AKA: University of Washington, Seattle, Administration Building, Seattle, WA; University of Washington, Seattle, Denny Hall, Seattle, WA

Structure Type: built works - public buildings - schools - university buildings

Designers: BNBuilders, Incorporated (firm); Grainger, Thomas and Baar, Architects (firm); Hacker, Thomas, Architect, Incorporated (firm); Saunders and Lawton, Architects (firm); Edward Joseph Baar (architect); Bradley Bastian (building contractor); Clyde Grainger (architect); Thomas Hacker (architect); George Willis Lawton (architect); Jeffrey Nielsen (building contractor); Charles Willard Saunders (architect); Donald Partridge Thomas (architect)

Dates: constructed 1893-1895

4 stories, total floor area: 86,400 sq. ft.

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Spokane Lane
University of Washington Campus, Seattle, WA 98105

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Completed in 1895, the grand Denny Hall, has stood out from other campus buildings in various ways. It was the first building erected on the second Interlake campus of the University of Washington (UW), and remained the school's academic and administrative hub for its first 20 years. It occupied a gentle hilltop site whose elevation was more apparent before the grounds' lush trees grew and closed off spectacular views toward Mount Rainier and Lake Washington. During the 1900s and 1910s, other buildings gradually filled the landscape below it to the south, east and west. Denny Hall's Chateauesque architecture also distinguished it from the predominant Late Gothic/Jacobethan Style instituted by the firm of Bebb and Gould in the 1910s. While its grandeur has been hemmed in somewhat by trees and PACCAR Hall, Denny remains one of the most important and interesting buildings at the University of Washington, a direct link to academic architecture of the 19th century.

Building History

Denny Hall underwent a two-part design process originally. A first design considered in 1891, produced by the firm of Boone and Willcox, was known as the "Administration and Belles Lettres Building," but it did not go further than the construction bid phase, as the contractor costs came back too high. Shortly after this cost issue, the committee supervising the construction process relieved Boone and Willcox of the commission and gave it to a relative newcomer, the Cambridge, MA-born Charles Willard Saunders (1857-1935). Saunders, who had only been in Seattle since 1889, devised an unusual Chateauesque design that became the first structure on the new Lake Washington Campus of the University of Washington; administrators prosaically called it the "Administration Building" originally, but renamed it in 1910 to honor the early settlers in Seattle, Arthur A. Denny (1822-1899) and his wife, Mary Ann Boren Denny (1822-1912), who donated 8 2/3 acres of the original 10-acre University of Washington site in Downtown Seattle.

Cosntructed for about $150,000, Denny Hall originally housed the university's administrative headquarters as well as its first library and a 736-seat auditorium. One of the early tenants in Denny Hall, the Department of Chemistry, began to outgrow its accommodations in Denny Hall. According to UW Professor of Chemistry, R.W. Moulton, "By 1908 there were four temporary structures adjacent to Denny Hall that were used by the Chemistry Department. As enrollment continued to grow, it was apparent that in the very near future a building to house the Department would be essential. This opportunity came when the State made appropriation for three buildings to be erected for the Alaska-Yukon Exposition in 1909. These buildings were to revert to the University after the Exposition. Bagley Hall was erected in 1908 and was used as a fine arts building during the Exposition." (See Ralph Wells Moulton, "Chemical Engineering Education at the University of Washington," essay in One Hundred Years of Chemical Engineering: from Lewis M. Norton [M.I.T. 1888] to Present, Nicholas A., Peppas, ed., [Dordrecht Netherlands ; Boston : Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1989], p. 354.) After the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, the Chemistry Department moved its offices and classrooms to the former Fine Arts Building, which would become known as "Bagley Hall," the first of two on the UW Campus.

Denny Hall has been remodeled many times in its 119-year history, most ruthlessly in the 1950s, at this time, some on campus sought to demolished it, and its original interior was sacrificed for the sake of economy. In recent years, Denny Hall has served the Departments of Anthropology, Classics, Germanics and Near Eastern Languages and Civilization; additionally, a Language Learning Center and a computer resource cluster also occupied space here. Today, there is little original left on the building's interior, although the university has been careful to maintain the exterior's historic character.

Building Notes

In the early 1890s, the Regents of the University of Washington wanted Denny Hall, the first building on a new university campus, to be a durable and impressive edifice; to provide durability, Tenino sandstone, quarried just south of Olympia, was used for the exterior walls and, to provide an air of distinction, architect Saunders employed unusual French Chateauesque styling. (In the late 19th century, this revival style, also referred to as "French Renaissance," had more frequently been used for mansions, railroad depots and hotels than university buildings.) The Chateauesque style had been used for some large-scale commercial and institutional buildings around the state, perhaps the best known having been W.A. Ritchie's splendid design for the Spokane County Courthouse (1893-1895) completed at about the same time.

