Close Hall: The University’s Home for Jesus, Jumpshots and Journalism.
Made of red brick, construction of the building was completed in 1891. The cost of construction was supplemented through a contribution of $10,000 by Mrs. Helen S. Close in order for the YMCA and YWCA (Young Men & Women Christian Association) to have a ministry home near campus. The three-story building contained offices and recitation rooms on the first floor while the second floor housed literary societies as well as additional offices. The basement of the building housed a gymnasium as well as an industrial chemistry lab. In 1924, Close Hall became the home of the School of Journalism and The Daily Iowan press room. A fire destroyed the second floor in 1940, but the building was saved and utilized until its demise in 1968.
The Red Brick Campus: Building #8 – 1891 – 1968.
Location: Close Hall (Y.M.C.A & Y.W.C.A Building) was located on the northwest corner of Iowa Avenue and Dubuque Street, directly west (across Dubuque Street) of the Chemistry Laboratory/Pharmacy Building. Both buildings were designed by Professor Charles D. Jameson of the SUI Engineering Department.
Close Hall: It All Began Around Christian Mission.
The Young Men’s Christian Association was born in England on June 4, 1844 when twelve men, led by George Williams, met together to grow their faith in Jesus of Nazareth. Their original mission statement went like this:
The Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) seeks to unite those young men, who regarding Jesus Christ as their God and Savior, according to the Holy Scriptures, desire to be His disciples in their faith and in their life, and to associate their efforts for the extension of His Kingdom amongst young men.
Around 1850, Thomas Sullivan of Boston agreed to start the first YMCA in the United States. By 1855, there were 24 YMCAs across the United States from New York to San Francisco. None of these YMCAs had buildings at the time – they were simply organized groups that reached out and discipled young men. It was not until 1859, that the first YMCA building was built in Baltimore, Maryland.
The YWCA first organized in England as well in 1855, and by the turn of the 20th century, there were hundreds of YMCA and YWCA chapters around the United States, many working with students on campus. In Iowa City, many prominent men and women were associated with these two Christian organizations, supporting them with their time, energy, and resources. Katherine Bates, author of an insightful look at the earliest facilities of the University, writes in 1949 about the beginnings of Close Hall in 1890…
Close Hall was erected in 1891 by friends of the Young Men’s and the Young Women’s Christian Association (YMCA & YWCA) who organized to provide quarters for these groups. The trustees of the organization purchased a piece of real estate located on the corner of Dubuque Street and Iowa Avenue from Daniel and Elizabeth Lowenstein for the sum of $4,000. Among the trustees were Peter A. Dey, Josiah L. Pickard, Lyman Parsons, Amos N. Currier, Levi Robinson, Charles A. Schaeffer, and Thomas H. Macbride. One will recognize many of these men as playing a prominent role in the history of the University.
A campaign was held to raise funds for the building, and students, faculty, alumni and local residents were solicited for contributions to the cause. The generous contribution of $10,000 from Mrs. Helen Close won praise from The Vidette-Reporter, which stated on June 16, 1890…
“…the newly elected Board of Trustees (was) very much pleased to find that Mrs. Helen Close, in memory of her husband and because of her appreciation of the Association cause, was ready to make a $10,000 subscription to the fund, making a total subscription of over $30,000. By her generous donation, Mrs.Close has won the gratitude of every student in the University and we predict that the very first action of the Christian Associations next September will be to vote unanimously that the beautiful $30,000 home to be erected, shall be called *Close Memorial Hall.”
Their predictions were correct, for in less than six months, the newspaper could report…
“…in appreciation of this liberal gift, we are informed that the associations have already passed a resolution, naming the building ’Close Hall.’”
The architectural design of Close Hall was the work of the SUI Engineering Department’s own Charles D. Jameson, who also served as architect for the Chemistry Laboratory/Pharmacy Building (1890) as well.
