree to decorate in their living room!

In her days as an RA in Saunders House, Vizvarie used institutional folklore to reinforce the rules. “It was part of my job to make sure that no one went out on the balconies,” she says. “It was a challenge to get folks to listen … so I may have used ghost stories to keep people away.”

Then and now photos of Carpenter House at Lasell University on a floral wallpaper background

Then & Now: Carpenter House

Namesake Caroline A. Carpenter was one of Lasell’s most beloved instructors; she arrived in Newton in 1873 and remained at the school until her passing in 1907, just one day after Commencement. The house was formerly owned by Newton Mayor Edward Pickard and purchased by Lasell a few years after Carpenter’s passing.

Barbara Rahner Reese spent considerable time in Converse House (now Saunders) attempting to unlock a built-in safe in her closet. Hours of turning the dial and listening to the clicks did not pan out into treasure for her, unfortunately, but made for a memorable experience.

Facts and Folklore: "Smokers" were the place to be as a midcentury Lasell student; these basements were the only dorm areas that allowed smoking, and thus made them bustling social centers for games of bridge and daily gossip. “Those kinds of things really brought us together,” says Reese. “The world around us was changing, we were becoming more independent, and with all that happening, we lived in these wonderful, elegant homes.” Society began to feel more impersonal at that time, she adds, and during that transition it was comforting to live in a family setting.

“Nothing compares to the environment we had in those houses,” she says. “It really enabled us to broaden the kind of relationships that I hope my grandchildren will have in college.”

Current student photos by Margaret Brochu '20.
Historical photos and notes supplied by the Winslow Archives at Brennan Library.