For all intents and purposes, Pendleton Heights appears to be an exemplary model of post–Civil War Gothic Revival architecture. It has the proper asymmetrical appearance and details, including arched windows capped with hood molds and pendants and a treacherously steep central gable providing a frowning seriousness. But appearances can be deceiving. As built in 1842, the house was a double-pile, rectangular brick structure that contained a ballroom under an expansive hipped roof. As depicted by Henry Howe, it complemented the severe Greek Revival lines of the nearby college buildings.
The 1857 fire that literally destroyed the first college building figuratively destroyed the first Pendleton Heights. The year after Old Main was completed in 1871, William K. Pendleton, then the college president, transformed his house to accord with the Gothic Revival that nearby Old Main so firmly mandated. The basic rectangular shape of the main block, the second-story fenestration rhythm, and the simple, plain-capped chimneys perhaps hint at the initial configuration and appearance. Even more revealing are the original flat Greek Revival lintels capping windows on the rear facade.
After the death of its builder, the house served as the first dormitory for female students, but in 1889 it again became the residence for college presidents. In spite of the removal of some gingerbread trim that once embellished the gables and the addition of a barbarously dull front porch with inappropriate Tuscan columns on a high brick base, for the most part Pendleton Heights remains a charming Gothic Revival building and a fitting architectural companion to Old Main.