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Sinatra and Canned Soup
Residents Recall: There’s No Place Like Alexander Hall
By Clint Kelly (email@example.com) | Photo courtesy of the SPU Archives
From 1900 to 1965, more than 700 students called Alexander Hall home.
Alexander Hall, the 1893 Red Brick Building from which Seattle Pacific University emerged, has been officially designated for its historic significance by the City of Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board. But what some admire for its cultural and architectural distinction, others cherish because it was their home away from home. Until the mid-1960s, a lucky few ate, slept, and surveyed the campus from their roost above the Loop in Alexander Hall.
Called the Men’s Hall in the Roaring ’20s, Alexander provided grace and living space to a particularly high-minded group of men living on the fourth floor. The Seattle Pacific College News of January 23, 1929, reports they were “not the trouble makers that are so often found in a boarding school where the boys are away from their parents for the first time.” They were rather the “type of young men … with which any earnest young man would be pleased to associate.”
Not only “serious and industrious,” the boys of Fourth Alexander were afforded other mind-stretching activities, such as informal debates, “which make dormitory life the more interesting.”
Don and Betty Jo MacPhee on their wedding day. Photo courtesy of Don MacPhee.
But was it any more interesting than it was for Don MacPhee ’50, who lived with his cousin Bud Hansen ’50 (now deceased) on Third Alexander in the southeast corner room?
“The music building at the time was between Alexander and McKinley Hall,” says Don. “Whenever Music Department secretary Betty Jo Mincher wanted to get my attention, she would play Frank Sinatra’s ‘The Song Is You’ on the piano loud enough for me to hear in my dorm room. That was our song and the secret signal to take a coffee break in the drugstore across the way on Third Avenue West. She alleges that I insisted on saving money by having coffee at five cents instead of tea at 10 cents. No comment.”
Whatever the truth, their dating system worked. Betty Jo, also Class of 1950, married Don four months after graduation and 64 years ago this September.
By 1964, Alexander Hall was a women’s residence and the epicenter of a gender war. According to the April 17 Falcon newspaper, as soon as “the girls” of Alexander got wind that their domicile would switch back to a men’s residence the following year, they launched a petition and presented it to the administration. They argued that as they loved Alexander and had “made improvements,” such as filling in the dart holes in the wall from previous male occupancy, they deserved to stay on. One female student argued that she would rather will her room to another female student than “give it back to the guys.”
A demonstration in the foyer of Peterson Hall, where administrative offices were then located, featured women students carrying protest signs and singing “This Old Dorm,” the song which had won the Alexander-ites that year’s Campus Competitive Sing. And the women carried the day. The administration reversed its decision on the condition that the female residents of Alexander begin to restore the historic building by renovating the lounge.
Flushed with victory, the jubilant residents began to explore the 71-year-old structure in earnest. In the process, they discovered three old chimneys concealed in closets and the remains of a stairway “used by the men students when the dorm was coed.” It is said that these revelations “accelerated interest.”
Reluctant, perhaps, to yield up all its secrets, Alexander Hall possesses a historic legacy that fired the passions of its most ardent residents. They knew they lived in a storied place. And by the 1964–65 academic year, they knew that its days as a dormitory were drawing to a close. For the last almost 50 years, Alexander has served as administrative and faculty offices.
Gone is Don MacPhee’s non-regulation hot plate for making instant coffee and simmering a late-night can of soup.
Gone are the bunk beds, the house mothers, and the occasional dorm uprising.
Not gone, however, is the affection that warms the hearts of those fortunate enough to have called Alexander home. “It is a central and precious part of the Seattle Pacific campus,” Don says. “Often I have intentionally chosen a route through campus to again experience the beauty and special memories Alexander holds for me.”
This is the second installment in Response’s series on the history of Alexander Hall. Look for next issue’s feature on Alexander as an academic and faculty center. You can also read the first installment, “Red Brick and Brown Mud.”
The Restore Alexander Project
As historic Alexander Hall, SPU’s first building, undergoes restoration this year, we welcome you to visit spu.edu/alexanderhall, where you’ll find historical photos, an interactive map of early Seattle, an opportunity to share your memories of the building, and many other features.
You’ll also discover more about the Restore Alexander Hall project and how you can participate in the campaign going on right now to raise $7 million from alumni, friends, and those who treasure early Seattle-area architecture. Your gift will make a big difference to this and future generations of SPU students.