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Francis Hall, designed by Grover C. Freeman is the oldest building on campus and was originally constructed as a new residence for the orphans housed in the Sacred Heart Convent, which was the motherhouse of the Bernardine Franciscan Sisters in Millmont, a suburb of Reading, PA. The increased number of orphans under the care of the Sisters made this construction necessary. The motherhouse on the property designated as Mt. Alvernia was located about 200 feet from the proposed site of the building to be dedicated as St. Francis Orphanage.
St. Francis Home contained residences for the orphans--both girls and boys--as well as residences for the Sisters who administered and staffed it. There also were administrative offices and a wing set aside for high school classrooms and laboratories. The school facilities were provided for orphan residents and for young women planning to enter the religious community, who resided in a separate wing of the building.
When the Bernadine Sisters decided to use this facility for Alvernia College in 1958, the orphan residents were dispersed either to homes or to other institutions, and the young women preparing to enter the religious community were given lodging in Sacred Heart Convent. As the college began, the orphanage building was simply designated as the Liberal Arts Building and was not named St. Francis Hall until the 25th anniversary celebration of the college's founding in 1983. From 1958 until 1966, all administrative offices, classrooms, and laboratory facilities, as well as residences for women students, religious administrators, faculty, and staff, were included in Francis Hall.
In 1966, the first dormitory, Veronica Hall, was built, and the young women were moved to this facility. Bernadine Sisters who were members of the faculty and staff of the college continued to reside in the south wing of Francis until 2001, when this wing was reconverted to female student housing. Laboratory facilities were moved to Bernardine Hall in 1969, which also provided additional classroom space. Classes continued to be conducted in Francis Hall, however.
Architecturally and aesthetically, Francis Hall is recognized as a unique structure. Mission revival is used to reflect the College's connection to early Franciscan missionaries in the Southwest. Even the earliest description of its main corridors and entrance in the September 12, 1926 Reading Eagle noted this fact:
"The first, and perhaps the most striking feature for the visitor, beside [the] beauty of the exterior, is the main entrance. The handsome gate, finished in black, is made of ornamental iron. The vestibule is a thing of beauty with its mosaic finish and decorated walls, bespeaking medieval times. The tile which is used in the flooring of the entrance extends part way up the wall. Adding to the beauty of this part are black-colored ornamental and hammered iron electrical fixtures and banisters, the latter being for the double stairs which are built on either side of the entrance and leading to the second floor."
The article further describes the chapel on the second floor as "beautifully decorated in polychrome style. The colors are conservative and harmoniously blended on the little altar, the walls and the walnut panels. Beautiful stained glass windows and hammered and ornamental iron electrical fixtures complete the chapel which has a seating capacity of two score."
An article in the Berks County Historical Review (Spring 1994) describes the medallion of St. Francis placed at the center of the building, claiming that, "The importance and pride of this job to the Mueller Mosaic Co. is proven by a full page illustration of [this] stair hall in [their] catalogue." Francis Hall also has numerous corridors, which the Review describes as containing "the longest tile floors in Berks County. " In fact the article states that "William DeTurck, of the DeTurck Tile Company, describes [Francis Hall] as having 'acres of tiles.' The entrance hall on the first floor, the staircases, the 200 foot long corridor on the second floor, the floor of the chapel, the floor of the conference room and the 4 foot high wainscoting in the halls are all tiled. The majority of the floor tyle [sic] is 2 " x 1 " and a buff color. The wainscoting consists of buff tile, decorative tile inserts, and the borders of red tile. The tile on the chapel floor consists of deep red tiles mixed with decorative inserts, while the conference room consists of a variety of glazed tiles."
Although there have been extensive renovations done throughout the building since 1958, the exteriors and the tile work on the first and second floor have remained as described. The auditorium on the first floor has also remained substantially the same.
Staskiel, M. Pacelli. Threads: A Tapestry of Alvernia College. Reading, PA: Alvernia College, 2002.
Berks County Historical Review (Spring 1994).