After World War II, the University of Wyoming experienced tremendous growth across campus. Construction projects were a response to the rapid increase in student numbers, which was heavily influenced by the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, or the G.I. Bill as it was commonly known, which provided veterans with financial assistance for educational and living expenses.
Initially, the university relied heavily on temporary housing, including butler huts, mobile trailers, and other prefabricated structures to house the students. Later, the trustees approved the expansion of Knight Hall, including the addition of a cafeteria. The focus then shifted to building a new men’s dormitory, which would be constructed at the northeast corner of campus. The new dormitory was part of a larger campus building program that was funded by the State Legislature after the War.
On March 2, 1947, the Board of Trustees approved funding for the construction of the new four-story men’s dormitory to be named Wyoming Hall. The building was designed by Porter & Bradley Architects, of Cheyenne, a firm that designed many buildings on campus. The project began in summer 1948, and a cornerstone ceremony occurred on December 5, 1949.
With the influx of students utilizing the G.I. Bill, the timely completion of Wyoming Hall was critical. Somewhat ironically, another war would impede progress. Architect Frederic Porter contacted the general contractor, J.P. Steele Construction Company of Laramie, writing, “The speed and rate of accomplishment has been and is seriously lagging.” Mr. Steele responded, “Beginning with the Korean War situation, we started losing men from the project, whom we have not been able to replace.”
Still, progress continued and the new building, which contained quarters for 400 single men in 200 rooms that featured bunk beds, was mostly ready for occupancy when the school year started on September 22, 1950. The upper two floors were ready, but there were many other details yet to complete, and some rooms still lacked furnishings when students began to move in. Students were temporarily housed in Hudson Dormitory, which itself was temporary.
The first director of the new men’s dorm was Miss Janet Vicars. Problems with new buildings and maintaining order in a hall with 400 young men kept her very busy. Issues with windows breaking began to occur in the winter. It was determined that the “panes were improperly pressurized for this altitude and that the factory will assume full responsibility…” As for student behavior, the problems seemed severe enough that they made for considerable discussion at the December 12, 1952, trustees meeting. A.L. Keeney, dean of men, wrote to Hall Director Vicars to inquire about the problem of serious noise. She responded, “We naturally have many different types and temperaments among 400 fellows…There is the student who comes to college for an education and the one who comes to play.” By the late 1950s, problems in the residence hall, including “cherry bomb incidents and general rioting,” led the administration to hire a police officer to be stationed there during the night hours. One of those officers was former Laramie policeman Curt Grissom. In 1960, when a Branding Iron reporter asked him if he liked the job, he responded, “I enjoy the job. I get to see the good side of people whereas on the police force job I usually saw only their bad sides.” When asked about problematic times, he noticed an increase right before vacations. “The boys want to get home and tension mounts up.”
In June 1965, the trustees approved the installation of a telephone in each room. Prior to that, a phone booth in the lobby could be used by students. But the use of phones in student’s private rooms would be short-lived. The more modern Washakie residence halls were completed to replace the older dormitories. Wyoming Hall served as a dormitory until the end of the 1967 school year, when the building began a multi-year transformation from dormitory to office spaces for several departments, including the Art Department, Atmospheric Science, and ROTC. In later years, the building was occupied by the Science and Mathematics Teaching Center, Human Resources, and Auxiliary Services.
Like the other former residence halls, Wyoming Hall served other purposes much longer than it served its intended function. But history has a way of repeating itself. On December 11, 2019, 70 years after its cornerstone was placed, the trustees approved the demolition of Wyoming Hall – to make space for new student housing. Demolition was completed by spring 2021, and cleanup lasted into the summer. The new student housing project completion date is in March 2025.
Sources: University of Wyoming Board of Trustees Meeting Minutes; President’s Office Records, Charles Rue Photographs Collection, UW Buildings and Grounds Collection, and the Branding Iron.
Post contributed by John Waggener, University Archivist & Historian.