THE FACULTY APARTMENTS: A look at life on the Washington University campus, 1947 through 1952

The Gullion family arrived in St. Louis on February 1, 1947.  Chancellor Arthur Holly Compton had hired my father to head the University’s new ‘amateur athletic’ program, intercollegiate sports without athletic scholarships. He was named head of the University’s School of Physical Education; athletic director; and basketball coach and was a fully tenured professor.

He was also promised residency in the new faculty apartments which were still under construction. Meanwhile, we were engulfed in a cramped style of ‘close living’ in the hut [military supply Quonset hut] which was partially lessened while my sister attended nearby Lindenwood College. Whenever we complained about our living conditions my father told us “we were lucky to have any place at all to live.” He was right! There was a severe shortage of housing …[and] the rental rate was astronomically high!

Faculty-Apt-sketch_1946

design sketch for apartments, 1946

We moved into the apartments as scheduled in September, 1947. There were 70 two- and three-bedroom units in three structures which were two and three stories tall with a connecting basement to all buildings and a ‘big’ courtyard opening up to Millbrook Boulevard. My mother was elated.

I was 11 years old at the time. For the next five years, my world was to be the Washington University campus; Forest Park with its zoo and art museum; nearby Flynn Park elementary and Hanley junior high ….

In those days, the main campus consisted of only half the buildings there are today! Development on the ‘the south forty’ across Forsyth Boulevard from Francis Field was limited to intramural athletic fields and the Chancellor’s residence. The rest of the way down to Wydown Boulevard was deep woods.

Only Bixby and Givens Halls, parking lots and a large spread of trees and grass occupied the expanse between Skinker and Hoyt Drive. …

Faculty-Apt-Oct1948

Faculty apartments in October 1948

At my age, I had no idea what prodigious people lived and worked in my small milieu. During our five year stay in the apartments, the campus was inhabited by four Nobel Prize winners – – – Chancellor Compton (1927); Joseph Erlanger (1944), Carl and Gerti Cori (1947) — and seven future prize recipients: Arthur Kornberg (1959), Alfred Hershey (1969), Earl Sutherland (1971), Rita Levi Montalcini (1986), Edwin Krebs (1992), Robert Furchgott (1998) and Stephen Chu (1997). Maybe Chu, the former US Secretary of Energy, doesn’t qualify. Born on February 28, 1948, he was an infant living in the faculty apartments with his older brother, his mother and his father, Ju Chin Chu, who came to the University with a degree from MIT and was an assistant professor in Chemical Engineering.

Faculty-Apt-ca1950-1

faculty apartments, circa 1950

The Beckman’s lived directly above us. Max Beckman was a German painter, draftsman, printmaker, sculptor and writer who enjoyed abundant success in Europe in the 1920s.  After the war, he moved to the United States and taught at the art schools at Washington University and New York University….He was constantly complaining to my mother that I made too much noise. He scared me. … Over the years, I have, on occasion, visited the St. Louis Art Museum. Each time, I made sure I viewed the May family collection of Beckmann’s paintings where I could almost hear a voice with a heavy German accent shouting out — ‘Keep that boy quiet down there! He’s making too much noise!”…


The longer version of Bill Gullion’s recollections growing up on campus , from which this is excerpted,  is available to researchers at University Archives.   All images from the collections of University Archives.

About the author

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