Marcus M. Hall of Cedar Rapids served as contractor and the building was dedicated on November 23, 1891. Iowa City historian, Irving Weber, described the laying of the cornerstone (in 1890) this way…
When completed, the first floor contained offices and recitation rooms, while the second floor housed literary societies as well as additional offices. The basement of the building housed a gymnasium as well as an industrial chemistry lab.
Close Hall consisted of two stories above a basement, the outer structure made of red brick and stone with a wood frame. Shortly after its dedication, the University rented space in Close Hall to be used for the literary societies. An annual rental of $500 was to be paid for this service. In June, 1901, the rental was increased to $600, and a further increase in June, 1904, brought the rent to $800, with the understanding that the University would provide heat and electricity, since the building was already connected with the University heating system. Included in this new contract was the use of the basement, to serve as a women’s gymnasium. This arrangement lasted until 1915 when the new Women’s Gymnasium was ready.
So, are you ready for some sports trivia?
Did you know that Close Hall was the site of the first five-on-five college basketball game ever played in the United States? Although the sport had been going since 1892, seven to nine players had been used on the floor at one time. At the urging of the University of Chicago’s head football coach, Amos Alonzo Stagg, Chicago’s men’s club team traveled to Iowa City to play the Hawkeyes on January 18, 1896 for an experimental game. The match was played in the basement of Close Hall, and due to seating capacity constraints, only 500 people were able to watch. Iowa physical education teacher, Dr. Henry F. Kallenberg, reduced the teams to five players on a side, and the modern version of basketball was born. Kallenberg came to Iowa from Springfield College, where he was a classmate of Dr. James Naismith, the man credited with inventing the game. Sadly, the Maroons won, 15–12, to secure modern college basketball’s first-ever win. But for Hawkeye fans, Close Hall is celebrated as the birthplace of Iowa basketball with the team calling it home until moving into the new armory located adjacent to Iowa Field in 1905.
In 1924, Close Hall would become the home for the School of Journalism and would house the campus typesetting machines and printing presses.
It would be from these presses that The Daily Iowan, The Hawkeye, Frivol, Iowa Literary Magazine, The Transit, and The Journal of Business would all be printed.
Here’s the way Bates described it in 1949…
The School of Journalism fell heir to the building in 1924 when the University purchased it from the trustees of Close Hall for $32,500. The building had been appraised at that amount by the Iowa City Association of Realtors. The basement was leased to the Daily Iowan for an annual rental of $1500, to be paid on a monthly basis, and the University would continue to furnish heat and light. In 1931, the Daily Iowan rent was reduced from $123 a month to $75 a month. Back rent payments which were overdue already amounted to over $8,000. A new lease was drawn up, providing that Student Publications would pay $30 a month in back rent and later increasing the payment to $75 and then $100 monthly until the full amount of rent in arrears was paid up. Back rent payments were suspended in September, 1933, and a monthly rental of $30.00 was established.
On New Year’s Day in 1940, the sound of fire sirens called many people to witness a good portion of Close Hall in flames. This fire left the building without a roof and upper story, thus reducing its value to a mere $16,034.40, the actual amount of cash expended on the building since its original purchase. This, however, was not the retirement of Close Hall.
Although regarded by some as a peculiar architectural monstrosity and eyesore which should be removed forever from the campus, the building is still used to house the University Printing Service. The name of Close Hall has practically died out in current usage, and although its title has never been officially changed, most people know this as the Old Journalism Building.
At the 100th Anniversary party (October 24-26, 1968) for the Daily Iowan, each person received a souvenir from Close Hall. A hand-made nail that went into the original construction in 1890.
So. . . What Stands on this Spot Today?
Close Hall was officially closed in 1968, demolition of the old lady continued into 1970, and by 1971 the construction of the south section of the four-story Biology Building was underway. Irving Weber describes it well..
Artist Siah Armajani was brought into the construction project for the new biology building and worked directly with the architects and engineers to design his Bridge for Iowa. The design of the bridge refers, as does much of the artist’s production, to the indigenous American forms of barns and silos.
Here’s to the Close Hall . . . uniquely designed, you were one of a kind. Gone but never forgotten!
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.