Ever Wonder?

Ever wonder about the gorgeous red bricks that make up WashU’s buildings? Here is an excerpt from architect James Jamieson’s Intimate History of the Campus and Buildings of Washington University in St. Louis that discusses where they came from:

“Much discussion took place regarding the materials to be used for the walls of the buildings. The stone at the corners (quoins), around the openings, cornices, copings, and other molded work, being all ‘cut’ was to be of Bedford, Indiana, lime stone. For the plain portions of the wall, there was a choice of locally made red brick and native stone, — red granite preferably, if possible to procure it, under reasonable and satisfactory conditions.

Stone from quarries near St. Louis, a good hard line stone, is an excellent building material, of lasting quality and strength, but does not appeal to one looking for color or variety of texture. Where these exist in this stone, they indicate upper ledges of the quarry, which are likely to be of a poor grade.


Missouri red granite has everything in the way of variety and color to recommend it, — the questions it aroused, were, first, its cost, and second, could it be treated and built into a wall which would be less hard and unfeeling that its name, ‘granite’ implied. Both of these doubts were dispelled finally, but caused considerable uneasiness. The attractive effect of the introduction of golden or salmon yellowish granite, did not last as these became quit black upon exposure.


The taste for ‘pressed brick’ of uniform color had so far passed out, that already efforts were being made by manufacturers to furnish ‘sand mould’ bricks or ‘wire cut’ bricks, varying a little in color and texture to provide less mechanical looking and more attractive walls.
In order to have the layman understand clearly the choice to be made, two samples, quite large portions of the building, complete with Bedford stone corners, a window, and moulded base, were built adjacent to one another, Missouri red granite in one and red brick in the other. All the members of the University Board viewed them in the yard of the Pickel Stone Company  [photo] on South Vandeventer Avenue, and there voted for granite. This was final and the decision enabled detailed to proceed.” (Jaimeson 13-14)


All images from University Archives:

1. Stone Cutter workshop on campus, August 4, 1900

2. Brookings Hall, August 15, 1900

3. Cupples Hall II, October 13, 1900

4. Brookings Hall archway construction, 1901
For more interesting information about the various buildings on campus, check out what we have in the archives:

Campus Architectural Plans http://archon.wulib.wustl.edu/index.php?p=collections/controlcard&id=739 

History of the buildings on campus: http://archon.wulib.wustl.edu/index.php?p=collections/controlcard&id=380


This post is part of an occasional series, marking the 110 year anniversary of the Danforth Campus’ first use for academic programs, in 1904-05.  Read more about the dedication events and first commencement ceremony, June 1905, in the Alumni Bulletin available in full text on-line.

About the author

Miranda Rectenwald is Curator of Local History, Washington University Special Collections. More info.