Ask Abe: Evolution of Bascom Hall

An Alum

How has Bascom Hall changed over time?

Abe

A: Bascom Hall is one of the UW’s oldest and most iconic buildings, and while its bones are mostly the same, the current façade has seen quite a few changes since it’s construction in 1859. When it opened — then called University Hall or Main Hall — the building featured a rounded portico, a central dome, and two smaller dome-like structures above the right and left wings. The rounded portico was squared off in 1895, which remains today. The next major change came in 1898, when the original dome was replaced, the smaller ones were removed, and construction began on the south wing (which extends backward from Bascom Hill toward Charter Street). Enrollment at the university continued to grow — reaching 3,000 students by 1905 — and the UW responded by building a north wing. This wing, which also remains today, was described by the regents as adding “charm which even alumni of early days will not be slow to recognize.” Then, in 1916, came perhaps the most noticeable change, and an unintentional one at that. The dome caught fire and burned down, collapsing into a water cistern in the building’s attic (which, legend has it, is still accessible, and the charring is still visible). In 1920, the building was renamed Bascom Hall to honor the former university president John Bascom.