Built St. Louis > > Vanished Buildings > > Prince Hall

Circa 1993: Prince Hall, originally Liggett Hall.

Circa 1995: Prince Hall, at left, as part of an ensemble of the campus's original Tudor Gothic buildings.

Dec. 2003: The building's original dedication plaque, a little gem of ornament that eluded me throughout my undergrad years, to the point that I thought it had been destroyed.

Frank J. Prince Hall
Washington University Campus
Built: 1901
Architect: Cope & Stewardson
Status: Demolished, May 2006

I never thought I'd have to do this. I never dreamed I'd need to put up a page about a major building on Washington University's campus, never dreamed that campus planners of my alma mater would so thorougly fail to understand the value of the campus's historic architecture. But Prince Hall, shown here, is slated to be destroyed at the end of May 2006 -- mere days away.

Built St. Louis began as a way to call attention to endangered buildings... but those buildings were usually being destroyed by neglect. Eventually, I began expanding it to show some of the city's scenic highlights as well. I wanted to focus on the hidden and the little-known, so I intentionally avoided a lot of the city's most obvious points of attraction, such as the delightful Hilltop Campus of Washington University. St. Louis's largest and most prestigious university hardly needed any promotional help from me, right? It's one of the finest, most picturesque campuses in the entire nation -- perhaps the most, I've decided, after my numerous east coast travels. I'd pit it against Duke, Princeton, or Harvard any day of the week.

But now, I'm shocked and dismayed to find that Wash U has made a deliberate decision to destroy one of its historic buildings -- one that is highly important to the integrity of the campus, part of the ensemble that makes Wash U one of the city's finest spaces and one of the best campuses in the country.

Prince Hall was built in 1901 as Liggett Hall, one of the first ten buildings on Washington University's brand-new Hilltop Campus. The original campus and its buildings were designed by the east coast architecture firm of Cope & Stewardson, notable for their work at Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania. The buildings formed a unified ensemble in the Tudor Gothic style, faced with pink Missouri granite. Along with its contemporaries, Ligget Hall was leased to the World's Fair until 1905, when the University finally moved in.

Along with neighboring Tower Hall (now Umrath), Liggett housed the men's dormitories, providing accomodations for about 75 students (Wash U was much more of a local commuter school in that era.) A vintage brochure describes it as having
"...separate entries to the four divisions of the building, which do not communicate with each other. There are some suites, consisting of a study and two well-lighted bed rooms, and many single rooms. It is thoroughly fire-proof and is finished throughout with hardwood, and is furnished with steam heat, open fireplaces, electric light, numerous bath rooms, with the best sanitary plumbing, and is an ideal college dormitory in every respect."

In 1948 a somewhat unfortunate sunken plaza was added in front of the building, as the basement level was remodeled to serve as a student center. The dormatories were transferred to the newly-constructed South 40 in 1958; the name of Liggett was transferred to one of the new buildings (where I lived my freshman year, by coincidence.) The old dorm was remodeled to serve the Business School, and renamed Prince Hall to honor the local businessman who funded the renovation. The B-School moved to neighboring Simon Hall in 1986, and Prince served as home to the School of Technology and Computing.

Pending Demolition
According to a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, Washington University plans to demolish Prince Hall and constructed a 3-level underground parking garage in its place, with a University Center built atop it. "University officials say they need the new parking garages to maintain St. Louis County's requirements for about 5,000 spaces on the Hilltop Campus."

I'm sorry. Did I miss something here? Somebody thinks there's no other place to put a new (and badly needed) student center?

Just to make it crystal clear, I snagged the following satellite image from Google Maps. It shows Prince Hall and its surroundings, including all the boundaries that confine the site: the general playing field to the north (sacrosanct as Wash U's only remaining open field), the Business School to the west, with the football field beyond it; the old Student Center to the east, and Forsyth Boulevard to the south. Prince Hall is the rather diminutive building bounded in red.

If the reader will indulge me a moment of histrionics to express my outrage:
WHERE COULD A NEW BUILDING GO? WHERE WHERE WHERE?!? I just don't see one single spot where another building could fit! Do you?! Yep, Prince Hall has gotta go! Doing otherwise might mean sacrificing PRECIOUS SURFACE PARKING.

Let me say this very clearly, in very small, easily-understood words, with the same wall of fury and frustration I felt over the Century Building's pointless destruction, since the principle is so very nearly identical:


Does the current administration have any idea what they're doing?? Do they understand the power of these original buildings? I can't see how they'd consider demolition if they did.

Can This Building Really Be "Replaced"?
Wash U's administration claims the replacement building will be in the Tudor Gothic style. It's been done already; every addition to the campus since 1991 has been an attempt to replicate the original campus buildings. They've even managed to come close to getting it right a couple of times, such as the imposing new Law School building (1997). But ultimately, even the most faithful of these buildings fall short in several ways: in scale, in workmanship and detailing, and by their unavoidable lack of the patina of age.

Scale is the most glaringly obvious. Prince Hall and its contemporaries are not small, but they are intimate. Their surfaces are complex, enlivened by articulation and projections -- bay windows small gables and dormers, tiny arched windows -- that architects today simply don't think to replicate. A dormer today is expensive, so it must serve some highly important purpose and be large and prominent. Not so the Cope & Stewart buildings; every small room was worthy of some light-giving gesture. These are human-scaled buildings, and they give the campus its unique charm. The new buildings, by contrast, loom as high as five and six stories, and twice as wide. They sport massive windows, huge mechanical vents, and an overall mass that overpowers the older buildings -- and the campus's inhabitants.

The original Cope & Stewardson buildings are as notable for their imperfections as for their design. The stone work is quality, well-laid, but not the relentlessly rectangular march of pre-cut stone that faces recent campus additions. The gargoyles show the lines of their sculptors. The stone is varied in shade and tone. A precast concrete lintel cannot approximate the sandy texture of a limestone one. These buildings were built by hand, at the end of an age -- they are irreplaceable.

Prince Hall stands immediately adjacent to Umrath Hall, the other men's dormitory; together they form a lengthy and handsome wall of Tudor Gothic, a fine rambling edge to the playing fields that continues until it is rudely interrupted by the enormous bulk of Simon Hall.

Wash U's original campus architecture first inspired my interest in architecture and preservation. It fascinated and intrigued me -- coming from a small, mostly-suburban city in the south, I had never seen such buildings. I crawled all over every inch of them, photographing, exploring, and marvelling at having lucked into such a beautiful setting for my studies. They kindled in me the first flames of an ongoing love affair with the entire city, and eventually with urbanism at large.

Washington University's original campus buildings are a legacy handed down to it from visionary founders, talented architects, and highly skilled builders. The job of present-day administrators is to safeguard that legacy, not dismantle it. The University would be well-advised not to obliterate a critical part of that legacy.

Wash U, don't tear down Prince Hall!!

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