CSU Archives and Special Collections

CSU Buildings and Grounds History

A history of CSU's building and grounds from 1870 to the present.

Danforth Chapel, 1954-

A black and white photograph of a narrow and tall modern chapel. The exterior is primarily stone with wood vertical beams above two wood entry doors. Trees, vegetation, and a pathway are in the foreground and trees also surround the rest of the building.

Danforth Chapel, 1955

From CSU's Sense of Place:  A Campus History of Colorado's Land-Grant University, by James E. Hansen, Gordon A. Hazard, and Linda M. Meyer.  Fort Collins, CO:  Colorado State University, 2018.

Architect – James M. Hunter and Associates

Builder – Clarence L. Jones

701 Oval Drive

The first planning began on a small non-denominational campus chapel in 1946 as a project of President Roy Green and St. Louis businessman William H. Danforth.  Mr. Danforth had offered $5000 towards the construction costs.  Architect Eugene Groves was tasked with designing a small chapel that would have a main sanctuary and a pair of conference rooms.  His proposed design was very traditional using native red stone.   The site at the north end of the Oval was where this $13,000 structure would be built if the campus could raise the additional $8000 to pay for the construction. Following President Green’s death in January 1948, the project gained student support and an election was held to channel student money into the project.  At that time the intent was to name it the Green-Danforth Chapel.  Fund raising fell short of what was needed to the project was placed on hold.

In the summer of 1950, President William E. Morgan began reviving efforts to build a chapel.  He got Mr. Danforth to contribute $20,000 to the building effort.  At this time the plan was to locate the chapel between the buildings now known as Spruce Hall and Routt Hall.  The architectural design by Mr. Groves would have fit in well with the two 19th century buildings. However, the entry of the United States into the Korean War put the project on hold for a few more years.

In 1953, James M. Hunter was asked to design a very modern looking building to be constructed in the old “Walnut Grove” portion of the Oval.  That summer, ground was broken and builder Clarence L. Jones began construction on the Danforth Chapel.  $20,000 of the budgeted $36,000 was donated by William H. Danforth’s Foundation.  However, cost increases eventually made the structure, without its planned garden wall, cost over $48,000 when the building was completed in the spring of 1954. 

For the first two years, the Roy Green Memorial Hammond organ had been moved over to Danforth Chapel from the Student Union Annex so that sacred music could be played daily.  Problems surfaced as students in the Department of Music spent hours each day practicing on the organ.  This was contrary to the policy of keeping Danforth Chapel as a place for quiet religious reflection.  The problem was solved when a new organ was purchased just for religious service use in Danforth Chapel in the spring of 1956.  The Roy Green Memorial Hammond organ was returned to a room next to the Large Ballroom of the Johnson Hall Student Union.  Students were welcome to play this organ. The organ stayed at the Johnson Hall Student Union until it was moved over to the new CSU Student Center in 1962.  Sometime in the 1990s, during the years Martha Blood was Director, the Hammond B-3 organ mounted on a rolling platform and its large Leslie 110 speaker on rollers disappeared from the Lory Student Center.

By the time construction was started, the first new residence hall was also under construction and was going to be named in honor of the late Colorado A & M College president.  The name was shortened to “Danforth Chapel”.  It was completed in May 1954.  Following its dedication on Sunday, May 30, 1954, “Danforth Chapel” was chosen by the National Council of Churches as one of the “Outstanding Churches” built in the United States during the previous 25 years.  In February 1956, the stone wall surrounding the east side of the building was constructed.

The Danforth Chapel at Colorado State University is one of 15 such buildings situated on American college and university campuses.  Included in this number are eleven at tax-supported institutions.  They all bear the name of William H. Danforth (1870-1955). William Danforth was the founder of the Ralston Purina Company, then considered the world’s largest producer of pet, cattle and poultry feed.  In 1927, this enormously successful businessman established the Danforth Foundation, which provided fellowships and scholarships to numerous college teachers and students and sponsored meditation chapels.  A devout Christian, he was concerned that the modern American university’s growing scientific culture had displaced religion from the intellectual core. William Danforth felt that higher education needed a renewed sense of moral and social consciousness.  The period immediately after World War II, seemed especially opportune because of the recent Jewish Holocaust and science’s involvement with the devastating Atomic Bomb.

