The University Heights plat, adjacent to the University of Washington campus, was created in the late nineteenth century to provide student housing. Such housing was considered necessary to foster fellowship and college spirit among students at the new university site, which had only been purchased in 1894. The designs for two new dorms—Clark Hall for women and Lewis Hall for men—were provided by the Seattle firm of Josenhans and Allen, who were officially in partnership between 1899 and 1912 and who also designed the university’s Parrington Hall in 1902. Although no longer in service as dormitories, Lewis and Clark halls were the first residential buildings on campus.
Lewis and Clark halls are of similar, but not identical, design, and are located approximately 200 feet from one another on the northeast side of campus. Named for explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, both three-story halls include octagonal towers on either side of an entry portico in the form of a classical temple front. However, Clark Hall has a narrower, three-story bay extending beyond two inset bays on either end above the entry portico. A hipped roof extends beyond this entry bay, superimposed over the main roof. This bay contains two levels of windows with single semicircular transom above the center window on the third level. Lewis Hall, meanwhile, has a wider gabled end lying flush between the octagonal towers, with a similar window configuration to Clark Hall but lacking the transom. Both buildings have a main hipped roof running horizontally, with gabled dormers on the ends. The materials of the buildings were local, as directed by the university’s regents, with locally manufactured brick and Tenino sandstone. The style of the buildings is influenced by the Romanesque Revival, but with an economical solidity and minimal ornamentation.
Although the dormitories may have been planned as early as 1896, the required funds were not appropriated by the state legislature until 1899 and the buildings were not completely furnished until early 1900. The lack of university housing up until that time meant that many students undertook a five-mile commute by streetcar from downtown Seattle. When they opened, both dorms housed approximately fifty students each. Clark Hall also housed the dining room, which, according to the Sixth Biennial Report of the Board of Regents, served food “of a good quality.” The report also mentioned that “students furnish their own bedding and toilet sets and whatever ornament they desire for their rooms.”
In 1903, Lewis Hall was renamed Pierrepont Hall and briefly served as an exhibit hall in 1909 during the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. It was renamed Lewis Hall once again in 1917, and became a women’s dormitory following World War I. Clark Hall has retained its name throughout its history, but served as a naval officer’s hospital during World War I before reverting to residential use after the war.
In 1936, both buildings were converted again. Using labor funded by the Works Progress Administration, Lewis Hall was renovated to house the School of Communications, which remained in the building until 1956. At that time, modernism was taking hold across campus and the Seattle Times called Lewis Hall “a relic of Neolithic or late Pleistocene period of campus architecture.” Clark Hall, meanwhile, was converted into the student union and then, by the late 1960s, for the use of the Reserve Officers Training Core (ROTC). It has undergone more extensive renovations than Lewis Hall, including the addition of dormers and the reconfiguration of the rear facade, and it currently features conical tops above its octagonal towers. Clark Hall was the site of numerous anti-war student protests, including an unsuccessful bomb plot in 1970.
Lewis and Clark halls continue to function as campus academic and administrative buildings, and their vaguely Romanesque appearance still serve as a reminder of the earliest period of campus development.