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The Alexander Hall Story

In June 1891, the Oregon and Washington Conference of the Free Methodist Church approved the founding of a school in Seattle — originally named Seattle Seminary — where students would receive an outstanding Christian education and be prepared for lives of service to others. The new school’s first building opened its doors for classes on April 4, 1893.

Known only as the “Red Brick Building” in its early years, Alexander Hall was constructed on a rugged five-acre plot of land on the northern side of Queen Anne Hill. Designed in the Romanesque Revival style by prominent Seattle architect John Parkinson, the building had four narrow towers, a slate roof, gutters and finials of galvanized iron, a large central Romanesque entry archway, and an interior made of native woods. In October 1940, the building was officially named Alexander Hall, after SPU’s first president, Alexander Beers.

Nearly 125 years later, Alexander Hall presides over the beautiful, 42-acre urban campus of Seattle Pacific University. The stately brick building with its distinctive towers has become a symbol of SPU’s commitment both to its founding vision — which today we describe as “engaging the culture, changing the world” — and to its ongoing relevance in a changing world.

One Building, Many Roles

Alexander Hall is infused with meaning because of the many roles it has played in the life of Seattle Pacific University over the years:

Historic Alexander Hall

An Entire School

For early students, Alexander Hall provided everything they needed:

  • Dining room
  • Kitchen
  • Pantry
  • Creamery
  • Lavatory
  • Chapel
  • School rooms
  • Dormitories

“We stop in the door of the chapel. A sacred place! … But it was also the students’ assembly room, school room, where literary societies convened, and in fact a general assemblying [sic] place. Straight in front of us over the pulpit is the motto ‘Not to be ministered unto but to minister.’ Is that why the students, the Church members, and the whole community seemed so helpful, so kind and unselfish? How could anyone gaze at such a motto day after day and year after year without being sort of molded by it?”

Jessie L. Casberg, Class of 1906

Alexander Dorm Room

A Residence Hall

From 1900 to 1965, more than 700 students called Alexander home. The building served as a dormitory, at various times for men and women, men only, and women only.

“My room was on the third floor in the far corner toward McKinley Auditorium. The room contained a bunk bed, a couple of small desks, and a hot plate — used a lot, and probably illegally. At that time, the Music Building was between Alexander and McKinley, and when Betty Jo and I began dating, we would signal with one another that it was time for a coffee break and meet at the place across the street.”

Don MacPhee ’50

What do you remember most about living in Alexander Hall?

Frank Spina

An Academic Center

Alexander has served as faculty offices for nearly 50 years. It transitioned from dormitory to academic center in 1966–67 after its most recent and significant remodel. As of spring 2013, Alexander is home to:

  • School of Theology
  • Seattle Pacific Seminary
  • Geography
  • History
  • Political Science
  • Sociology

“The SPU faculty encouraged and taught me to think; they were models for me of Christians with sharp minds and generous hearts. It was Frank Spina who told me that the church needed good women theologians and that I should go to Yale Divinity School to study Old Testament. Eventually I was called to ordained ministry, but it was a call I never would have heard had it not been for the hours spent in Alexander Hall and the encouragement I received from faculty members who also became my friends.” 

Elizabeth “Betsy” Zarelli Turner ’76

Who were your favorite faculty members in Alexander Hall?

Stained glass

A Place of Worship
and Prayer

The chapel in Alexander served as the college church until 1906. During the 1960s remodel, intimate Alexander Chapel, with stained glass windows and seating for up to 50 people, was created. Glass for the chapel was provided by Willet Stained Glass Studios, which was founded by William Willet, an artist and leader in the American Gothic Revival Movement.

“When I was in my junior year, I would go to the beautiful, tiny chapel to pray and to rest. I was volunteering with Young Life for 20 hours a week, working part time and taking 15 units and longed to be in a place where I could be quiet, think, and pray. On more than one occasion I would ‘rest in the Lord’ and wake up several minutes later feeling refreshed and ready to go! To this day, it's my favorite place on campus.”

Erica Murray Wright ’96

How did Alexander Chapel influence your life?

Alexander Hall Exterior

A Seattle Landmark

The City of Seattle designated Alexander a historic landmark in 2014. Alexander Hall is not only a beautiful example of early Seattle architecture, but also one of the oldest buildings on Queen Anne Hill today — and one of the oldest higher education buildings in its original setting being used for its original purpose in Washington state. The building was placed on the Washington State Register of Historic Places in 1972.

“Alexander Hall may, indeed, be the oldest building in all of Queen Anne. It certainly is among the oldest surviving masonry load‑bearing buildings in town. … We are delighted its preservation is assured and trust the university’s other historic buildings will receive similar care.”

Michael Herschensohn, President of the Queen Anne Historical Society

Doug Strong and students

A Catalyst for
the Future

Today, Alexander houses programs in theology and the social sciences. The building is central to SPU’s vision for the future, with cutting-edge programs such as those offered by the School of Theology, which provides a unique model of scholarship, spiritual edification, and service called “Academy, Abbey, and Apostolate.” Other examples of Alexander Hall’s influence include Seattle Pacific Seminary, the Asian American Ministries program, and the Reconciliation Studies and Global Studies programs.

“If only the bricks of Alexander Hall could talk! They would say that there has been a wonderful melding of faculty and students in the building: from Political Science and Geography to Theology, Sociology, and History. I think those walls must have soaked up some exciting conversations about what Christians can do in the world to be agents of change and God’s grace. To me, Alexander has been the very heart of SPU and when I look at it, I don’t see just a building: I see a launching pad.

Kathleen Braden, Professor of Geography


Articles about Alexander Hall

Red Brick and Brown Mud: Alexander Hall’s Humble Start and Gutsy Vision
Spring 2014 Response Magazine

Photo GalleryPhoto Gallery

Browse images of Alexander Hall — then and now.

Gift of LandGift of Land

It all started with five acres on Queen Anne Hill in early Seattle.

ArchitectArchitect John Parkinson

Alexander Hall was designed by a leading Seattle architect.

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