An Appreciation of Alexander Hall
As I walked through Tiffany Loop, I stared at my feet. I was too nervous to look up and acknowledge the fact that I was starting college in an unfamiliar setting with nothing yet to ground me here. Then I saw Alexander Hall out of the corner of my eye, though at the time I only recognized it as the brick building with towers, and it brought a calming sensation over me. I figured if a building could remain standing for over a hundred years and house generations of now graduated students then I too could persevere and be part of the next generation to graduate from Seattle Pacific University. Now that I have almost survived my first quarter here I have learned about Alexander Hall’s history, how its history relates to students today and who we have to thank for preserving the hall.
Among a sea of brick, Alexander Hall still stands out with its Romanesque Revival style architecture. There are conical roofs on each of the four towers like one would expect to find on a castle. Dotted along the surface of the hall’s walls are a variety of different shaped windows, from rectangles to squares. Though most of the windows are evenly distributed the front of the building has two rectangle windows on the left side of the building that are not reflected on the right side (figure 1). The sharp edges of the tower’s roof and the windows are contrasted by the entry way as one is greeted by a rounded arch, with a border of bricks acting as a leading line towards the door. Even from the outside one can see the repetition of period-piece chandeliers that trickle down the hallway and seemingly invite one to enter the threshold.
Through the doorway, the main floor of the building reflects the outside, keeping the Romanesque Revival style consistent. Up the stair-well this trend continues through the landing on the second floor; the hardwood floors stop once they reach the threshold of the doorway on every level beyond the first. The hard wooden floors are made of real wood with a dizzying amount of boards that contain a swirl grain pattern. In addition, the wood floors light brown color makes them standout further from the clearly fake dark wood used to make the stairwell railings and window ledge. A pop of bright red is present on the window seat cushion and though it feels as overwhelming as the amount of swirl grain on the floor, it adds a sense of warmth to the room.
As one looks down the hallway to the right of the window seat, it is evident that the time period of the décor has shifted dramatically, from skinny panels of hard wood to an unsightly carpet that alternates from dark gray to light gray and back again. The pattern of the carpet runs perpendicular to the paneling of the wood and leads to various offices and an elevator. On top of the carpet are church like benches adorned with bright red cushions. The cushions are the only objects creating unity between the modern office space and the landing at the top of the stairs. The door next to the windowsill leads into the chapel with a medley of colors displayed by the stained glass that forms a cross in the front of the chapel room. To the right of the cross is the exposed brick of the tower with three other stained glass pieces at the top. Unlike the window seat location, in the chapel one cannot see the foot traffic of students and faculty outside or hear the sound of feet clattering as they ascend and descend the stair well inside. The outside of Alexander Hall can impact one just as much as the amenities inside the hall can.
Alexander Hall was the main building that captured my attention when I first visited Seattle Pacific University. The building’s brick exterior and attention to detail, from the towers to the variety of windows made me feel like I was truly on a college campus, due to the architecture going beyond functionality. During my first quarter at Seattle Pacific, Alexander Hall served as a magnificent get away spot for whenever I needed to change up my study location or whenever I wanted to be alone to pray or contemplate my calling. The window seats on the second and third floor have provided me with a gorgeous view of the campus and a favorable location to study, whether I needed to focus on my own or when my friends and I wanted a peaceful study location. The chapel located on the second floor of the building has been a blessing for me. Whenever I have had a rough day of classes, or struggled with social matters it has given me the closed off calming space that I needed to gather my thoughts and pray to God.
Buildings can imply particular messages, whether they are simply for utility or for representing a deeper message. Alexander Hall was designed by John Parkinson. I was curious about the structure of the building so I researched the architect on the internet and discovered he intended the style of the hall to be Romanesque Revival. I then did research on the style itself in order to uncover what characteristics were typically associated with the style. Alexander Hall’s characteristics consists of towers with conical roofs, and a rounded arch way that heavily emphasizes this period’s architectural theme. Romanesque Revival was inspired by a European version of time-honored Roman forms and was popular in the United States from 1870–1900 (“Romanesque Revival”). What is the purpose of gesturing backwards to an architecture style that didn’t actually exist when Alexander Hall was built? The purpose was to establish tradition, because Parkinson pulled something forward from the past now current students and faculty have a building in which they connect to the past through. Alexander Hall was the first building on campus and was built in 1893 (“Photo Gallery”). The hall’s location at the center of campus anchors the students and staff back to the college’s history. The architecture itself also denotes a sense of openness through the use of a broad stair case and a welcoming rounded arch before the entrance. Alexander Hall has a rich history that connects it to the roots of the university’s founding.
