Crew House Renovations Open Views of Paradise Pond

Renovations under way at the Crew House dance studio will include a terraced walkway where Smithies can stop and enjoy the view.

An iconic view of the Smith campus is about to get even better.

Renovations under way at the Crew House dance studio on the banks of Paradise Pond will open up the vista and make the building accessible to all members of the college community.

The project preserves the wood-and-glass interior of the dance studio built in 1920, while redesigning the building’s entryway so it is easier to get to from College Lane.

Paradise Pond has been partially drawn down in recent weeks to enable regrading work on the slope above the Crew House dance studio.

Hillside switchbacks under construction above the Crew House will reduce the steepness of the slope leading down to the building. Renovations also include new landscaping along the banks of the pond and construction of a terraced deck, where people can watch outdoor performances—or simply enjoy more of the scenery.

“The accessible entryway has been purposefully designed to take advantage of the hillside views overlooking Paradise Pond and offer stopping places for the enjoyment of everyone,” says Gary Hartwell, project manager for Facilities Management.

Interior building renovations were completed in early May. Work on the slope above the Crew House and construction of the deck should be finished by the end of August, Hartwell says.

The Crew House project was supported by a $1 million gift from Sharonjean Moser Leeds ’67 and her husband Rick, in honor of her 50th reunion this spring.

“In my time, everything dance-related revolved around the Crew House,” Leeds said in a 2015 interview with the Smith Alumnae Quarterly (go to page 23). “It always felt like a special creative place and is blessed with an unbelievably beautiful vista looking out over Paradise Pond.”

Rodger Blum, professor of dance, agrees that the Crew House “has been the spiritual heart of the Department of Dance for more than half a century—a space for pedagogy, performance and community.”

“As a dancer and teacher, Sharonjean understands the value of this building and what was needed to make it function as part of a 21st-century dance department,” Blum added.

Campus community members can explore the newly-refurbished Sharonjean Moser Leeds ’67 and Richard Leeds Studio for Dance Research at an open house from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 20, as part of this year’s Ivy Day celebrations.

During a recent preview tour for Smith alumnae leaders, Hartwell pointed out the new flooring, improved storage cubbies and triple-pane windows lining the second-floor dance studio. Sunlight pouring through those windows glinted off the wooden ceiling beams and the open expanse of dance floor.

Preserving the historic look and feel of the studio was a central goal of the renovation project, Hartwell said.

“Do you remember taking dance classes here?” he asked the alumnae group. “Does it look very different?”

The group agreed that the room was unchanged.

The pond-level first floor of the Crew House no longer functions as a docking shed for racing shells, as Smith’s rowing team training operations have moved to a site on the Connecticut River. However, as Hartwell showed alumnae visitors, the first floor is home to a research boat that students and faculty are using to study natural sediment-removal methods in Paradise Pond.

At the conclusion of their tour, alumnae lingered to take photos of the panorama of Paradise Pond visible through the Crew House windows—a vista that now includes the new Happy Chace ’28 Garden near the President’s House.

“Sharonjean’s life and work exemplify the tradition of dance at Smith, and we are grateful to the Leeds’ for their generosity” said Beth Raffeld, Smith’s vice president for development, who coordinated the tour. “The studio offers a spectacular view. We feel ready to dance!”

A live webcam of work on the Crew House site is online.