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UND’s architectural gems sit amid a changing campus

The imposing and ornate presence of Merrifield Hall dwarfed a UND employee on its brilliant green lawn Wednesday. The inside of the building is equally as grand. Curved staircases wrap around each end of the long halls, accompanied by stately win...

Babcock Hall on Wednesday, Oct 8, 2014, at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, N.D. Herald Staff Photo.




The imposing and ornate presence of Merrifield Hall dwarfed a UND employee on its brilliant green lawn Wednesday.

The inside of the building is equally as grand. Curved staircases wrap around each end of the long halls, accompanied by stately windows that stretch from one floor to the next.


As a fixture on campus for more than 80 years, Merrifield is one of UND’s historically significant buildings that are in the middle of construction boom of new facilities and a reevaluation of how the university uses its older buildings, including deciding which to tear down.

After promising during the last legislative session to take eight buildings “offline” and demolish them, UND is trying to balance the historical aspects of campus with the need for newer, larger facilities.

“The problem is sometimes some buildings get too far beyond restoration and there really is nothing to fix anymore and then it becomes more of a financial situation than it does a historical situation,” UND’s Director of Facilities Planning Larry Zitzow said. “But do we involve the campus with decisions like this? Yes we do.”

While Merrifield stands out and is here to stay, Zitzow said, it’s actually one of 56 historically significant structures on UND’s campus, as listed by the Grand Forks Historic Preservation Commission.

“Truth be known, there aren’t a lot of protections for being on the register,” Commission Coordinator Peg O’Leary said. “It’s mostly honorific and a reminder to people this is something worth saving. This is something worth looking twice at.”

Building a legacy

The structures and areas included in the historical district were built in what the Commission, a city agency, calls a “period of significance” from 1883 to 1965.

“Once you establish a reasonable period of significance, things fall in,” O’Leary said. “Other criteria are architecture, which still has to be representative of (a building’s) original state. The buildings that have been altered too much in the wrong places don’t make it.”


Zitzow said the history of campus is important in moving forward with the university’s many construction, renovation and expansion projects.

“At this point, historical restoration is something that’s very important to our campus and restoring the things that really have value to the campus itself,” he said. “That’s not as easy to define as it sounds.”

O’Leary said her group tries to assist as much as possible to help the university recognize historical value in the face of what the campus is currently in need of, such as more collaborative learning space and technologically equipped classrooms.

“When you look at many of the historical buildings on campus ... they have so much more personality and richness and warmth than the newer ones do,” she said. “Partly, it’s a factor of style and partly a factor of what you can afford to build now. But those are just better reasons for keeping what’s there now.”

Last February, UND kept the promise it made to the Legislature when seeking money for a new medical school building and announced they would consider demolishing Chandler Hall, Babcock Hall, the Strinden Center, the Era Bell Thompson Multicultural Center, 314 Cambridge, the Women’s Center, Dakota Hall and the Center for Community Engagement.

That same month, the school announced plans to move forward with demolition of the Women’s and Multicultural centers. However, the university backed off its plans for the Women’s Center after the campus community fought the idea of moving it into McCannel Hall.

The Multicultural Center moved into the Memorial Union this summer and Zitzow said efforts have been made to find out what stakeholders want to happen on campus.

An example of this is a survey that went out last week asking for input on what to do with the current School of Medicine and Health Sciences building as a new $124 million facility is currently under construction.


“There has to be a lot of thought put into why you keep it or why you don't keep it,” Zitzow said. “Involvement with the campus is important. That invite is being made so we can hear the concerns from the campus community, so we understand the situation before we do anything at all.”


Merrifield Hall, built in 1929 and designed by famed Grand Forks architect Joseph Bell DeRemer, stands out on UND’s campus as a stately collegiate Gothic giant, with its large broad face and towering entryways.

“The lines, the general flow of the design, is really beautiful,” O’Leary said.

In fact, UND has more collegiate Gothic style buildings on campus than any other institution in the country, except for Princeton University, O’Leary said. The style is characterized by pointed arches, buttresses, recessed entrances and decorative finials atop the structure.

Zitzow said it has seen very little renovation because of the thoroughness of the original design.

Old President’s House

The old President’s House was also designed by DeRemer in Colonial Revival style, with tall white pillars and intricate wooden details on the roof and deck.


O’Leary said when it was built in 1903, the house was the first in Grand Forks to be built already wired for electricity. The three-story home also stood about a block away from campus, giving it a striking presence on the prairie.

University presidents lived in the house, which had a ballroom inside, for several decades before it eventually housed the Alumni Association.

After sitting vacant for a time, the building fell into disrepair. It was considered for demolition in the 1970s, but O’Leary said alumni stepped up and “put their money where their mouth was.”

The house was refurbished on both the outside and inside and a statewide effort to reclaim pieces of the original furniture from the home were successful.

The structure was home to the Alumni Association for years, but now it sits in limbo with no real set purpose other than for special events and receptions, as the campus continues to expand around it.

“The people that go in there, I think feel the same feeling about pride in the building,” Zitzow said. “There really hasn’t been any damages inside. It’s pretty much stayed the way we put it back together. A lot of the components had to be ordered from all around the world to restore it back to the original condition.”

Greek houses

Several Greek houses are also included in the historical district. While the university doesn’t own them or have any responsibility to keep them maintained, they still stand on campus as interesting pieces of historical architecture.


The Alpha Phi sorority house on University Avenue was built in 1928 in a Tudor Revival style featuring an arched entry and high, conical roof. O’Leary said the brickwork on the house makes it unique and does not exist anywhere else on campus.

The Pi Beta Phi sorority house on Cambridge Street was also built in 1928 and is one of the few structures in the area featuring stucco. It also has an arched entryway and vaulted roof.


Babcock Hall is more historically significant because of what went on inside the building.

The Jacobethan building was also designed by DeRemer and was constructed in 1908. It served as the location for the first lignite research facility and was also where Margaret Kelley Cable developed her famed North Dakota pottery.

Zitzow said the structure has seen four additions throughout the 1900s and was renovated most recently in 1982, so an elevator could be installed.

“We have just completed working on a study to determine its integrity and it is in very good condition overall. Considering the age, the outside and inside are actually in pretty good condition,” he said. “Babcock Hall is here to stay and we’re proud of what we have.”




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