Visions of the past still resonate from what former President Enoch Bryan, writing in his memoir, remembered as “that beautiful corner of campus.” Work on a new home for the Washington State College president began there in 1912.
Sprawled across a grassy knoll, its elaborate garden-side façade remains visible behind thick foliage. More than a century since its completion, the newly re-dedicated Ida Lou Anderson House remains the premier representative of a transformational moment in the planning and design of the college grounds.
Designed by architect Rudolph Weaver, the new house for the college president offered a distinct example of the Georgian Revival: a colonial revival architectural style popular along the eastern seaboard but exceedingly rare on college campuses in the early-twentieth century American West. With an overall appearance characteristic of English country manors, plantation homes of the American South, and the early buildings of Harvard University, Weaver’s design marked a departure from the broadly eclectic styles of nearly all buildings which, at the time, boldly announced their presence atop Pullman’s College Hill. Unlike most monumental examples of Georgian Revival, Weaver’s design was also sunken into the landscape, its comparatively humble entry façade, tucked behind a semicircular driveway along Campus Avenue, suggestive of the institution’s desire to offer refinement in a rural setting while maintaining contact with the public it was designed to serve.
What was interchangeably referred to as the “President’s Residence,” the “President’s House,” and the “President’s Mansion” would become the first of several buildings constructed over the next three decades characterized by prim, white-painted classical details—from Doric porticos to Palladian windows—over red-brick surfaces of variegated patterns. From the perspective of historical distance, the house manufactured an almost instant campus architectural tradition, and one for which the university has long been visually identifiable.
President Bryan had deemed such a house necessary since the beginning of his administrative tenure in 1893. For Bryan, a presidential house was not strictly an abode for his own family but integral to a public, land-grant institution: a distinguished, on-campus setting was vital for hosting college gatherings and events. With so many pressing design and construction needs for the campus during its first two decades (from academic buildings to residential quarters), however, it was not until 1911 that Bryan formally introduced the project to the Board of Regents.
That same year, Bryan also recommended the hiring of Rudolph Weaver from the University of Illinois to chair the new Department of Architecture, which would double as the principal design wing of the institution. In this manner, Weaver, along with students and other faculty, would gain on-site practical experience designing projects from within the campus grounds. In addition to reducing the costs and complications involved in hiring architects from elsewhere around the state, this arrangement also presumably allowed for greater aesthetic consistency.
The first project for Weaver was the president’s residence, a more than 10,000-square foot house which was ready for occupancy in 1913. It was nearly his last: campus construction came to a standstill during World War I and a budget shortfall followed soon thereafter. Yet rising enrollment and a new state tax dedicated to the design and maintenance of buildings spurred the construction of several new buildings at the college in the 1920s and 1930s. Many of the new buildings were residential halls, their construction paid for by a community development corporation whose loans would be gradually amortized through student rents. Nearly all of them bore a general resemblance to the president’s new home: red brick, white trim, and classical features that lodged them firmly within the colonial revival tradition.
McCroskey Hall, where Ida Lou Anderson lived while she was a student, was the first hall to be completed by Weaver. By the 1940s, Community Hall, Duncan Dunn Hall, Home Economics (now Elmina White Honors Hall), Mechanic Arts (Carpenter Hall), Wilson (now Wilson-Short) Hall, Troy Hall, Stimson Hall, and Waller Hall, among several others, had established the colonial revival as the principal architectural idiom of the college. Several of these buildings were designed by Stanley Smith, who assumed the roles of department chair and campus architect following Weaver’s 1924 departure for the University of Idaho. Smith’s designs, identical neither to Weaver’s earlier works nor to each other, did not significantly depart from the model that the president’s house set forth.
The model has lasted. Save for periodic interior renovations to match the tastes and needs of the house’s various presidential families, a student-built rock pool installed in 1950 at the southwestern edge of the garden, a two-car garage built into the western side of the house in 1967, and an extension of the patio in the garden in 2007, the house stands today much as it did in 1913. And the Washington State University Pullman campus, even with scores of newer buildings spreading well beyond its historic core, still pays architectural homage to the Ida Lou Anderson house—nestled into that “beautiful corner of campus.”
J. Philip Gruen is an associate professor in the School of Design and Construction at WSU’s Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture.
Great teachers are the brick and mortar (Ida Lou Anderson House, WSM, Summer 2023)
The Story of The Weaver House (Homelore)
Excerpt: “Rudolph had just run inside for protection from the storm when he heard Polonaise in C Sharp Minor by Chopin echoing through the halls. He approached the room where Alice played and watched her hair dance with her fingers, admiring her ability to compose the storm around her.
For the rest of that summer, Rudolph dedicated every day to writing poems and compositions for Alice. In the fall, they would surprise WSU faculty and staff with the passionate performance of Chopin that made Rudolph fall in love, and the summer songs written and composed by Rudolph that made Alice fall in love.”
Timeline of Rudolph Weaver’s life (Modern Gainesville)