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Sandra Swanson Weichert's
Historic Mount Oread

Campus Building Directory

This Week in
KU History

The University
of Kansas

The Hall Center
Formerly KU's Powerhouse

The Old KU Powerhouse has a glorious future ahead of it. The Historic Mount Oread Friends campaigned long and hard for over a decade to rescue the building from demolition crews waiting only for sufficient funds to level it. The Hall Family Foundation saw the beauty and value in what remained of the original building and in October 2002, decided to incorporate the stone walls and arcade into the magnificent Hall Center for the Humanities.

The architectural heritage of the Powerhouse is an auspicious one that will serve its new purpose well. Like the entrance to Dyche, which was modeled on St. Trophime at Arles, the original facade (see below) of the Powerhouse drew on the pre-romanesque palace for the Austurian King Ramiro I, whose reign (842-859) is famous for its splendid outpouring of art and architecture. His palace still stands in Oviedo, Spain, as the church of Santa Maria del Naranco. It has been on the World Heritage List since 1985. A palace, a church, a powerhouse, what better symbolic lineage for K.U.’s new Hall Center for the Humanities. All who have a chance to see and study the building, to learn and teach within its walls will surely develop a satisfying appreciation for this building and its preservation.

The following text/image sequence is from the booklet the Historic Mount Oread Fund prepared and presented to the administration in 2002.


March 1887, Kansas legislature appropriated $16,000 for a new boiler house and installation of a new low pressure gravity steam system heating plant.

The Regents chose the site southwest of Old Snow Hall below the crest of the hill, because the low pressure gravity system requires the boiler to be on a lower level than the buildings to be heated.

June 23, 1887, J. G. Haskell was chosen as architect for the University Power Plant. "A stone building was erected for the reception of boilers and to contain also the engine and machine shops for the use of students in the Electrical Engineering course....'It is the BEST POSSIBLE FACILITY'." Quote from University Review June, 1891, in Sandra Wiechert's Historic Mount Oread: a Catalog of KU's Landmarks (Lawrence: Historic Mount Oread Fund, 1999), p. 25.

The Powerhouse "consisted of two stories and an attic....With arched windows and a rather decorative front, it fitted in with the other University buildings but nearby storage buildings rather spoiled the effect....The eastern half of the building contained a 35-horsepower steam engine and several dynamos while the other side housed the boilers. The machine shops and other laboratories of the Electrical Engineering Department were on the second floor. The attic was intended for use as a work area and laboratory for photography." John M. Peterson, John G. Haskell. 1984, p. 159. 1895 powerhouse

royal palace "The most obvious reference in Haskell's design is to the famous Santa Maria de Naranco (left), a building Haskell would have known well, as it (like St. Trophime at Arles, on which the entrance to Dyche was modeled) has been cited for centuries as one of the seminal and most finely proportioned of Romanesque facades." "The Old Kansas University Power Plant: A Summary of Its Significance and call for its Preservation and Adaptive Re-Use." Presented Nov. 14, 1992, by Karl Gridley to the Historic Mount Oread Fund.
After the Fire: March, 1898

In March 22, 1898 lightning struck the Powerhouse causing a fire. However, much of the first floor including the beautiful stone arcade of the south face survived. Chancellor Snow consulted with Governor Leedy and a committee of Lawrence citizens, and they "decided to appeal for a loan. . . . Thirty thousand dollars was almost immediately subscribed in Lawrence and Kansas City. . . ." The repair work had the Powerhouse heating the campus again within two weeks of the fire. Robert Taft, Across the Years on Mount Oread, 1941, pp. 61-62.
Photos from University Archives

Architectural Context

Dole Human Development Center

"The Dole Human Development Center, with its light brick and stepped-back facade, seems the most 'Post-Modern,' an architectural style of the time that openly refers to the past. Here, the building's round arches echo those of its immediate neighbor to the east and the oldest of surviving KU structures, The Romanesque arcade of KU's original power plant." [emphasis added] Roy Gridley, Chapter 8: "Expansion and Preservation," On the Hill (University Press of Kansas, 1993), pp. 220-221.

Click images for closer look
Bailey Hall, Stauffer-Flint Hall, Facilities Operations, and the KU Powerhouse form a magnificent sequence of compatible stone buildings like stair steps or terraces from the summit down the south face of the Mt. Oread.

Nineteenth-century arcades of Stauffer-Flint Hall and the Powerhouse. Of the five John G. Haskell buildings on campus, only Bailey Hall and the old Powerhouse remain.

From the nineteenth century campus, only Spooner Hall, Stauffer-Flint Hall and the old Powerhouse (Hall Center) remain.

Bailey Hall

Stauffer-Flint Hall
Northeast Entrance

Stauffer-Flint Hall
Northwest Entrance

Old Powerhouse


The Old Powerhouse Site - Home of the Hall Center

From the courtyard of the Old K.U. Powerhouse, one can see the Prairie Acres to the east. The "university is now restoring this plot to its natural grasslands state." On the Hill, 1993, p. 220.

"The building is beautifully sited to take full advantage of the southern winter sun and the sweeping view of the Wakarusa Valley." - From "A Summary of Significance."

The site itself is the source of the structure. Its "exterior walls [and] foundation structure [are of] Oread limestone quarried on site." - Sandra Swanson Wiechert, Historic Mount Oread: a Catalog of KU's Landmarks, 2001, p. 25.

"A good architect could incorporate the building's arched facade into the design of a new building. It 's a wonderful opportunity to integrate the old and the new. I think KU should not pass up this opportunity." - Dennis Domer, Distinguished Professor of Historic Preservation at the University of Kentucky. "A Humble History," by Mindie Miller in Daily Kansan, May 2, 2000, front page.

By saving the remaining portions of the power plant and incorporating them into the Hall Center for the Humanities, the University has demonstrated its commitment to preserving its own history to inform the present.

"I realize that much of the original building has been lost or altered over the years. What remains, however, is a gem. This fragment would provide a meaningful -- and beautiful -- framework on which to base an expanded new building. The grace of its proportions and the integrity of its construction are lessons in simple beauty as well as in 19th century tecnology and aesthetics. A contemporary interpretation of the values would make a significant addition to the historic architecture for which the KU campus is known but which has little been augmented in recent years." [emphasis added] - Excerpt from letter of Nov. 13, 1992, from the late John Lee, architect who oversaw the restoration of the Union Pacific Depot.

Compiled by Marilyn Gridley May, 2000 for Historic Mount Oread Fund

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