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Brandeis has a historic castle, but plans to tear most of it down

Usen Castle at Brandeis University

Brandeis University says it's time to tear down the bulk of a historic building that is the only one left from its 1948 founding.

In fact, Usen Castle predates Brandeis and was originally part of the campus for a failed medical school that Brandeis's organizers bought for the Jewish-sponsored but secular college. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

In a letter to Brandesians today, interim President Lisa Lynch says the building is in horrible shape and that students would be better served by replacing most of it with a modern dorm with more rooms than the current castle has. Two towers, including the one housing the campus coffeehouse, would be kept and restored, she writes.

The Castle has long been a meaningful spot for generations of Brandeisians. Unfortunately, it was not built to the highest standards when constructed during the Great Depression, and it is understandably showing significant signs of advancing age.

Ed. note: In my sophomore year at Brandeis, I lived in the Castle.

Photo by Neverland posted under this Creative Commons license.

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Ed. note: In my sophomore year at Brandeis.

I take it this isn't Adam's note?

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Where did you think I went to college?

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But good luck with your studies.

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My interpretation is that Adam was there in 1979 when the Castle was put on the Historic Registry.

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Although I don't remember the designation to be honest, but as explained below, I left out the year because, well, who knows why, maybe the phone rang:-).

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It's a useful skill, I hear.

Thanks, the Ed. note is now complete.

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The 'Deis is nice. I didn't spend much time in/around that building, but I would imagine that it's not the most functional space as a dormitory. Personally, I love charming old buildings, and would prefer that they stay put--but the university has to make long-term decisions.

If they put together a novel, modern augmentation to the remaining structure, it could very well turn out to be one of the coolest buildings around. It is, after all, an elaborate mansion from the '20's. This isn't an irreplaceable historic castle that's >500 years old.

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But if you got lucky and got one of the rounded rooms in the turrets, oh, those were cool (I was in a smallish double with a bunk bed on the non-turrett first floor, but it overlooked the courtyard and had its own sink, so it was all good).

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I lived in the Castle as well and honestly, the place needed work. My roommates and I had a really cool suite- provided you didn't mind going through one bedroom to get to another or using what was technically a fire escape to get to said second bedroom.
The Castle was never well designed to begin with. Apparently the fellow who had it built modeled it after a castle he saw in the British Isles. Unfortunately, he could only get measurements for the exterior. The architect then had to kludge together an interior. Then when Brandeis got it, they had to turn it into a dorm. So it's a little...um, quirky.
Would it perhaps be nicer if they left the "shell" and redid an interior? Maybe. But this alumna really isn't too broken up about the whole thing.

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This is a disgrace. The university failed to take care of a landmark and now wants to use their neglect as an excuse to tear it down.

Shame on them.

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First the Rose Art Museum and now the Castle; is this administration totally ignorant of what makes Brandeis special?

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The Rose happened 2 presidents ago. The current administration is an interim president.

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I wonder how much those paintings they sold off in 1991 are worth today.

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President Lisa Lynch says the building is in horrible shape

Whose responsibility is that?

Unfortunately, it was not built to the highest standards when constructed during the Great Depression...

I would be surprised if its construction were not more robust than, say, my 21st-Century house, but I think she's actually making an "It's old. We want new" argument in disguise.

BTW, this is not the first time the U has attempted to tear down the Castle. I believe there was a major groundswell of alumni outrage the last time.

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Have you been in the Castle in, oh, the last 2 decades or so? Rumor has it that renovating the building at this point would cost $80 million. As an alum who owes my education to scholarships, I don't want my donations going to propping up a building that has passed its useful life - no matter how much I loved it. If it was financially reasonable to keep it, they would. Going back to the early 2000s, my friends and I dealt with ceilings that collapsed, walls that leaked in rainstorms, flooding, and a wonky heating system. Friends and family who lived there in the 90s share similar stories. There are rooms that no one has been able to live in for years because this was coming up the pike and it would be far too expensive to fix things piecemeal when there are structural issues. The footprint is also much larger than the mere 90 beds suggests - especially important when you consider the housing shortage on campus.

For the past 2 or 3 years, half of the building has been covered with scaffolding. Is that something that is done just because "It's old, we want new" or because there are serious structural issues? My bet is on the latter.

The Castle should have been completely gutted 20 or 30 years ago. Instead, the can got kicked down the road. No one in charge now had any say on what happened then.

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The Castle is probably the most iconic symbol Brandeis has - an image search on Brandeis returns more photos of the Castle than anything else (more than the school's logo, even).