In form and certain details, Denny Hall was an amalgam of two well-known Romanesque buildings at Harvard University by the remarkable architect Henry Hobson Richardson (1838-1886). Denny Hall's massing, with a large hipped-roof pavilion flanked by lower side wings, recalled that of Richardson's influential design for the Harvard University's Law School, Austin Hall (1881-1884). Denny Hall also had the tri-arched entryway consistent with Austin Hall. It shared with Harvard's Sever Hall, also by Richardson, the hipped roof, twin bulging bay windows on the front facade and a central gabled pediment placed atop the parapet above the front door. (This gabled pediment became a tripartite French wall dormer at Denny Hall.) Saunders had descended from an old and politically active Boston family, and had been born and raised in Cambridge, MA; without question, he would have been quite familiar Richardson's Harvard masterpieces.

Like the first building of the old Territorial University (1861), Denny Hall contained a cupola housing a bell to signal class times. Saunders designed a new cupola to house the original bell, "Varsity Bell," that had been produced in Troy, NY, in 1862, and shipped to Seattle around the Cape Horn. This bell is rung today only for Homecoming celebrations, and an electronic chime is played at all other times through cupola speakers.

The Sanborn Insurance Map of 1905 (Map #463), indicated that Denny Hall had no fire walls at the time, a slate roof, and steam heating. Laboratories and the university library were located in the basement. (The library occupied the northern wing of the basement.) Recitation and classroom were situated on the floors above. Interestingly, the map indicated that an underground tunnel (probably for steam pipes) linked Denny Hall to the Science Building (later renamed Parrington Hall). Additionally, an underground tunnel connected the Science Building to the then-new Power House located to the southeast of it.

Construction of PACCAR Hall (2009-2011) to the northeast has impinged somewhat on the space surrounding Denny Hall referred to as "Denny Yard."


Denny Hall's rear section was altered from an assembly hall into classrooms and office during the 1910s.

A fire destroyed the original Chimes Tower in 1949; this was replaced by an electronic bell system. The entire interior was remodeled by Grainger, Thomas and Baar in 1956-1957, destroying most of its original character; the original floor plan was completely reworked and wooden floors removed; Denny Hall's exterior underwent a major renovation in 2004-2005; its interior was scheduled to be a part of the UW's "Restore the Core" renovation campaign carried out primarily between 2008-2010.

During 2014-2015, plans were made to remodel the mezzanine added in the 1950s. This work was done by THA Architecture, formerly known as Thomas Hacker, Architect, Incorporated. In 2014, the THA web site described its work at Denny Hall: "The renovation of Denny Hall celebrates both the historic nature of the building and the original composition of spaces while providing modern and interactive learning spaces. The renovation will also bring the building into compliance with life-safety and ADA requirements. In addition, the renovation will upgrade all building systems, increase energy efficiency, improve indoor air quality and lighting, and improve acoustical performance." (See THA Architecture, "University of Washington,"accessed 04/07/2014.)BNBuilders, Incorporated, of Seattle, served as the general contractor for this $32 million, Restore the Core project that renovated 73,000 square feet, and created new faculty offices, classrooms and laboratories. Additionally, this effort provided upgrades to the energy systems and the seismic capacities of Denny Hall.

According to the request for proposal made by the University of Washington Capital Projects Office: "The primary intent of the Denny Hall project is to renovate and modernize the facility while preserving the structure and its historic elements. Constructed in 1895, Denny Hall is the oldest building on the Seattle campus and is listed in the Washington State Heritage Roster. The 79,082 gross-square foot facility will accommodate the program of various academic departments. The project scope includes: site improvements; abating hazardous materials; structural demolition of select components; complete interior demolition inclusive of mechanical and electrical systems; upgrading all major building systems; correcting seismic deficiencies; improving accessibility deficiencies; and construction of the new interior academic spaces. The Project is targeting the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) for Existing Building to achieve at least a LEED Silver Level Certification through the process of the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI)." (See bxwa.com, "Project #UW170A, Bid Date: 7/29/2014 @ 3:00 pm PDT; UW Denny Hall Renovation - RFP for Mechanical Contractor / Construction Manager (MC / CM) Services, University of Washington Main Campus - Seattle, WA #202039,")

This renovation work began in 06/2015, when cyclone fencing went up around the building.

The UW Physical Plant Department gave Denny Hall the administrative number "Building 001."

PCAD id: 5433