Shifting landscapes: A look into Blanch before it was “super”


When they arrived on campus in the fall of 2017, the members of the class of 2021 became the last to experience Mount Holyoke’s traditional dining arrangements before the renovated Dining Commons opened in Blanchard Hall in January 2018. Before this, Blanchard served several different purposes for the College.

Photographs in the Mount Holyoke Archives show Blanchard’s past life as a gymnasium, constructed in response to urgent student demands for the replacement of the old gym that was burned down in a fire around 1898. Students were active in raising money to contribute to the construction of the Blanchard gymnasium; 16 dollars (worth roughly $377 in modern terms) were collected by students alone.

The initiative for the construction was founded on students’ wishes for a year-round space for physical exercise on campus, which would prevent lethargy during long periods of immobility. William C. Brocklesby, who was the architect for much of South Hadley at the time, planned out the structure of Blanchard Hall, making use of the latest methods of ventilation.

Originally, there was a running track on the first floor. “Bathrooms, toilets, dressing rooms and lockers and also two bowling alleys of regulation length” were in the basement, according to a news report found in the Mount Holyoke Archives.

On Jan. 18, 1900, the new gymnasium at Mount Holyoke was used for entertainment purposes for the first time. The senior class presented the play “Trelawney of the ‘Wells’” two years after its premiere in London in January 1898. The proscenium arch of the stage that was built into the gym is still visible in Blanchard today.

In 1922, Rockefeller Hall burned down in a fire, leading to the temporary construction of roofless wooden plank rooms as dorm rooms on the first floor of Blanchard. The fire was photographed and is documented in an exhibit called “Mount Holyoke Afire” in the Art Museum.

In 1950, Kendall Sports and Dance Complex was completed as an ultramodern gymnasium for the College, and Blanchard Hall was repurposed to house psycho-physical research facilities and language laboratories.

Photo courtesy of Mount Holyoke Archives

Photo courtesy of Mount Holyoke Archives

After 25 years of relative inactivity, in 1985, architects from the Hillier Group were asked to explore and define specific needs to be included in a campus center for Mount Holyoke College. In 1988, Blanchard Hall was transformed into a unified campus center that closely resembles today’s Blanchard Campus Center, including spaces for student organizations, dining facilities and a campus store. The first floor was partially removed to form an opening to the basement and the ceiling was removed to expose the wood beams of the roof.

During Commencement weekend in 2017, the campus store was removed from Blanchard Campus Center and incorporated into the Odyssey Bookstore.

The most recent change occurred in 2018, when the campus center was expanded to incorporate the dining center, commonly known as “SuperBlanch.” Despite initial controversy regarding the decision, students have begun the process of adjusting to Blanchard’s newest transformation. Rosie Xu ’19 commented that she can’t even remember what Blanchard Hall looked like before the renovation of 2018.

Shanze Hasan ’21 said, “The transition to the Dining Commons in my second semester was really exciting! There was a variety of food from different cuisines from around the world, which is an essential aspect considering our diverse student body.”