Accordingly, William Danforth launched the “Campus Chapels Program” to support non-denominational facilities, at which students and other members of the college community might find refuge to experience religion in the daily pattern of campus life.  Danforth provided funds with specific conditions:  the chapels were to be small scale and focus on sanctuary.  They were emphatically not intended to serve as gathering places for the entire university community nor compete with local churches or synagogues.

Architect James M. Hunter (1908-1983) loved this building so much that his ashes are interred in the outside courtyard’s wall.  Its modernist design is ostensibly simple, yet complex.  The courtyard accommodates outdoor services, its privacy emphasized by a high wall of sandstone among a grove of trees.  A redwood pergola marks the transition from outdoor worship to indoor worship.  The copper doors have large guardian angels hammered into them and are a featured work of art in the showcase building.  The building is heated by hot water from pipes placed below the stone floor that radiate heat into the building.

The worship space in the interior is intimate with fixtures designed for holding religious services of all faiths.  A removable, simplified cross and a shallow, cantilevered black granite altar direct one’s attention to the center.  Only upon moving through the space is the narrow western stained-glass window visible, casting colored light onto the altar area. St. Louis artist Emil Frei created the window.  The work of art is called the “Genesis”.

Danforth Chapel’s overall simplified form marks this as a modernist space thoroughly attuned to its setting.  Its design excellence has been recognized with several notable awards.  Its architectural design and location epitomizes the power of place on the campus.

In 2014 the area around the building was given new landscaping to create the “Phelps Memorial Garden”.  The Phelps family donated the funds needed to create this place for enjoyment and reflection.  The Hensel Phelps Construction Company built many of the buildings on the CSU campus.

During the night of October 22-23, 2016, vandals or burglars destroyed the stained-glass window known as the “Genesis” to gain entry into the chapel commit burglary.  The perpetrators have not been found.  Efforts began to work with the original glass manufacturer to see if the custom mouth-blown glass pieces could be replaced and the window restored.  The cost was estimated to run many thousands of dollars if this could even be done.  In June 2017, the long process to repair the window was finished.

Danforth Chapel, 1959

Sources by Gordon Hazard

Rocky Mountain Collegian, January 12, 1926, page 1, vol. XXXV, number 17.

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State Board of Agriculture Minutes, June 8, 1950, page 524.

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State Board of Agriculture Minutes, February 25, 1956, page 598.

Rocky Mountain Collegian, March 9, 1956, page 15 vol. LXV, number 22.

Rocky Mountain Collegian, April 13, 1956, page 6 vol. LXV, number 27.

Rocky Mountain Collegian, May 25, 1956, page 1 vol. LXV, number 38.

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State Board of Agriculture Minutes, July 26, 1956, page 60.

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The Colorado Aggie Alumnus, November - December 1959, page 1, vol. 35, number 6.

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CSU Collegian, January 30, 1967, page 3, vol. LXXV, number 56.

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“1968 Silver Spruce”, page 47.

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Rocky Mountain Collegian, November 2, 1995, page 2, vol. 104, issue 58.

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“Visionary Leadership, the Memoirs of William E. Morgan”, page 94, by Connie Pheiffenberger, 2005.

Rocky Mountain Collegian, October 11, 2006, pages 1 and 5, vol. 115, number 47.

Margaret Grubiac, “The Danforth Chapel Program on the Public American Campus,” Buildings & Landscapes: Journal of the Vernacular Architecture Forum, 19.2, 2012.

Interview with Dr. Phillip Hoefer, PhD, Colorado State Forest Service Forester, Retired, March 17, 2014, by Gordon A. Hazard.

CSU Architects Alpha List, March 17, 2015, by James E. Hansen II.

Colorado State, The Magazine for Alumni and Friends, fall 2015, page 13, number 68.

http://source.colostate.edu/csupd-asking-info-danforth-burglary, October 25, 2016 by Dell Rae Ciaravola.

E-mail interview with Manny Cunard on March 3, 2017 by Gordon A. Hazard.

http://source.colostate.edu/vandalized-danforth-window-restored-installed/ , June 21, 2017 by Dell Rae Ciaravola.

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