Denny Hall Gets Remodeled

  • Denny Hall Exterior
    Denny Hall Exterior
  • Denny Hall - Presidents Office
    Denny Hall - Presidents Office
  • Denny Hall Library
    Denny Hall Library

The UW Department of Anthropology is moving. We will move back, but when we do it will not be to the same Denny Hall.

Denny Hall is, as almost any visitor to the UW has heard, the oldest building on campus. Designed by Seattle architect Charles W. Saunders in the French Renaissance Revival style, the Administration Building (as Denny Hall was known until 1910) was completed in 1895. It was the first step in the university’s move from its overcrowded quarters in downtown Seattle. “What an infinite relief it will be,” according to a writer for Pacific Wave, the campus newspaper, “to get into the spacious rooms of the new University, rooms big enough for a moderate sized class to turn around in; where there will be no stoves to explode semi-occasionally and cover one with soot and smoke and confusion." 1

Denny Hall’s sandstone and brick exterior has changed very little in a hundred and twenty years. Inside, however, almost nothing is the same. The building originally housed six laboratories, a library, a museum, a student lounge, faculty and administrative offices, a music room, and the first “Denny Hall,” a 700-seat lecture space at the heart of the building. Photographs from the period show dark wood interior finishes, gas lamp chandeliers and a sweeping central stairway through the building’s four floors.

By the 1940s the library and museum were gone and the elegance and spaciousness of Denny Hall had come to feel cramped and outdated. In a memoir, UW alumnus and English professor Hazard Adams describes studying German as a graduate student in a “damp, mildewed room in the basement of old Denny Hall, the campus’s first building, since mercifully remodeled.”2

In the 1950s Denny Hall came close to demolition. What it got instead was a thorough reworking that, while it may have kept the basement from mildewing, is hard to love. In The Campus Guide to the University of Washington, UW Architecture professor Norman J. Johnston described a building that has been “rather brutally retrofitted internally, so that none of the character of its early interior remains.”The Denny Hall of today is a notoriously difficult building to access from outside or to circulate within. Its Mezzanine is not a mezzanine, there are reasonable suspicions that its water supply is not safe, and as one student posted on a social media site in 2011, at certain times of the year “it is the hottest place on earth.”  

So now, five years after it was originally slated for remodel as part of the UW “Restore the Core” campaign, Denny Hall will get another internal overhaul. As before, the exterior will largely remain the same. But the plan, by Portland’s THA Architecture [], is for a space that better reflects Saunders’ original design. The dark wood finishes and gas lamps won’t come back, but a central stair and skylight will. What was once the high vaulted ceiling of the 4th floor UW library will return as a teaching assistant loft with exposed trusses. There will be a large “active learning classroom” modeled on those of the newly renovated Odegaard Library. And for the first time in more than 60 years it should be clear to students, faculty, and visitors how to move from one wing of the building to the other on every floor.

To make all this happen, the Department of Anthropology, along with Germanics, the Language Learning Center, Classics, and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations will be decamping to Condon Hall beginning this June. If all goes well, we will be back in the new Denny over the summer or winter break of 2016.

And yes, the Nubia Owens murals are coming back to Denny Hall, too. 


The Denny Hall photos are all sourced from the UW library online exhibition "No Finer Site: The University of Washington's Early Years On Union Bay."

1UW library online exhibition "No Finer Site: The University of Washington's Early Years On Union Bay."

2Hazard Adams, Academic Child (2008), p. 86.

3Norman J. Johnston, The Campus Guide to the University of Washington (2001), p. 18.


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