Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project

 

 
Christy Administration Building

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Institution Name: Southwestern College
Original/Historic Place Name: Richardson Hall (1909-1954)
Location on Campus: center of campus, top of only hill, with 77 steps ascending
Date(s) of Construction:
1909original construction
1950interior reconstruction after fire
Designer: unknown
Type of Place: Individual building
Style: Beaux-Arts classicism (Glossary)
Significance: architecture, education, religion
Narrative: see below
References: see below
Materials:
Foundation: stone
Walls: native stone
Roof: silver dome, not replaced after 1950 fire; now red asphalt
 
Function:
ca. 1909-present (2006)classrooms
ca. 1909-present (2006)administration
 

Narrative:
Christy Hall, originally known as Richardson Hall, was completed in 1909 as the second full building on a campus that had been founded in 1885. It originally housed classrooms and administrative functions. For its time, it was a truly monumental building, set on solid rock on the highest hill in the small town, with 77 steps leading up the hill, massive Greek pillars, and a silver dome that could be seen (especially in bright sunlight) for many miles in every direction. Built with native stone like many of the campus buildings that followed it, Christy Hall dominates the campus arrangement by serving as the axis for all other structures. Buildings are located on each side at the foot of the hill, creating a classically balanced effect.

The fire that gutted Richardson Hall in 1950 associates the building with the major crisis in the history of the college. (A picture of the gutted structure is available.) The college very nearly closed. Employees mortgaged their homes to help the college stay open. Funds were raised and the building was restored using the old walls, but without the dome because it was widely believed that the dome and its rotunda had fed air to the fire, making it worse. The dome was replaced with a red roof, and red roofs have since become a modern trend on the other native-stone buildings on campus.

In 1954, a western Kansas rancher, Ben Christy, gave $500,000 and the hall was re-named for him, with the Richardson name re-assigned to the auditorium within. This gift was obtained by new president President C. Orville Strohl, who served as President for over 18 years.

Today, the building retains its basic 1954 configuration, although modernized with air conditioning, an elevator on the south end, and some internal redecorations. It is primarily the home of administrative offices but also still houses academic departments in English and communications, including computer science.

Christy Hall is still the dominant architectural edifice in Winfield, indeed in Cowley County. I have frequently introduced visitors to the campus and the 77 steps as "the ultimate in handicapped inaccessibility" and as a reflection of early twentieth century religious and educational paradigms.
 

References:
 

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Last update: November 2006