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Holland Hall was the second in a series of eight buildings in the Norman Gothic revival style constructed on the St. Olaf campus between 1923 and 1950. The series was initiated after the completion of a 1922 campus plan by the leading Chicago architectural firm of Coolidge & Hodgdon, who also designed Holland Hall. It is the most distinctive of the St. Olaf Norman Gothic structures and features an H-shaped plan, pier buttresses and pilasters, a powerful vertical emphasis, and embattled parapets. The building was renamed in 1949 for Peter O. Holland (1878-1939), long-time St. Olaf teacher, treasurer, and business manager. The Northfield architectural firm of Sovik, Mathre & Madson (notable for their church and college architecture) carried out an extensive remodeling in 1968-69. This work left the exterior unchanged except for a new octagonal-shaped staircase tower required to bring the building up to code; however, the interior was heavily altered.
According to contemporary St. Olaf sources, Holland Hall was designed with the Merveille of Mont Saint Michel in Normandy in mind, and visual comparison of the two structures does demonstrate architectural similarities. The Norman Gothic style was held at the time to capture the ideals of St. Olaf College. The institution was founded by Norwegian-Americans who identified with their Norse kinsfolk, the Normans and the medieval Norman-Gothic monastery was said to reflect the same spiritual aspirations and ethic of self denial to which the college was devoted. Crosses on one façade are modeled after those of Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, Norway. Prof. Arnold Flaten (1900-76), founder of the St. Olaf art department and a significant artist in his own right, provided engravings, like the following, over three of the building's lintels that affirmed the work of the science departments in Christian language: "In the vast and minute we see the footsteps of the God, who gives luster to an insect's wings and wheels his throne upon the rolling worlds."
The decision of President Lars Boe (1875-1942) to construct a new classroom and laboratory building in 1924 was itself something of a campus watershed, for the destruction of the college's chapel in a 1923 fire might have suggested devoting funds to chapel construction instead. In time, Holland Hall would also house the Paracollege (1969-99), one of the longest-lived of the experimental colleges of the 1960's.
Shaw, Joseph M. Dear Old Hill: The Story of Manitou Heights, The Campus of St. Olaf College. Northfield, MN: St. Olaf College, 1992.