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Summary for 4000 15TH AVE / Parcel ID / Inv # 0

Historic Name: Denny Hall Common Name: Denny Hall
Style: French - French Renaissance Neighborhood: University
Built By: Year Built: 1895
Dating from 1895, Denny Hall is the oldest building on the University’s present campus and was constructed to serve as the University’s first Administration Building. After its construction, excess stone from the project was used to build the Observatory. The design of both buildings was by Seattle architect Charles W. Saunders. Denny Hall was named for Seattle pioneer Arthur Denny, who had donated land for the original downtown campus site.

Designed in the Chateauesque or French Renaissance Revival style, the building initially contained the University’s administration offices, along with academic spaces. Because of its prominence and location, Denny Hall has played a unique role on campus. From 1904 to 1934 it was the focus of “Campus Day.” During this annual celebration, students and faculty took on a day of labor to improve the campus, such as grading and planting. They gathered on the front steps of Denny Hall for a photo, and attended an address by the University President and an outdoor communal meal.

The interior was rebuilt in 1956-57, under the direction of Grainger, Thomas & Barr Architects. Rehabilitation and restoration was undertaken in the 1990s, and a substantial rehabilitation of the building was completed in 2016. Denny Hall will continue to house classroom space as well as offices and programs for the College of Arts and Sciences, including the Departments of Anthropology, Classics, Germanics, and Near Eastern Languages & Civilization, as well as the College’s Language Learning Center.

Denny Hall is listed in the Washington State Heritage Register. While its architectural integrity has been affected by a number renovations over the years, the exterior remains largely intact and the building is historically significant as the first one on the present campus. The building appears eligible for NR listing. 


“Historic Resources Addendum for Denny Hall” December 2007. (No author listed; available on UW Capital Projects website:

Johnston, Norman J. The Fountain & the Mountain: The University of Washington Campus, 1895 - 1995.  Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995.

University of Washington Facilities Services Records. 

University of Washington Libraries. Special Collections

Adapted and edited from the 2007 HRA:

Denny Hall, a handsome brick and sandstone building designed in the Chateauesque or French

Renaissance Revival style, is located in the northwest sector of campus and faces southeast onto Denny Yard. (Because the building is not oriented to the compass points, for this description, “south” is used to describe the primary façade on Denny Yard, north is the rear, and east and west are the sides.) The two-and-a-half-story, T-shaped building features a large, main block with a rectangular plan and a high, hipped roof. An almost equally large hipped ell projects from the center of the rear north elevation. Smaller one-story semi-elliptical wings with low-pitch roofs extend from the east and west elevations of the main block. Located in front of the building, Denny Yard slopes gently downward towards the Liberal Arts Quad, its green lawns crisscrossed by paths and planted with a scattering of mature trees.

Set above a high basement of ashlar sandstone blocks, the symmetrical primary south façade has twin spired towers flanking the center entrance bay. A corbelled terra cotta cornice wraps around the towers and continues across the center bay, embellishing the roofline. A much simpler cornice encircles the remainder of the building. At the first story, a recessed entry porch sits behind three sandstone arches supported on sandstone columns decorated with shallow relief carvings. The rear wall of the porch has three identical arched openings set in alignment with the outer arches; double doors are located in the central opening. A full-width set of stairs with stone railings provides access to the porch. Centered over the porch are three gabled wall dormers with elaborate ornamentation and parapeted gable ends. The central dormer is taller and wider than those at the sides. Each dormer features a rectangular window opening set within an arch that has a blind transom containing carved stonework. A clock is situated above the central paired windows. At the east and west elevations, a pair of tall chimneys flank a single wall dormer with similar ornamentation. The rear ell has three wall dormers along the east and west sides, and a single one on the north side. Two pyramidal-roofed dormers with flared eaves are located on the north and south roof slopes of the main building mass, one above each end bay. These various dormers enliven the rooflines of the principal and minor elevations, as does the ornamental copper cresting along the roof ridges. 

Fenestration consists primarily of segmental-arched window openings at the first story and rectangular window openings at the second story. A projecting intermediate cornice separates the two floors and continues onto the one-story wings, where it forms the base of the low roof parapets. The tall, narrow window openings on the wings have flat heads with rounded upper corners. Sandstone blocks trim the window openings and contrast with the buff colored pressed brick walls. Surmounting the building is an ornate cupola clad with copper weathering to a green patina. The base of the cupola straddles the ridge of the main block and serves as a viewing platform. Below the dome, two beams originally supported the 1862 bell, moved to this location from the cupola of the Territorial University Building constructed in 1861. The bell was removed in the 1990s to prevent further deterioration in the open-air cupola.

The exterior appearance of Denny Hall has remained largely the same since its construction over 100 years ago. Original wood windows, typically paired casement windows below a single fixed transom, were replaced with of multi-light metal sash windows in the original openings. The original entrance doors on the south façade were replaced, and other entrances removed or relocated. The original slate roof was also removed and replaced by an asphalt shingle roof. Skylights in the main block, the rear ell and the wings were also removed. (One alteration, the installation of the clock in the south façade’s center dormer, actually completed a design feature of the original plans that had not previously been executed. A circular medallion and later a louvered vent occupied this location until Pi Beta Phi Alumnae presented the university with the new clock in February of 1959.) In the early l990s, the exterior masonry was cleaned and restored, preserving the historic character of the original materials, color and detailing. However, it was necessary to remove the decorative terra cotta finials from the dormers due to deterioration. At that time, four massive chimneys were also removed. These had been located in pairs near each end of the ridge of the main hipped roof.

Because of extensive interior renovations, none of the original historic character of the building’s interior remains. The 1956-57 reconstruction of the interior of the building consisted of a new concrete and steel frame to replace the original wood framing. In 2005, the original slate roofing material and copper flashing were restored as part of a roof replacement project. In addition, the ornate copper cupola was removed, restored offsite and reinstalled in its original location with the Varsity Bell once again hanging within. The 2016 project consisted of a complete interior renovation, including seismic and system upgrades, accessibility improvements, and hazardous materials abatement.

For much of its history, Denny Hall has seen little landscaping around its perimeter. For more than a decade after its construction, the building sat within a broad expanse of rough terrain covered with native grasses, trees, bushes and ferns and crossed by random paths and planked walkways. In preparation for the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, formal paths were laid around the building and formal lawns and gardens were planted, including a circular planting bed immediately in front of the building. Minor foundation plantings have included low hedges and shrubs. Two Lawson Cypresses are situated at the corners of the primary south façade, and a large Bur Oak is located within the yard off the rear northwest corner of the building. The cypresses were planted in the late 1930s.

Detail for 4000 15TH AVE / Parcel ID / Inv # 0

Classication: District Status: NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR, NR
Cladding(s): Brick Foundation(s): Stone
Roof Type(s): Varied roof lines Roof Material(s): Slate
Building Type: Education - College Plan: T-Shape
Structural System: Brick No. of Stories: two & ½
Unit Theme(s): Education
Major Bibliographic References

Photo collection for 4000 15TH AVE / Parcel ID / Inv # 0

Photo taken Oct 27, 2016
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