Alexander Hall was at first only referred to as the “Red Brick Building” until it was named after the first president of Seattle Pacific, Alexander Beers (“The Alexander Hall Story”). The university named the building after his first name instead of his last name due to the recent ending of prohibition in 1933 (“Prohibition”). The public used his last name to their advantage when creating a campaign slogan for the mayor position on the prohibition ticket, “‘to quiet their fears, for the cold water men are giving us beers’” (Beers, 100). Despite there being a way to use his name with a positive connotation the school still felt that it would be inappropriate due to the prohibition songs that were sung in the hall. Alexander Beers made a significant contributions to the school from the very beginning of the schools formation to the day to day operation of the school.
Alexander Beers and his wife persevered through many obstacles in order to make Seattle Seminary School (now Seattle Pacific University) succeed. For example they had to deal with the building not being furnished when they arrived, not having a student body and having 16,000 dollars in property debt (Beers, 105). Not only did they have to get the school into an operable state but they also were only compensated by whatever “could be spared from the tuition after the teachers’ salary and other expenses had been met” (Beers, 98). The Beers family often did not have enough money to get groceries for themselves and yet Mr. Beers still took it upon himself to raise money from people inside and outside the church in order to pay off the debt (Beers, 104). His dedication to the school both in guiding the students and attempting to levitate financial burden contributed to Seattle Pacific’s ultimate success.
I am immensely thankful that they made personal sacrifices and overcame an ample amount of obstacles in order to make the school a success. Their dedication gives Alexander Hall further meaning by displaying how perseverance can pay off. The building itself has lasted 123 years with the help of restoration projects that took place both in 1966–67 and its most recent renovation that ended in 2014 (“The Alexander Hall Story”). The restoration of the building took raising 6.2 million dollars in order to strengthen the building’s structural integrity to make it safe for use. The largest donor to the cause was Becky Arnett Gilliam who donated a challenge gift of 2.5 million dollars. Gilliam was moved to make a donation due to both her grandfather and her father attending the school, she states, “as a student in the ’70s, I would go to the chapel in Alexander Hall to be alone and pray. It was extremely moving to me to know that both my father and grandfather had worshipped in that same chapel as young men…” (“Alumna”). Its eye opening to recognize how the same spaces can hold an immense amount of value to people across generations. I am thankful that Gilliam saw something important in Alexander that motivated her to want to preserve it. Gilliam has received recognition for her donation through the Seattle Pacific website, a plaque in Alexander Hall and by having the newest residence hall, Arnett Hall named after her. Many people who donate towards a cause have a personal motive behind their actions.
Gilliam’s story reminds me of Ralph Ellison, the author of Invisible Man, who claims that donors have ulterior motives when they make a contribution towards something. The excerpt from the “Invisible Man” takes place during a Founder’s Day celebration and involves a founder of a school and a student of the school that acts as the founder’s driver for the day. During the car ride the founder reveals the motivation behind his contribution was his daughter: “everything I’ve done since her passing has been a monument to her memory” (Ellison, 72). The broad diction of “everything” exhibits the guilt that the founder feels about his daughter’s passing and subsequently why he is trying to diminish his guilt by helping the school. Gilliam is similar in that she does have ulterior motives for donating even though her actions made a positive impact on the community. Gilliam was motivated by her personal connection to Alexander Hall and her desire to “honor the legacy passed down by the Arnett family” (“Alumna”). Though in both circumstances the people had personal motivations that drove their philanthropy they both ended up impacting their community in a positive way.
It is vital to understand the history behind Alexander Hall in order to appreciate the amount of effort that went into creating Seattle Pacific University as an institution. The fact that Alexander Hall has been here for the last 123 years is a testament to the permanence of Seattle Pacific’s values and mission to continually shape new students to change the world. The building has housed many different generations with varying purposes from dorm rooms, to offices but ultimately it is the building that ties the rest of the campus to its original founding.
Figure 1. Image of Alexander Hall taken by Christina Kenoski.
“Alumna Makes $2.5 Million Challenge Gift.” Challenge Gift — Seattle Pacific University. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2016.
Beers, Adelaide Lionne, “The Romance of a Consecrated Life: A Biography of Alexander Beers” (1922). Seattle Seminary Publications. Book 9.
History.com Staff. “Prohibition.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, 2009. Web. 17 Nov. 2016.
“Invisible Man” Lapham’s Quarterly, Volume VIII, Number 17, 2015, 69–72.
“Photo Gallery — Seattle Pacific University.” Photo Gallery — Seattle Pacific University. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2016.
“Romanesque Revival.” Architectural Styles of America and Europe. N.p., 15 Nov. 2011. Web. 17 Nov. 2016.
“The Alexander Hall Story.” The Alexander Hall Story — Seattle Pacific University. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2016.
“The Restoration Project.” The Restoration Project — Seattle Pacific University. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2016.