Rajen Kilachand arrived at Boston University the night of September 18, jet-lagged but jovial, to celebrate the completion of renovations to the building named in honor of his parents. The summer face-lift of Kilachand Hall was made possible thanks to the BU alum and trustee’s generous $10 million gift last fall. President Robert A. Brown and a crowd of University trustees and officials greeted Kilachand warmly as they stood in the remodeled lobby.
“This hall is the physical manifestation of the vision to create the college,” said Brown, referring to the Arvind and Chandan Nandlal Kilachand Honors College, which Kilachand (GSM’74) endowed with a $25 million gift in 2011. Like the hall, the college is named for his parents. “We believe the hall will greatly enhance the learning community created within this building.”
Beaming yet humble, Kilachand told the group that he is “constantly overrun by the praise and appreciation of the BU family.” In preparing his words for Wednesday’s event, he said, he realized the reception carried great significance in Hindu philosophy. For the next two weeks, the lunar period known as Pitru Paksha, Hindu families spend time remembering, praying for, and dedicating all they do to their ancestors, he said. Kilachand’s record-setting gifts to the University in the name of his parents, including the endowment of a professorship, help him pay homage. “This particular occasion today has a lot of meaning,” he said.
The residence hall at 91 Bay State Road, formerly Shelton Hall, underwent extensive first-floor renovations. A unique combination of wood, cork, cobalt, and blue glass was installed to give the space a “very simple, architecturally modernist look,” according to Charles Dellheim, director of the Kilachand Honors College and the University’s first Arvind and Chandan Nandlal Kilachand Professor.
Built in 1923, Kilachand Hall was originally the Sheraton Hotel, the forerunner of the Sheraton hotel chain. The building has a storied history. Sluggers Babe Ruth and Ted Williams caroused there and Nobel-winning playwright Eugene O’Neill lived on the fourth floor (now dubbed the Writers’ Corridor) for a year, dying there in 1953. (Lore has it that his ghost still haunts that floor.) The hotel also gained national fame for the radio broadcasts of dance bands playing in its rooftop ballroom.
The building was sold in 1950 and renamed the Shelton Hotel—mostly, Brown revealed, because the new owners found a bounty of linens embroidered with the letter “S.”
BU bought the building in 1954 and renamed it Shelton Hall. It provided living space for 420 women students, and later became coed. It was renamed Kilachand Hall last year, although the word “Sheraton” is still engraved above the doorway.
“Rajen,” Brown said, “we tried to have them take it off.” Kilachand playfully gave a thumb’s up sign and later said, to a round of applause, “Whatever happens, please do not remove the name of Sheraton.”
While Dellheim joked that the Kilachand Honors College’s new residence hall never was the Taj Mahal architecturally, he said it has good bones and physically reflects the college’s overall philosophy of finding new ways to look at traditional ideas.
“This particular gift really allows us to be a living and learning community with all the advantages of a residential college,” said the College of Arts & Sciences professor of history. “Students get to know each other and faculty on a daily and informal basis that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. The gift also helps strengthen our identity and presence on campus.”
Surrounded by the gleaming surfaces and clean lines of the new lobby, Dellheim thanked Brown and Kilachand for their unwavering support. “Without your vision, constant resolve, and energy,” he said, “we would not be standing here today.”
The many renovations include the creation of a first-floor classroom, remodeled restrooms, a laundry area, bike rooms, and new office space for Dellheim and his staff. The old dining room off the main lobby, once considered the “fanciest” on campus, was converted into a student lounge and study area. There are a new elevator and stairwell to the ninth floor lounge areas, which will double as a site for events hosted by the Kilachand Honors College and the University.
Walt Meissner (CFA’81), associate vice president for operations, said the University plans additional renovations for the building within the next four years, but that they will be orchestrated at a slower pace out of respect for the building’s age and active occupancy.
All Honors College freshmen are required to live in Kilachand Hall and a significant number of sophomores choose to do so as well, according to Dellheim. While students from outside the college also live there, Honors College students will be given first priority next year.
The renovations have proven a resounding hit with residents. Maxwell Grant (CAS’17) enjoys having community space for Honors College students. “It gives us a chance to get together, stay together, and collaborate,” he said. “Because many of us are in small classes together, it gives us the opportunity to find common ground.”
Rebekah Leopold (CAS’16) likes the versatility of the remodeled space. “There is the academic aspect—it is a very nice, comfortable, and inviting study space,” she said. “It can also be repurposed into a social space for meetings for some of the Honors College groups, like our Big Siblings group.” That group brings the college’s upperclassmen in regular contact with freshmen so they can provide advice, moral support, and a friendly face around campus.
One reason Megan Smith (COM’16) likes the new Kilachand Hall design is that it gives students easy access to college administrators, professors, and advisors. “It makes it more intimate,” she said, “and helps us to have relationships with the people who are running and leading the program.”
Frank Brogie (COM’15) contributed reporting to this story.