Foundations of Campus: a Rich History and Beautiful Future

One of the greatest appeals of Washington University, aside from the prestigious academics and legacy of excellence, is the campus itself. The beautiful grounds sprawling out to the west, flowers in full bloom, and sunshine dappling the green grass through grand oaks, flowing gingkoes, and delicate cherry trees, which all melt into splendid sepia in the fall. As if the charisma of nature on campus wasn’t enough, the buildings, rising regal and red across the campus, add an air of nobility and sophistication. Those who have frequented Holmes Lounge, the East Asian Library, the Law Library, or even gazed upon the façade of Brookings Hall from afar are sure to be reminded of places like Camelot or Hogwarts.

Standing resolute on the border of St. Louis city and St. Louis County, it’s easy to imagine that the towers of WashU have always stood in this place, and will for years to come. I certainly came to WashU with this sense of dream-like wonder. However, in the year since I arrived at the school, I’ve awoken from this dream, having learned the rich history of our beautiful campus’ creation.

As you may know, St. Louis became a global cultural center during the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, better known as the 1904 World’s Fair (think Meet Me in St. Louis). Held on what would become the Forest Park that we know and love today, the fair attracted millions of visitors and showcased influential exhibits of American culture and industry, as well as international exhibits. As if the fair did not bring enough bustle and excitement to St. Louis, in the same year the first Olympic games of the Modern era in the Western hemisphere were also held in the city.

In the midst of the infrastructure of these historic events, nestled at the corner of University and Olympian Ways, there stood a collection of buildings, ranging in purpose from fair administration to international exhibit housing to athletic facilities. Many of these buildings, built and leased out to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition for fair accommodations and facilities, would remain as the inaugural and hallowed halls of Washington University in St. Louis. In fact, the money made from leasing the original few buildings to the fair made it possible to begin construction of new projects, thus expanding the campus beyond its original bounds toward the campus we know and love today.

Here are a few highlights:

University Hall (Brookings Hall)

July 21, 2015 -A night view of Brookings Hall. James Byard/WUSTL Photos

July 21, 2015 -A night view of Brookings Hall.
James Byard/WUSTL Photos

Once housing the administrative offices for the World’s Fair, Brookings Hall (formerly University Hall) now serves as the administrative hub of Washington University; this includes the offices of our Chancellor and Provost, as well as the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. For more information about our trademark hall, check out this article!

Ridgley Library/Holmes Lounge

holmes lounge

Ridgely Hall served as the hall of International Congresses during the fair, and later as the university library before the birth of Olin Library. Holmes Lounge was the reading room for this library and also housed Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Gifts during the fair.

Francis Field/Gymnasium

Francis Field Gates blanketed with snow during the Winter '06.

Francis Field Gates blanketed with snow during the Winter ’06/WUSTL Photos

The Francis Athletic Complex, named for David Francis who brought the Olympic Games to St. Louis, stood at the very western end of the fairgrounds. The gymnasium has long since been replaced and updated, but the field remains in its original position.

Though many WashU buildings have their foundations in the distant past, the university has worked hard to contribute to the legacy of campus beautification with its own modern creations.

Bauer Hall


Bauer Hall is an administrative and graduate center for the Olin Business School at Washington University. The hall is one of the newest additions to the Danforth Campus, completed in 2014. Features include Emerson Auditorium, the Weston Career Center, Bauer Café, Starbucks Coffee, and a beautiful glass atrium.

Hillman Hall

July 21, 2015 -A night view of Hillman Hall. James Byard/WUSTL Photos

July 21, 2015 -A night view of Hillman Hall.
James Byard/WUSTL Photos

Completed in the fall of 2015, Hillman Hall is the newest building on campus, serving as an extension of the Brown School of Social Work. The building is LEED Platinum Certified and adds new lecture and study spaces to campus, as well as a café, a collaborative rotunda space, and a rooftop garden and terrace.