It wasn’t originally called Harper House. The original name was Abbott House but even an abbot would have found the place a bit austere. Though Larry Carson described it as “one of the earliest examples of Columbia developer James W. Rouse's vision to make the planned community a place where people of all incomes could live together,” it was actually a failed project from the git go.
The development of Harper House is as much a story of money in search of a project as a story of providing truly affordable housing in the new town of Columbia. The building was developed by a then newly formed joint venture of The Rouse Company and their first ever international real estate partner, Waites, at a time when real estate was cresting another big ol’ bubble. It would crash soon enough.
The venture, Rouse-Waites was supposed to be this groundbreaking housing collaboration that would create innovative affordable housing projects that could be replicated across of the land. Unfortunately for Abbott House, by this time Jim Rouse had already begun to focus his creative energies on the inner cities of Boston and Baltimore. They built a concrete dorm instead.
It was one of the few projects that the venture ever finished and when the crash hit and federal subsidies for housing projects dried up, the partnership was dissolved and the assets were sold off.