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Log Cabin Secrets in the Heart of Campus

by Julia Sommer, Public Affairs
posted October 14, 1998

Cabin exteriorWith steel, concrete and glass the materials of choice for new and refurbished buildings on campus, the large, rustic log cabin between the two faculty clubs presents a welcome relief.

Locked and seldom used, many people wonder what goes on inside those massive redwood walls. You can find out Wednesday, Oct. 21, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., when the hall will be open and members of the Order of the Golden Bear will be on hand to answer questions.

Called Senior Hall (originally Senior Men's Hall), it was designed by university supervising architect John Galen Howard and completed in 1906, just after the earthquake.

Referred to then as "the heart of the university" (with the adjacent Faculty Club being the mind), it was the first official campus meeting place for senior men, who ruled student life in those days. Even after the first student union, Stephens Hall, was completed in 1923, many activities and meetings for male students, faculty and alumni continued to take place in Senior Hall, including the weekly Senior Singing and addresses by coaches on team prospects.

Senior Hall is one of Howard's most unusual structures -- he is far better known for his neo-classical and Beaux Arts buildings, like Doe Library, Wheeler Hall and Sather Tower. But with Senior Men's Hall he wanted to build an example of "characteristic Californian architecture."

Cabin interiorFunds for building Senior Hall -- about $4,500 -- came mainly from the Order of the Golden Bear, a secret honor society of senior men founded in 1900 that still exists today. Phoebe Apperson Hearst was one of the donors, saying she "did not want to be considered as confining her interest to the women of the University alone."

In appreciation for its efforts, the Order was given a secret chamber in Senior Hall, which it uses to this day for semi-weekly meetings.

Senior Hall is constructed of giant, bark-covered redwood logs measuring up to two feet in diameter. Located in a serene redwood oasis along Strawberry Creek, it measures 99 feet by 32 feet, and still has most of its original furnishings, including rough-hewn redwood tables and benches. A huge brick fireplace divides the main room from the secret chamber.

In 1973 a group of students, alumni, staff and faculty successfully fought a campus plan to raze the deteriorated Senior Hall in order to connect the men's and women's faculty clubs with a dining commons. The bulldozer was called off with one day to spare, and the preservationist forces succeeded in placing Senior Hall on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. At about the same time the Order of the Golden Bear abandoned its long-held policies of secrecy and exclusivity. Today it is a campus service organization for students and alumni of both sexes.

From 1973 to 1984 Senior Hall remained closed while the Order raised money for repairs, including a disabled access ramp. The hall still needs about $1 million in repairs, including seismic and structural strengthening and systems upgrades. Plans have been drawn up for the work, and about $50,000 has been raised.

In the meantime, Senior Hall is used by the Order, various student groups on an irregular basis, and for special events.

"Senior Hall is an anomaly," says Nad Permaul, Order of the Golden Bear alumni secretary and campus director of transportation. "It's not a state-funded building, so it's up to the Order to take care of it."

After repairs are completed, it is hoped that Senior Hall will once again become the site of regular student and campus meetings and events, says Order member Steve Finacom, campus planning analyst. "We want it to be available to the whole campus, maybe as a lounge," he adds.

For information on using Senior Hall, phone 643-6894.


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