Campus & Community

Hidden spaces: Adolphus Busch Courtyard

5 min read

The lion is king in this ‘secret’ garden

Asked what she likes about Busch Courtyard, Michelle Timmerman ’13 writes, “It’s … an enclave, and is so apart from standard Harvard architecture, and therefore feels apart from standard Harvard life, that you can tuck away there, slip in the side gate — or, if you’re well-informed and well-intentioned, through the Center for European Studies building itself — and disappear.

“When I was little, I was big on Frances Hodgson Burnett, and I suppose the ‘secret’ nature of the ‘secret’ garden doesn’t hurt — though it’s not a secret, really. When I’ve entered the garden to find it already has an inhabitant, initial disappointment is quickly swept away by spontaneous affection and — with recognition of parallel taste in study spaces — respect. Also, aren’t pink roses beautiful?”

The space with the pink roses sits toward the center of campus, yet is concealed by walls on four sides. Not hidden, however, is Harvard’s replica of Braunschweiger Löwe, or the “Brunswick Lion,” which, on its tall pedestal, can be seen from afar, beckoning visitors into the space.

Building Manager Sandy Selesky, who over the years has contributed lilacs, geraniums, pansies, impatiens, and two stone gargoyles to the garden, cares for the courtyard. She had lava stones installed in the aesthetic pool to help the red-tailed hawks step out, and she purchased furniture and added a bubbler to the pool.

In the summer, people come and eat lunch in the courtyard, and some classes hold their discussions on the lawn. But overall, it’s quiet and unlike nearby bustling Harvard Yard. Professor Patrice Higonnet, whose office faces the courtyard, remarks, “Hmmmm. A hidden space. Wouldn’t it be — selfish thought — just as well to keep it hidden?”

— Rose Lincoln

The towering lion casts a shadow on the wall as the sun does its magic on the Busch’s walls. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer
Detail of the ornate carving characteristic of Busch Hall. The building was completed in 1917 but not opened until 1921 because of a lack of coal. Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer
The silhouetted king stands against a clear sky. “The heralistic rigidity and archaic fierceness of the animal make it peculiarly well fitted to serve here as a kind of architectural house dog guarding treasures of the past,” wrote Kuno Francke, first curator of the Germanic Museum and professor of the history of German culture. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer
House sparrows have been building nests in the lion’s mouth for the past four or five years, and, “as far as we can tell they’ve been successful in raising young from the peeping sounds and delivery of insects,” said Selesky. Additionally, blue jays, cardinals, mockingbirds, and thrushes have all visited the courtyard. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer
Gargoyles are said to protect people by scaring off any evil or harmful spirits. This one, purchased by Selesky, squats in the corner of the courtyard. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer
Goelet Professor of French History Patrice Higonnet has arguably one of the best offices at Harvard. His extra-long space opens to the street on one side and to the courtyard on the other. After 58 years at Harvard and 15 years in this space, he’s not complaining. Well, maybe just a little: In the winter he needs Ugg boots and a space heater to protect his feet from the drafts. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer
Ivy tendrils add a vibrant hue to the neutral-colored stucco walls. Building manager Sandy Selesky, who has worked at Harvard for 40 years, plants geraniums, pansies, and impatiens in the courtyard in spring and summer. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer
Hidden in autumn’s red ivy is one of the five garden animals adorning the lower building wall under the first-story windowsills of the Guido Goldman Seminar Room. In the book “An Iconography of Adolphus Busch Hall,” Guido Goldman wrote, “The menagerie of ram, fox, boar and wolf stands here perhaps as a representation of nature’s sentinels or merely provides sculptural ornamentation of a rather traditional type found frequently in medieval architecture.” Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer
These mirrored windows facing south reflect the north part of the building. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer
Michelle Timmerman ’13 was a freshman when this photo was taken. She remembers visiting the garden often when she had a “thing for Europe.” Her concentration is in history & literature, and her focus field “is, surprisingly enough, modern Europe.” Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer
The William James Hall towers above the courtyard at 29 Kirkland Street. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer
Large oak doors face the courtyard. Busch Hall was built in the spirit of a grand medieval hall and is home to German medieval plaster casts, mostly from churches, as well as the famous Flentrop organ, used for a popular Harvard concert series. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer
The courtyard is surrounded by Adolphus Busch Hall on three sides. The fountain is drained in November and then re-filled in May. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer
The Brunswick Lion stands tall in the background as the setting sun leaves a glowing impression on a wrought iron fence post. This lion is a replica; the original sits in front of a castle and cathedral in Brunswick, Germany. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer