Campus & Community

A guide to Harvard’s toasty fireplaces

Photos by Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

5 min read

Finding the hearths that warm the heart

When the weather outside turns frightful a fire is so delightful. So with the start of winter just a couple of weeks away we’ve assembled a guide to campus hot spots where you can get out of the cold. While most of these fireplaces are gas or electric — the majority of Harvard’s public wood-burners were sealed long ago for safety reasons — they still do a pretty good job of warming the spirit.

A modern gas fireplace at the Smith Campus Center.

Above, one of five gas hearths in Smith Campus Center. Top image: the fireside lounge at the Law School’s Harkness Commons.

Photos by Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer

Smith Campus Center

Located in the heart of campus, the Smith Center features five gas hearths, said Julie Crites, the director of Common Spaces. Two, on the upper floor of the Harvard Commons, are open to the public. Each is sleek, modern, and surrounded by plenty of chairs and couches. Another can be found in the Collaborative Commons and two more are on the 10th floor’s Riverview Commons, but access to these require a Harvard ID. The fireplaces will be lit daily from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Shelving over a fireplace at the Ed School is lined with Sesame Street toys.
Oscar, Big Bird, and the gang gather around one of the three working fireplaces at the Ed School.

Gutman Library

If curling up with a book before a fire sounds inviting, head to the first floor of Gutman Library. There are three fireplaces nestled inside, which turn on automatically when the temperature outside dips below 48 degrees during open hours (typically 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.). “The fire is fueled by gas and arranged with synthetic logs to provide the aesthetic of a real wood-burning fire,” said Jason L. Carlson, chief of operations at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Behind glass for safety reasons, two of the fireplaces sit right in the main lobby. The third sits in a nook behind the cafe.

Glowing hearth at the Law School.
A glowing hearth in the Law School offers a cozy study spot.

Wasserstein Hall

Harvard Law School has three fireplaces, all of them in the Wasserstein Hall Caspersen Student Center. Two are on each end of the Robert B. and Candice J. Haas Lounge, and one is on the terrace level of Harkness Commons in what is fittingly referred to as the fireside lounge. The fires typically run during open hours (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) in the fall and spring, and often attract visitors from across campus. For instance, when asked what brought him to Harkness from the School of Engineering, Ph.D. student Colby Banbury didn’t hesitate to say “the fireplace.”  “It’s a cozy environment to work in when it’s snowing,” he said, adding that coming by has become a habit that he’s likely to continue through the cold months.

Gold and white fireplace at the Business School.
The Business School has four working fireplaces in the first-floor lounge area of the Spangler Center, conveniently near the building’s coffee bar.

Spangler Center 

Across the Charles River, Harvard Business School has four fireplaces in the first-floor lounge area of the Spangler Center. They are conveniently located near the building’s coffee bar, so visitors can grab a hot beverage and bring it over to sit and enjoy the fire. A fifth fireplace is in Spangler Grille’s lower level. They are typically on 2 to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday. In total, HBS has 38 fireplaces but only these five are active.

Tosteson Medical Education Center

Like at HBS, there are a number of fireplaces across the Harvard Medical School campus but only one works, said Sean Allen, facilities operations manager at Harvard Medical School. That one is found across from the atrium in the Tosteson Medical Education Center. This electric hearth is surrounded by modern furniture in a living-room setting, along with study carrels, group study rooms, and windows overlooking the Seeley G. Mudd courtyard. The fire is “always on,” Allen said, “though [with] very low energy usage.”

Marshmallows toasting over fire pit at the Science Center Plaza.
Toasting marshmallows in a Science Center Plaza fire pit during WinterFest.

Science Center Plaza

WinterFest is coming. Harvard’s Common Spaces’ annual event gives visitors a reason to spend some time outside and get toasty next to a handful of blazing fire pits. WinterFest will run from Jan. 27 through March 13, and the fire pits will be lit on select days. If the fire isn’t enough to pull you in, hot chocolate and marshmallows are usually available, too.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt room at Adams House.
Most House fireplaces are purely ornamental now but the one in the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Suite in Adams House gets some use.

The Houses

Almost all of the Houses and deans’ residences have fireplaces, but most are now just ornamental, like the ones in Quincy House or Eliot House. Fireplaces that do see some use are generally not in areas open to the general public but limited to College students, House staff, and their guests. These are mainly in deans’ residences, historic spaces like the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Suite in Adams House, or new gas units like the one in the Dunster dining hall. “Now that the weather has turned we have been lighting it for community night dinners on Thursdays and for various other special occasions as well,” said Sean D. Kelly, faculty dean of Dunster House and the Theresa G. and Ferdinand F. Martignetti Professor of Philosophy. The House, he said, also has outdoor firepits. “There’s nothing like a fire to bring people together.”