Belvin-Buchanan Hall

Location

1008 17th Street
Map | ID#: 0103


Timeline

Jun. 1, 1936:
Belvin Hall opens

1945:
Buchanan Hall completed

1978-79:
Exterior footbridge to 17th Street added
Interior dining hall replaced by cafeteria

May 2006:
Closes for renovations

Jan. 2007:
Reopens from renovations

Aug. 2011:
Café Belvin closed

Spring 2015:
Last full semester as girls-only dorm

Spring 2014:
FAMC Creative Community renovations begin

Aug. 2015:
FAMC Creative Community opens


News


Demographics

Namesake:
Caroline Belvin
Rosa P. Buchanan

Architect:
W. E. Ketchum

Contractor:
Unknown


About

Belvin-Buchanan Hall is a dormitory at the northeast corner of University Avenue and 17th Street.

Belvin Hall was the first student residence constructed on campus. The four-story, red brick residence - originally known simply as the Girl's Dorm - was erected with a $150,000 loan and grant from the Public Works Administration (PWA) on property once belonging to landowner Seth Gay and located "west and slightly north" of the first campus cafeteria [1]. Its occupancy was 92 residents [2]. Mrs. W.H. "Fannie" Matthews was the first director, or hall mother, followed by Florence King [1]. Described in the 1937 Alcalde as a "pleasant" home for women, Belvin boasted "comfortable bedrooms" as well as "parlors, recreation, and reception rooms for social life," central heating, and dining facilities - all attractive alternatives to the boarding houses that dotted the community. The 1936-37 SHSTC catalog further noted the bathroom for every four girls and kitchenette on each floor to provide a "place where the girls make candy or have feasts from boxes from home."

An architectural double of Belvin Hall, Wisely Hall, was completed two years prior (1934) and still stands on the campus of Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. There seems to be a number of similarities between Belvin and Wisely halls, besides their near-duplicate exterior: both opened in the mid-1930s, both were the first permanent on-campus student residences for their respective university, and each had dining halls on their bottom-most floors [4].

By 1945, the population of the college had increased to the point that a new dormitory was needed. Buchanan Hall, an addition to Belvin situated parallel to University Avenue, housed another 132 girls [2].

Dining facilities included a large dining hall, a smaller room for private functions, and kitchenettes on each floor. Meals were served at scheduled times, girls were expected to "dress for dinner [1]", and engage in conversation - as part of their "social training [2]". During interior renovations in 1978-79 a cafeteria replaced the dining hall with food served at various times during the day to meet students' schedules. Café Belvin remained a popular destination until it closed in August 2011 upon the opening of Old Main Market.

The cafeteria received attention in March 1998 when, in the days leading up to spring break, an unprecedented outbreak of food poisoning sent close to 125 students to Huntsville Memorial Hospital. After an investigation by the university and Texas Department of Health, it was determined that a norovirus caused a gastrointestinal illness that students contracted from sandwiches at the deli-bar [3].

The dorm was closed for most of the 2006-07 school year as it underwent major heating, ventilating, air conditioning, and electrical repairs.

The 1964 Alcalde notes the combined dorms housed 227 girls; this number has decreased slightly over the decades (221 by 2000, and 209 by 2010).

The dorm became co-ed and exclusively for students in the College of Fine Arts and Mass Communication (FAMC) beginning in the fall 2015 semester. The cafeteria space was renovated to become the FAMC Creative Community, which includes an 80-seat theatre, sound studios, computer lab, dance studio, student art gallery, and conference rooms for student use.

Photographs


Belvin-Buchanan Hall

This 1920's photograph shows the empty land north of the main quadrangle, dwarfed by the looming Main Building.


Belvin-Buchanan Hall

Twenty years later Belvin Hall became the northern most point of campus.


Wisely Hall (SFASU)

Costing $231,499 to construct, Wisely Hall opened in 1934 as housing for male students. During WWII it was vacated so it could serve as barracks for the first Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (later Women's Army Corps) in the United States. In 1949 it was renamed in honor of SFASU's first business administrator, John Harold Wisely. Students of both genders now live on all three floors. Since 1991 it has been classified as an honors hall [4].


Belvin-Buchanan Hall

This photograph from the building's early years shows a short staircase leading down from the front entrance to a sidewalk. Following exterior renovations in 1978-79, the front doors opened out onto a walkway that was even with 17th Street.


Belvin-Buchanan Hall

The eastern side of Buchanan Hall wing that extends northward from Belvin along University Drive.


Belvin-Buchanan Hall

The northeast corner of Buchanan Hall.


Belvin-Buchanan Hall

The front entrance. Following exterior renovations in 1978-79 a short staircase was replaced by this walkway that leads out to the sidewalk along 17th Street.


Belvin-Buchanan Hall

The southeast corner of Belvin Hall and the enclosed staircase that connects it to Elliott Hall.


Belvin-Buchanan Hall

A close-up of the frieze about Belvin's main entrance. Yes, it's identical to Wisely Hall's, too.


Belvin-Buchanan Hall

A close-up of one of the windows and decorative pieces facing 17th Street.


Belvin-Buchanan Hall

We can only guess what inspired "Doobie Doobie Doo, Belvin 76-77" on the sidewalk along 17th Street.


Belvin-Buchanan Hall

The art deco-inspired windows on the northern face of Buchanan Hall.


Belvin-Buchanan Hall

A close up of the northern face of Buchanan Hall.


Wisely Hall (SFASU)

It's not the Belvin of Bizarro World but Wisely Hall of Nacogdoches.



Links


Sources

[1] Vision Realized (1970)
[2] Houstonian (February 22, 1977)
[3] Today@Sam [March 26, 1998]
[4] Greg Bailey, East Texas Research Center, SFASU

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The Buildings of Sam Houston State University website documents the physical changes of the SHSU campus in Huntsville from its inception in 1879 through tomorrow. The alumnus-run site details changes to the academic, residential, and historical buildings and other prominent landmarks.