A look back at how Suffolk’s campus has changed over time


courtesy of Moakley Archives

“This glass sign hung outside Gleason Archer’s Roxbury, MA home”

While it may seem a distant memory for most, Suffolk University’s campus has changed drastically since it first opened. In fact, many of the buildings that today’s students are familiar with are relatively new.

Suffolk University started as an evening law school back in 1906, and the first classes were held in the apartment of the school’s founder, Gleason Archer. From 1907 until 1914, classes moved between various rented spaces in downtown Boston. In 1914, the university bought its first permanent building at 45 Mt. Vernon St.

This location quickly proved to be too small, and the university built a larger building at the corner of Derne St. and Temple St. in 1921. The cornerstone of this building was laid by future United States President Calvin Coolidge, who was the governor of Massachusetts at the time. The building went under several renovations, and was later named the Archer Building, after the university’s founder.

Also a part of the Archer Building was the C. Walsh Theater, which housed the theater department. The theater held most of Suffolk’s student productions starting in 1936, and was an important part of campus life.

In 1966, Suffolk University opened a new building, the Donahue Building, and moved most law classes to the new location.

These two buildings were an important part of the Suffolk community, and remained in use until the university announced they would be sold in 2015. While these buildings were sold relatively recently, most current Suffolk students have never taken classes in, or even heard of the Archer and Donahue buildings.

The buildings were purchased by JDMD Owner LLC, an affiliate of Center Court Properties, for $43.5 million. The Dedham, Mass. company planned to open luxury condos at the location.

“The Archer Residences are currently under construction,” said the condo listings at the time. “The site at 33-61 Temple St. in Beacon Hill was formerly a two building Suffolk University complex and is now being converted to 67 luxury condos with 54 garage parking spots.”

The Donahue and Archer buildings were an important part of student life; however moving forward was an important step for the university. Since the buildings were sold, Suffolk has opened a number of new facilities, including the One Court St. Residence Hall and 20 Somerset St., now known as the Samia Academic Center. Most of the classes formerly held in the Archer and Donahue buildings have now moved to the Samia Academic Center and the theater department is now located at the Modern Theater.

Senior Vice President of External Affairs John Nucci spoke on the need for newer facilities in an interview with the Suffolk Journal  in 2015.

“One of the planning principles of the 20 Somerset project was that we could replace our aging facilities on Beacon Hill with a state-of-the-art academic building,” he said.

“The [Archer and Donahue] buildings were old, expensive to maintain, and many of the facilities were antiquated and out-of-date,” Nucci said in the 2015 interview. “We wanted to create the best learning environment possible for our students, and that’s what they can get at 20 Somerset”

Dean of Students Ann Coyne graduated from Suffolk in 1982, and said that she took all of her classes in the Archer and Donahue buildings. While sad to see the buildings go, she also said expanding with newer facilities was an important step forward.

“I felt sad, but also really proud that the university was expanding to better meet the needs of students,” Coyne said.


Thank you to the Moakley Archives for the photos used in the gallery.