Old Gold: Newest residence hall adjacent to one of UI's oldest

Old Gold: Newest residence hall adjacent to one of UI's oldest

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Former men’s dorm originally built as Army training barracks
1923 photo of Quadrangle's east entranceQuadrangle's east entrance, 1923. Images from F.W. Kent Collection of Photographs (RG 30.01.01), Buildings series, folder "Quadrangle," University Archives, Department of Special Collections, University of Iowa Libraries.

(Editor’s note: The Old Gold series provides a look at University of Iowa history and tradition through materials housed in University Archives, Department of Special Collections.)

The University of Iowa's first new residence hall in over 40 years is under construction. West Campus Residence Hall, a 501-bed living space, will be nestled close to two long-timers, Hillcrest and Quadrangle, when it opens late next year. While West Campus begins its new life, the Quad follows a nearly century-long script that parallels a world war and the boom-and-bust cycles of housing demand.

1920 photo of Quadrangle construction
Construction of Quadrangle and ROTC trench digging, following initial construction of a barracks on the site, 1920.

When the Student Army Training Corps was established in 1918 in response to the outbreak of war in Europe, the U.S. government ordered the university to build a barracks to house local participants. It was one of the first buildings to appear on the newly emerging campus west of the Iowa River, and was soon destined to be one of its most distinguished. The university didn’t want to settle for a plain, wooden structure, though. It instead insisted on a more permanent landmark when ground was broken for the 190-room building.

By 1923, what had been a bare-bones barracks matured into a dormitory featuring exterior walls of face brick and tile, trimmed with Bedford limestone and fully encircling a landscaped courtyard. But the upgrades didn’t mean the building was transformed to fireproof quality. J.M. Fisk, superintendent of university grounds and buildings, noted in a Jan. 15, 1926, letter to President Walter Jessup, that the building’s rebirth—by now known as Quadrangle—still relied upon a wooden roof and partitions.

“While some may question the advisability of building dormitories of other than fireproof materials, we feel in a building of this kind, which is occupied by able-bodied men, that the risk of life is very small,” he wrote in the introduction for Dormitory for Men, State University of Iowa, a copy of which is in the University Archives’ folder "Quadrangle" in its buildings vertical file.

Old Gold realizes this was long before enactment of safety and accessibility laws, but Fisk’s assurances nonetheless give one pause nearly 90 years later.

To learn more about the history of UI residence halls, see this Iowa Now article.

Read more Old Gold columns.

For decades the Quad was home to thousands of male Hawkeyes. By the 1970s, however, demand for on-campus housing had weakened, so much so that the Iowa Board of Regents approved demolition of one section of the Quad in 1975. Today, an aerial view of Quadrangle resembles a sharp-cornered “C” as you face north—not a geometrically correct name for this building but, undeniably, one that sticks. And who is Old Gold to argue with tradition?

Today, as demand for additional on-campus housing rises, the new West Campus Residence Hall takes shape—not far from its distinguished-looking three-sided neighbor.


David McCartney, Special Collections, University of Iowa Libraries, 319-335-5921


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