Scott Hall

Scott Hall was built in 1940 as the result of a longstanding popular movement. There had long been a pressing need for a building to house the activities of the campus women’s groups, and to center the campus’s social, intellectual, and artistic life. Fund-raising for such a building began in 1915, at the initiative of students. Women student groups began to raise money through diverse, small-scale projects, prompting their adult counterparts to contribute as well. The drive continued over the next two decades, involving an impressive array of activities: sponsoring “chain teas,” laundering curtains and blankets, staging plays and operas, and hawking everything from old rubber to hot dogs. Then, in 1938, Walter Dill Scott (1869-1955) announced his impending retirement as president of Northwestern University, and a committee decided that a new student center bearing his name would best memorialize Scott’s contributions to the University and the community.

After plans for Scott Hall were announced in 1939 under the rubric of the NU Century building plan, the original drive’s funds, now totaling around $200,000 and administered by the Woman’s Building Association (composed of representatives of the University Guild, University Circle, and the Associate Alumnae), were dedicated to the $750,000 campaign for the construction of the proposed student center. The Scott Hall campaign received additional contributions from over 11,000 individuals and organizations, including funds raised from the sale of sandwiches dubbed “Scottwiches.” The eventual construction of Scott Hall was a triumph for President Scott and everyone within the orbit of Northwestern. The building was intended to enhance not just the University, but the whole of Chicago’s North Shore. According to the Alumni News (February, 1939), “the building will provide an auditorium, an art center, headquarters for affiliated organizations, Alumni Association offices, conference rooms, headquarters for student organizations, a large grill, a center for university social life, a campus home for commuters, and apartments for distinguished university guests.”

The groundbreaking took place in 1939, with Scott turning the first spadeful of earth. The modified Gothic, T-shaped structure of gray Lannon stone was designed by architect James Gamble Rogers as an aesthetic extension of his Women’s Quadrangle to the west, and as a complement to the Deering Library. The contractor was the Evanston firm of R. C. Wieboldt Construction Company. In keeping with the intention of Scott Hall’s planners to make it a cultural center, an auditorium seating over 1,200 was built on its north side to host musical and theatrical events and guest speakers. The auditorium was named after the civic leader Bertram Cahn, NU donor, trustee, and alumnus (Law, 1899), and chairman of the clothier B. Kuppenheimer and Company. Since its inception, Cahn auditorium has been the site of the annual Waa-Mu Show, of other distinguished dramatic productions, and of appearances by nationally important speakers.

In recognition of the University Guild’s role in the realization of Scott Hall, a new home was created for the venerable woman’s organization in one of the new building’s central spaces, named the Woman’s Lounge and now known as the Guild Lounge. Consistent with the mission of the Guild to “work for the collection and exhibition of objects of art [and] advance the development and appreciation of the fine arts in the University and in Evanston,” the Lounge has long been a venue for displaying the Guild’s collection of paintings and objets d’art. It was also the site of Guild receptions and teas.

From 1970-72, Scott Hall was home to the Amazingrace Coffeehouse. The Coffeehouse was born in 1970 when a student collective occupied the recently abandoned kitchen of the Scott Hall Grill to cook and purvey healthy, low-cost food. The atmosphere was quintessentially countercultural: irreverent and militantly informal. Before long, local musical groups were performing there to packed houses, and nationally prominent folksingers soon followed. In spring, 1972, the University appropriated Scott Hall Grill for office space, and Amazingrace after some resistance transferred operations to Shanley Hall, where it remained through 1974. Amazingrace then settled off campus in a building at the southeast corner of Main Street and Chicago Avenue until 1978, when the cooperative ceased to exist. In the course of its history, Amazingrace attracted such nationally prominent folk acts as Doc Watson, David Bromberg, Odetta, Steve Goodman, Siegel Schwall Blues Band, Bob Gibson, The Incredible String Band, Otis Rush, and Ry Cooder.

Scott Hall was remodeled in 1973, and today houses the Political Science Department, Residential Life offices (including Residential Colleges), lounges, and meeting rooms. The Career Development Center was housed in Scott Hall until early in 2001. Cahn Auditorium underwent a major renovation in 1995.

Scott Hall, Exterior: North Elevation (Cahn Auditorium)
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Quick Facts

Date: 1940

Architect: James Gamble Rogers

Named for: Walter Dill Scott, President NU

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