Secrets of Allen Hall

Story by Nikki Kesaris

Many University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication students walk through Allen Hall every day without realizing the rich history of the building and the school.

For instance, did you know that the journalism building didn’t start out as “Allen Hall”? Or that the building today holds clues to what came before? Read on to learn just a few of the mysteries lurking within the walls of Allen Hall.

The journey to Allen Hall

Seattle newspaperman Eric Allen came to the University of Oregon in 1912 to guide one of the nation’s first journalism departments — elevated to the status of a school just four years later. The program started and grew inside McClure Hall — named for Edgar McClure, a chemistry professor who had died climbing Mt. Ranier in 1897 — for over 40 years.

By the early 1920s, the journalism program was expanding so rapidly that Allen knew it would need more space. The overflow channeled into two “shacks:” a converted one-story residence near McClure and an old, open-air gymnasium, like the Fitness Finest one that ended up burning down in 1922. Oregon Daily Emerald students, who crammed together to work on obsolete typewriters in the rundown shacks, were called “shack rats.” Today there's a bench on the south side of the building in honor of these dedicated students.

UO finally broke ground on a new, three-story brick journalism building in 1923. When the school began to outgrow that building — some of which can still be found in today’s Allen Hall —  in 1945, the university set up a World War II-era metal Quonset hut as yet another overflow shack.

In early 1954, McClure Hall was demolished to make way for the new Eric W. Allen Hall in honor of the J-School’s late founder, who died in 1944. The $600,000 structure was connected to the 1923 building, which was remodeled to match midcentury style. At the time, Allen Hall was the largest journalism building in the country.

The small school Allen was recruited to run continued to grow throughout the 20th century and into the new millennium. In July 2011, construction workers broke ground again to remodel Allen Hall to reflect the innovations of the rapidly changing journalism and communication industry. Classes were moved to Agate Hall for two years, but the wait (and the extra walk) was worth it. The newly renovated Allen Hall reopened on March 1, 2013, with a new sky-lit atrium, modern updates, media galleries for students to work in, a lecture hall, a hearth and a digital commons.

From McClure Hall to Allen Hall, the SOJC has come a long way. Here are just a few artifacts from the school’s past century that are hidden all around us.

Washington handpress

Have you ever noticed the historic handpress sitting outside Allen Hall 221? Over 170 years old, the Washington handpress printed the first newspaper west of the Rocky Mountaints for the Oregon Spectator on Feb. 5, 1846. The handpress traveled from New York by boat around Cape Horn to Oregon City. After it was sold to multiple failing newspapers, the press was finally acquired by the owner of the Oregon State Journal in Eugene, Harrison R. Kincaid. In 1915, Kincaid’s family gave the press to the journalism department. It was housed in a J-School “shack” until the fire of 1922. Legend has it that Professor George Turnbull (later to become the second dean of the school) singlehandedly saved the handpress by disassembling it and handing the pieces out a window.

Stonemason plaque

If you’re on the third floor, look to the interior wall of the atrium, above the third-floor entrance to the original building. You’ll see the stonemason plaque that was created by Louise Utter in 1923. The plaque shows three stonemasons and an inscription that reads, “A free & enlightened press the surest guarantor of liberty.” The funds to create the sculpture came from the Works Progress Administration, an American New Deal agency created to employ people during the Great Depression. Utter also contributed to the design and creation of the Knight Library heads.

Printer’s stamps

If you’re walking on the east side of Allen Hall, you may have noticed multiple symbols on the outside wall, carved in the space between the first and second stories. These printer’s marks, which were part of Allen Hall’s original design, represent how closely the J-School was once tied to the printing trade. Each of the nine colophons represents a time period, location and historical meaning related to printing going back to the 1400s, including a stamp honoring William Caxton, the first printer in England in 1475, and one from Village Press in Chicago circa 1903. The stamp with an H and an N crossed by a large J honors John Henry Nash, a world-famous printer who taught in the J-School and housed his fine arts press at the UO in the 1930s.

The Allen Room

When Allen Hall was built in 1954, alumni donated money to install a meeting and seminar room that was an exact duplicate of the den in Dean Eric Allen’s home in Eugene. Much of the room has been renovated over the years, but the ceiling beams and the fireplace remain untouched. Located on the third floor in room 307 — the Digital Commons center, the room is now used for meetings and small classes.

The Winter Room

The Winter Room was named after Willis “Bill” L. Winter, an SOJC alum and beloved SOJC advertising professor for more than 20 years. Because of Winter’s dedication, alumni and faculty donated money to name the room after him when he died. The Winter Room, Room 211 on the second floor, is used for meetings and classes today.

Wall of the original building

When it was time to update Allen Hall for the digital age, the SOJC didn’t want to dispense with its past entirely. Architects drew up plans to expand the building while keeping the original building’s brick façade — and the history of the SOJC — intact. The third-story entrance from the original building was also retained as a new entrance leading from the third-story atrium into the hallway of classrooms and offices.

Tree in the middle of Allen Hall

Have you ever noticed the tree in the middle of Allen Hall? Next time you walk up or down the main staircase, take a look at the wooden column rising through the middle. This column was made from a very large campus elm that was cut down during the construction of Allen Hall. After much debate about the fate of this ancient tree, the builder agreed to make it a permanent part of Allen.

Nikki Kesaris is a junior studying public relations at the SOJC. This is her second year writing for the SOJC Communication Office. She also previously held an internship at a San Diego advertising agency before she realized that PR is her true calling.