CSU Archives and Special Collections

CSU Buildings and Grounds History

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

S. Arthur Johnson Hall, 1936-

A white brick and concrete two- and three-story building.

Johnson Hall, 1936

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.

Architects - Eugene G. Groves (1936, 1939), James M. Hunter and Associates (1962), Architecture Plus, P. C. of Fort Collins (2008)

Builder – Newstrom & Davis Construction Company of Denver, Colorado and WPA (original building)

950 East Drive

In the spring of 1935, it was arranged that some of the funding needed to build a long-desired Student Union building could come from the newly formed Works Progress Administration (WPA) budget. On January 15, 1936, the State Board of Agriculture voted to name the new Student Union Building the “S. Arthur Johnson Hall”.  Groundbreaking ceremonies for the Forestry Building and Johnson Hall took place on January 16, 1936.

Eugene G. Groves designed the building using the Italian Renaissance Revival style of architecture. The Newstrom & Davis Construction Company built the new building.  Honoring the beloved Dean of Students, Samuel Arthur Johnson, this first Student Union building was opened to students on September 14th and was officially dedicated October 16, 1936.

The first floor featured a soda fountain, game room, coat check room, and offices for the Union Manager and the Manager of the Soda Fountain.  The second floor had three lounges, office spaces for the Collegian, Silver Spruce, Alumni Association, and Student Council.  Additionally, there was a three-room apartment located in the west tower to provide housing for the Student Union Hostess.  The Main Lounge featured a beautiful glossy-black Steinway Parlor Grand Piano purchased from Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Beardsley.  The Soda Fountain Room served hot and cold sandwiches in addition to its traditional soft drink and coffee shop offerings.  Business at the old College Cafeteria dropped.  By January 1937, discussions began about constructing an addition to the original building.  It would take over a year to complete the plans and arrange for the financing.

The addition was completed in the early fall of 1939.  The first floor had a 70’ x 70’ lobby that contained davenports, chairs, tables and other furniture.  There were three first floor entrances – one on the north, one on the west and one on the east.  The Student Union Cafeteria with facilities for 260 people was the main feature of the first floor.  It contained a 60’ stainless steel counter.  In the center of the cafeteria dining area was an oval shaped floating dance floor, 48’ x 30’ made of walnut.  It was constructed on stringers of soft wood that separated the wood floor from the stone floor of the cafeteria.  There was an orchestra shell at the south end of the cafeteria designed to make a lovely setting for dinner dances.  There were also three smaller dining rooms which could be used for small groups for luncheons or dinners and were also available as conference rooms.  The opening of the new Student Union Cafeteria also allowed the retirement of the old College Cafeteria and its eventual demolition in May 1940.

The second floor of the addition was accessed from the outside by two entrances flanking the curved south façade of the building.  They provided entry directly into the Large Ballroom which could accommodate 600 couples on a floating hardwood dance floor as they danced to music from music being played in the orchestra shell at the south end of the massive room.  A beautifully furnished lounge area ran along the west side of the Large Ballroom dance floor.  A separate banquet room which could accommodate about 100 people was on the east side.  There was also a private ballroom with a 21’ x 68’ dance floor which had a capacity for 50 couples.  This room could be turned into a banquet room which could seat 120 people.  There was a 64’ balcony on the north wall of the Large Ballroom with couches and chairs for chaperones and guests to view the ballroom activities over its railing.

An extensive sound system was installed in the addition.  There were speakers installed in every room of the addition as well as the original portion of the building.  The system allowed for individual volume control in each room and was designed so that dancers in any ballroom could choose their music as it came either from the Large Ballroom orchestra shell or the Cafeteria orchestra shell. 

“Rotten marble” or “travertine” was mined near Salida, Colorado. It was cut in Carthage, Missouri and was used as a decorative border in the larger rooms of the addition.  The sandstone used in the commons or main lounge came from mines near Lyons, Colorado.  Remodeling work done in the original portion enlarged the coat check rooms and rest rooms.

In January 1941, the beginnings of the CSU Bookstore started with a small area in Johnson Hall being used as a student operated “Book Exchange”.   This was an important step as a student-run bookstore was one of the reasons over the past ten years to raise the funds to build a student union on the campus.

Until the construction of the Student Union Annex in 1951, the stately south entrance of the Student Union was a campus landmark. The Student Union was at the north end of a large expanse of landscaped lawn that extended to Garfield Street.  In 1948, Braiden Hall opened at the south end of this lawn.  The opening of the new Student Union Annex along with the August 1951 flood created the need for some remodeling of rooms in Johnson Hall.  The old Soda Fountain Room that had evolved into the Coffee Shop in the original portion of the building was remodeled into the Faculty Club.  The Student Union Cafeteria dining room in the lower level of the 1939 addition became the new Coffee Shop with plenty of space for customers to dance to jukebox music in the evening.  This space became commonly known as the “Cave”.

After the new CSU Student Center was opened in January 1962, the Johnson Hall Student Union and the Student Union Annex buildings were “sold” to the University and converted to use as offices and classrooms. This sale transferred about $1 million to help pay for the new Student Center building.

Architect James M. Hunter did the design work on this renovation of Johnson Hall.  By October 1962 problems with heat and air circulation in many of new interior classrooms devoid of windows became evident.  Physical Plant staff worked with Mr. Hunter to eventually correct the problems and make these first-floor rooms more comfortable to use for classes conducted by the Department of Business.

The 1962 renovation saw the former Large Ballroom being converted into the “Johnson Hall Theatre”. This became the home to many theatrical productions for the Department of Music, Theatre and Dance. The Johnson Hall Theatre allowed the move out of the badly aged Old Main Theatre.  The Johnson Hall Theatre’s stage was positioned at the north one-third of the room, theatre seating was installed, and the semi-circle ventilation windows flanking the ballroom were sealed shut and covered to eliminate any outside light.  The south end with its orchestra shell was partitioned off to make a lobby for the theatre as well as an elevated platform for spotlights and operators.  The original hardwood floor was maintained in the lobby and the orchestra shell opening was walled-off became rooms 220 and 221.  In November 1979, a bright blue canvas canopy was installed on the west entrance to highlight and enhance the appearance of the entrance to the “Johnson Hall Theatre”.

The flood of July 28, 1997 inundated the lower level of Johnson Hall just as it did in 1938 and again in 1951.  It took several weeks to dry out the building, do mold mitigation and make the needed repairs.  In 1998, the landscaping on the north side of the building was altered to provide walls and berms to direct future flood water away from the building.

The Johnson Hall Theatre remained in use until the University Center for the Arts was opened 2008.  Once again it was time for remodeling.  The room was somewhat returned to its original ballroom configuration when it was transformed into a massive flat-floored classroom, with modern multimedia capabilities and seating for 324 students.  Architecture Plus, P.C. of Fort Collins designed these renovations to what is now called “Room 222”.  The lobby area now welcomes building users with a large mural showing the historical timeline of Colorado State University.

Johnson Hall currently houses the offices of the CSU Events and Constituent Engagement, the Vice President and the Assistant Vice President for Enrollment and Access, the Office of the Ombuds, the Summer Session Office, and the School for Global Environmental Sustainability.  Founded in 2008, the School for Global Environmental Sustainability is an umbrella organization encompassing all research and education that deals with the complex environmental, economic, and societal issues of sustainability.

Students in Johnson Hall, 1951

A large room with high arched windows. People are sitting and reading or writing.

 

Sources by Gordon Hazard

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Sources by Gordon Hazard

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