AKA: University of Washington, Seattle (UW), Roberts, Milnor Oakes, Hall, Seattle, WA

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

Designers: Bebb and Gould, Architects (firm); Hoshide Wanzer Williams (firm); Charles Herbert Bebb ; Carl Freylinghausen Gould Sr. (architect); Robert Isamu Hoshide (architect); Paul Randall Wanzer (architect); John Grouille Williams III (architect)

Dates: constructed 1921

3 stories

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East Stevens Way NE
University of Washington (UW) Campus, Seattle, WA 98195

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During the period from 1890 until 1920, mining coal amounted to the second largest business (behind lumber) in Washington State. To assist with developing more efficient and safer processes to mine coal or minerals, money was allocated to the University of Washington to develop a School of Mines. The Board of Regents founded a School of Mines on 11/28/1893, at roughly the same time that a new campus was being planned in the Montlake neighborhood of the city. The College of Mines opened the first wing of its new building in 1921, the second in 1927.

Building History

Mining was of vital economic interest to Washingtonians by the 1890s. Businesses derived significant wealth from mining coal near Renton and Newcastle and shipping the fuel down to the West Coast's main metropolis, San Francisco. Coal was the primary way energy was generated in the Pacific Northwest before the large-scale development of hydroelectric power in the twentieth century. As a result, the University of Washington's Board of Regents, seeking to make itself useful to businesses in the state, developed an academic curriculum and facilities to assist industry in improving mining techniques and locating sources of coal and minerals. Interest in the School of Mines was only accelerated by the Klondike and Nome Gold Rushes of the 1897-1909 period.

A University of Washington Libraries writer summarized the development of the School of Mines and its facilities: "The School of Mines’ first permanent home at the University of Washington was the Power House, formerly the express office of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in 1909. The Power House was subsequently renamed Mines Hall. In 1911 the School was renamed the College of Mines. In 1947, the College of Mines became the School of Mineral Engineering, and new Mines Hall, built in 1921, was renamed Roberts Hall in honor of Milnor Roberts, former Dean of the College of Mines. With the continued development of the college and its expanding curriculum, the College of Mines became the Department of Mining, Metallurgical, and Ceramic Engineering in 1968 and then the Department of Materials Science and Engineering in 1983." (See Archives West.org, "James I. Mueller University of Washington College of Mines photograph collection, circa 1905-1949," accessed 10/02/2020.)

The firm of Bebb and Gould, architects for most of the Collegiate Gothic campus buildings erected during the presidency of Henry Suzzallo between 1915 and 1926, designed the College of Mines' $128,000 building. Building occurred in two phases. The five southernmost bays of the building were completed in 1921. Four more on the building's north side were finished six years later in 1927.

The first construction phase, during 1920-1921, completed a three-story laboratory building designed to assist in the production of coal in Washington State. An article appeared in the Seattle Post-Intelligencerdiscussing this first lab: “Construction of the first unit of the proposed mines group of buildings of the University of Washington will be commenced shortly with the breaking of ground for the nonmetallic laboratory. The new building be sixty feet wide and ninety feet long, and will be located on the southeastern edge of the campus, just south of engineering hall. The laboratory will be three stories in height, and will have a full basement underneath. It will conform in architectural plan to the remainder of the buildings on the campus. The estimated cost of the new building is in the neighborhood of $75,000. The nonmetallic laboratory will be used by the ceramics and coal-washing departments of the school of mines for experimental and testing work in connection with various investigations these departments are making in mining conditions throughout the state. ‘Quantities of coal are coming into Washington each year from adjacent territory, and this coal could be easily replaced by coal from our own state,’ said Prof. Joseph Daniels of the College of Mines in speaking of the work which has made necessary the construction of the new laboratory. ‘And it is our ambition to make Washington coal come into its own.’ ‘The coal mining industry is the second largest industry in this state. Last year Washington mined 3,059,580 tons of coal which was valued at $10,997,733 at the mine. This production could be considerably increased through the wider use of the coal washing process.’ ‘The apparatus that will be installed in the new laboratory will be capable of handling lots of coal as high as fifty tons in quantity, and will be flexible enough to handle quantities as small as one ton.’” (See “New Building for University,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 10/19/1920, p. 3.)

This building, originally serving the College of Mines, was known as "Mines Hall" between 1921 and 1947. Administrators renamed the building for Milnor Oakes Roberts, (1877-1965), Dean of the College of Mines between 1903 and 1947. Roberts, the youngest son of the noted civil engineer William Milnor Roberts (1877-1965), came to the University of Washington from Stanford University in 1901. He worked two years as a as a Professor of Mining Engineering before taking on the title of dean. After his retirement, Roberts became a mining consultant. (See Archives West Orbis Cascade.edu, “Milnor Roberts Papers, 1852-1965,” accessed 09/11/2020.) The College of Mines was later absorbed by the College of Engineering.

In 2012, the Materials Science and Engineering Department occupied Roberts Hall.

Building Notes

William Milnor Roberts, Milnor's father, served as the Engineer-in-Chief for the Northern Pacific Railroad between 1869 and 1879 and became President of the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1878. He was also involved in the design and construction of the important Eads Bridge in Saint Louis, MO, in 1868, working with the civil engineer James Buchanan Eads (1820-1887). The Eads Bridge was one of the great engineering feats of its time, notable for its long, rigid span of 520 feet, and its inventive use of steel load-bearing components and pneumatic caissons in the construction of the bridge's over 100-foot-deep foundations. The bridge proved an important precedent for later designs, most notably the Brooklyn Bridge.


A computer center was built nearby to Roberts Hall in 1972-1973. An article in the Seattle Times early in 1972 stated: "In the southeast section of the campus, workmen will begin on a $1.3 [million] Computer Center building in June. It will be southwest of Roberts Hall." (See Julie Emery, "U.W. beginning last big year of rapid capital expansion," Seattle Times, 01/02/1972, p, F2.)

Milnor Roberts Hall underwent renovation in 1987-1988. According to a report by the architectural firm of Hoshide Wanzer and Williams in 2012, some changes occurred to the building's roof: "...the skylights were replaced in 1987 with aluminum tube rafters and caps and insulated glass panels." (See “Roof and Roofing Materials,” UW Roberts Hall HRA November 29, 2012, [Seattle: Hoshide Wanzer Williams Architects, 2012],p. 11.)

Planning for this renovation and an addition began at least by 1983. A note in the Seattle Times of 11/27/1983 listed capital projects announced by the University of Washington: “11,700 square feet of underground space to provide teaching and research lab facilities. Includes removal of 55 surface parking areas and replacement with landscaped open space.” (See “1983-85: Roberts Hall Addition,” Seattle Times, 11/27/1983, p. C10.) This underground addition to Roberts Hall would later be considered its own building and named Mueller Hall.

PCAD id: 8774