In the late 1860’s, after the end of the American Civil War, The Harvard Corporation gave permission to their alumni to build a memorial to Harvard students and alumni who had been killed for the Union cause. No Confederate soldiers were considered for the memorial. Within three short years, over $370,000 was raised for the proposed building. At the same time, Charles Sanders, class of 1802 (so he was ancient by this time), donated $40,000 to build a theater or meeting hall on campus. Combining the projects into one, the Victorian Gothic architectural design, by William Robert Ware and Henry Van Brunt, was chosen through blind competition.
Built between 1870 and 1877, Memorial Hall is divided into three sections: Sanders Theater, Annenberg Hall, and Memorial Transept. Sanders Theater is the largest presentation venue at Harvard to this day, with 1,166 available seats. Many famous people have spoken at the theater, including Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., and Mikhail Gorbachev. Annenberg Hall has had different uses over the years, rarely being used as the alumni hall for which it was intentioned. Currently, it is the Harvard freshman dining hall.
Memorial Transept, the original impetus behind the building of Memorial Hall, contains 136 tablets with the names of the Harvard graduates to fall fighting for the Union during the Civil War. Throughout all three rooms, stain glass adorns the windows by the likes of Louis Comfort Tiffany, yes of Tiffany and Co. Jewelry, and John La Farge, known for his stained glass in Boston’s Trinity Church.
Modelled off of Christ Church at Oxford, Annenberg Hall has gained international recognition with students noting the hall’s similarities to the Great Hall in the Harry Potter films. That’s probably because Christ Church was the real-live setting for the fictional film’s Great Hall, making Hogwarts and Harvard look an awful lot alike. Expelliarmus!