“Honey, what’s that building right there?” your mom asks, pointing up at the strange-looking, brick mansion as you show her around campus. You try to summon an intelligent response, but in all honesty, the mysterious, vaguely haunted-looking building plopped right in the middle of Upper Campus is just as much a mystery to you as it is to your mom.
Your answer would probably consist of something along the lines of, “Ummm… I don’t really know,” “A creepy house with a pool table” or “IDK but I once did my laundry in the basement of it.” It seems that no one ever has a complete explanation of what the O’Connell House is or why it’s there.
Some students never set foot inside, while others venture into the building for various activities including a cappella auditions, CAB events such as Stuff-A-Bear and Monday Night Football, playing the piano or attempting to use the often unreliable printer upstairs.
Students' level of familiarity and willingness to venture into the House vary, from Michael Colivas, CSOM ’19 who says, “I have literally never gone there," to Kassie Seavy, MCAS ’19, who reports, “It’s a pretty classy place to do homework.”
To sum it up, Tess Murphy, MCAS ’19, says, “It’s cold, the architecture is nice and it’s a nice social space.”
Though the O’Connell House has assumed the role of hosting random club events and giving bored freshmen a place to roam around, many might wonder what the original purpose of the house actually was. How did it get there in the first place? What was it supposed to be for?
O’Connell House only officially became a part of Boston College’s campus in 1941. 46 years earlier in 1895, the Storey family constructed the building, which was inspired by Welch architecture; it looked like a royal palace with its luxurious furniture, well-kept gardens and elegant fountains.
The mansion later became part of Louis Kroh Liggett’s estate, which included all of what is now Upper Campus, and it remained in his family from 1916 to 1937.
The building was then donated to the Archbishop of Boston, William Henry Cardinal O’Connell, after whom the building was named. Cardinal O’Connell, the fifth Bishop of Boston, as well as the second Archbishop and first Cardinal of the city, attended Boston College and graduated in 1881. He gifted the building to the school in 1941, along with nine acres of the land surrounding it.
Since then, the building has served a variety of purposes for BC and has evolved over time. In the 1940s, the interior was made into classrooms to be used for BC’s new College of Business Administration (picture the CSOM students attending class here in lieu of Fulton), while the back of the building hosted athletic offices and dressing rooms. Over time, more buildings were constructed on BC’s campus, so the classrooms and offices relocated. The house has also been used as a Jesuit residence, a football dorm and even the set of a few scenes of James Cagney’s movie, 13 Rue Madeleine.
BC wanted to demolish O’Connell in the 1970s, but students fought to keep it standing, and instead, the house went through a million dollar renovation. Since then, its use has continued to evolve throughout the years.
For a time it was home to offices for the Alcohol and Drug Education Program and the Office of First Year Experience. O’Connell used to host more entertainment for students, such as weekly live band performances and lectures, as well as big events like the Middlemarch Ball and Harvest Night.
The current state of O'Connell House seems to be a giant house-like building that provides a location for students' and clubs' miscellaneous events. It gives students a place to hang out, play pool or do homework if they aren’t in the mood for that trek to the library. It’s also a convenient spot for clubs to host events, meetings and retreats, and the dance studio located in the rear is perfect for dance groups’ auditions and practices.
O’Connell House can be what you make of it, whether you’ve never stepped foot inside the mansion, or you frequent the House to roam around its “swanky interior,” as Bailey Thompson, MCAS ’19 describes it. Just be careful in there on Halloween – rumor has it the House may be haunted…