University Green Area Heritage Study

Historic Burlington Research Project - HP 206


Billings Student Center & Cook Commons Addition

48 University Place


Designed by acclaimed architect Henry Hobson Richardson in the style that became known as Richardson Romanesque, Billings Library was completed in 1885. Funds for the building were donated by Frederick Billings, a UVM alumnus, class of 1844, and president of the Northern Pacific Railway.(1) He also donated his 10,000-volume library that “comprised a large proportion of the best classic works in Greek, Latin, Old English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan, Icelandic, Danish, Swedish, and Dutch…” that Billings himself mastered these languages.(2)  

By 1889 the 25' addition to the north wing and the 40' square Marsh Room were finished. Although more space was needed by 1904 and plans to add on were made, nothing happened until 1961 when the new Guy W. Bailey Library was finished. The library books were moved to the Bailey Library and Billings was renovated by the firm of Barr, Linde, and Hubbard of Burlington, Vermont, and rededicated as the Billings Student Center in 1962. The 1962 renovations included removing the two-story book stacks from the main north room and adding a glass enclosed mezzanine, as well as converting the basement areas into a coffee shop and offices.(3)

The history and architectural analysis has been thoroughly explored concerning one of Vermont’s most prominent buildings. What is little known, however, is how the utilization of the structure and its surroundings has further evolved since the renovations of 1963.  Over twenty years after it was converted into the Student Center, the firm of Shepley, Bullfinch, Richardson, and Abbott of Boston designed an addition to the Billings Library. This Boston firm was formerly known as Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, which was H. H. Richardson's successor firm. Completed in 1984, it includes two parts: a large student dining facility (known as Cook Commons), offices and an underground connection to the Ira Allen Chapel next door. The engineering consultants were from the firm of Fales, Letendre, and Ziobro, Inc., from Middleboro, MA.(4) Completed and dedicated in 1985, the new construction included interior and exterior changes. Billings was joined to the Ira Allen Chapel by means of an underground corridor lined with offices. A new lecture hall was constructed immediately northeast of the chapel.

The basement of Billings was also transformed into a full service dining hall, including a large addition to the rear of the building at the basement level. The addition is topped by an open patio that is edged with granite-topped brick parapets. Although barely visible from the University Green, this large addition is clearly differentiated from the original building in such a way that it fits into the landscape at the rear of the building and does not intrude on the view or the character of the historic buildings along University Place.

Billings Student Center addition, looking west. Photo by Andrew Evick.

Text by Andrew Evick

(1) Peter Carlough, Bygone Burlington: A Bicentennial Barrage of Battles, Boats, Buildings & Beings(Burlington, VT, 1976), 35.
(2)Jeffrey D. Marshall, Universitas Viridis Montis: An Exhibition of Documents and Artifacts
Telling the Story of The University of Vermont (University of Vermont, 1991), 36.
(3) "Billings Library Taking Shape As Student Center", Burlington Free Press, 5 Apr. 1962, 17.
(4) David Provost, "A Gem of Architecture: The History of Billings Library," (University of Vermont Historic Preservation Program: Burlington, VT, Dec. 1999), <>.