(I also lived in the Castle during my sophomore year)

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My wife also lived in the Castle her sophomore year, coincidentally enough.

This is indeed a Brandeis icon. What a terrible mistake it would be to sacrifice it. The campus is already almost unrecognizable from when I was there in the early '90s.

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I lived on a historical campus (Not Brandeis), we had a similar issues with one of our structures. They were able to repurpose it and still maintain the character. The structure was not built with today's codes and was actually dangerous. They kept what they could rather than demolish it... Sounds very similar in this case.

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When a Jewish college can't stand up for the rights of a Muslim woman (Ayaan Hirsi Ali), they deserve neither a castle or our respect.

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That was indeed a very strange (and my reading is that you perhaps don't grasp the nuance) episode, although I'm sure that she has enough self-respect to not be affected by such a dis-invitation.

It's very difficult these days to maintain a non-schizophrenic "progressive" balance in thought and action, particularly for institutions of higher-learning that should know better, but who are hungry for tuition money from petulant millennial children.

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Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a militant atheist, Islamaphobe, and a moderately terrible human being.

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I would have thought you were old enough to have lost all respect for Brandeis with Herbert Marcuse or Angela Davis.

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This is an unusually pig-ignorant statement, even for you, Fish. As MostlyHarmless reminds us, this woman is a militant opponent of Islam, whose honorary degree was withdrawn after the campus decried her persecution of the Islamic faith. That is to say, in defense of a religion other than the one to which the university is nominally aligned.

However, we now have an answer to the question that has plagued us for years, "Is there a Muslim that Fish does not hate?" And the answer is a resounding yes! He does not hate atheistic Somali-Dutch Islamaphobic (straw) Muslims that let him take potshots at a predominantly-Jewish institution of higher learning.

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But, how will they demolish the castle? I hope the use catapults and a trebuchet...

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The Hebrew Hammer.

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Trumpets, like at Jericho.

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Bring in Gabe Kapler and let him destroy it with his fists.

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3000 years of beautiful tradition--from Moses to Sandy Koufax--and this is the best you could come up with?

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Which happens to be Kapler's nickname.

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Touché.

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I was referencing https://youtu.be/4a6WAzstGmA

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It's on the National Register of Historic Places.... I'd say they have many long discussions ahead of them before they actually demolish this.

Also BTW... demolishing stuff isn't cheap either. Especially when it involves salvaging some pieces and removing others. Get ready for a big capital projects ask! We're talking many millions.

There are many other possibilities for the reuse of such a building, and college campuses around the country can offer umpteen examples of this!!

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is historic? Trustees of this University have a duty to do whats fiscally prudent for the future of their institution. Competition in the private school sector is a threat to the existence of schools like Brandeis. If t hey have to tear down a 60 year old, impractical, castle knockoff to sustain the longterm viability of the school then so be it.

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Register_of_Historic_Places_listi...

See #17

And, see my post about it not necessarily being the cheap solution they want, if that is actually the reasoning behind it. I think private institutions make a HUGE mistake if all the look at is their bottom line and not at what makes them unique-- and marketable. Historic architecture is part of this. Yeah fiscal responsibility is important. If they were responsible however they would have maintained their assets better rather than bargaining towards the new and shiny. Building something new is going to cost them in more ways than one.

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some 1000 year old european city I get it. This early 20th Century knock off is a sentimental favorite of alumni I'm sure but impractical as a 21st century space. Sadly private colleges are in the money making to survive business now and that building, though pretty is a money loser. I fell bad for the people that have to figure a path to sustainability. Maybe there is a really wealthy donor that can take the issue off the table?

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The reaction of my son, who graduated from Brandeis a couple of years ago? "About time!"

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I learned recently that the predecessor medical school failed because the AMA wouldn't accredit it, because it dared not to discriminate against Jews and other ethnic groups that were kept out of established medical schools.

Once the AMA got a state law passed giving them a monopoly on doctors, that was it for the school.

I'm glad Brandeis was able to continue the mission of secular Jewish higher education, even if it couldn't keep the medical school going.

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Good old anti-Semitism also gave us Beth Israel Deaconess. Any Brandeis alum who's ever visited the original Beth Israel on Brookline Avenue will notice some of the donor names sound familiar.

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I too lived in the Castle, in '78-79, in a wedge-shaped double with a great view of the Boston skyline. It was fun because it was funky and different and I will be very sad to see it go. And, the building has been leaky for some time now. Of course I'd love to see it rehabbed, but I agree with those who'd rather see their contributions go to scholarships for students in financial need. Maybe we could have a Castle alum party before most of the building goes away?

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