Designed in a student competition to house the nation's first student union and judged by a national jury including William Mead of McKim, Mead and White, Houston Hall marked a dramatic change in the university's architectural values, and away from the bold formal invention of the Victorian era. Instead, Hays and Medary found their architectural models in the past, in this case, the late medieval Peacock Inn at Rowley, Yorkshire. Built of local Wissahickon schist and limestone trim, their building housed dining rooms, a pool parlor, a reading room, and club offices as well as a swimming pool and workout space in the basement.
The wood-paneled central hall terminated by fireplaces at each end is an undergraduate's imitation of a men's club of the day and represents the era when children grew up to be their parents. The building was funded by Henry Houston, vice-president of the Pennsylvania Railroad for freight services, in memory of his son Henry Jr., class of 1878. Scattered throughout the building are trophies of university history, from the College Hall (
PH147.2) bell to a handsome plaque dedicated