Leavell Hall: Another “Dog” of a Building?

Leavell front

In the quest to document all the PWA-funded buildings on the University of Mississippi campus, here is yet another of the contributions to campus made by the New Deal administration of President Roosevelt.  A few weeks back,  a reader referred to the style of building of the Lewis Hall as a “dog of a building” and “bland” and “not an idea in sight” and finally, the “likes of which affect every state college campus in the country.”  This one may be even more bland, which was the case for many of the PWA buildings.  The non-PWA dorms built first on this street in 1929 were constructed in the same style, so they were just carrying on the trend.

R. W. Naef was the architect for Leavell Hall, completed in 1938, and W. J. McGee & Son the builder/contractor (Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Historic Resources Inventory database).  Leavell was named for Dr. Richard Leavell, a professor of philosophy and political economy from 1890-1909 (socanth.olemiss.edu/2012/08/leavell-hall/).  Nine Leavell brothers attended University of Mississippi.

door detail

This building, which was the first one I noted on campus to be funded under the PWA due to its prominent outside plaque, was initially a men’s dormitory housing 68 students (or 72 students, depending on which source you use).  It currently houses faculty offices for Sociology and Anthropology, although they are slated for a move to the Lamar Law Center building when renovation is complete, if rumors are correct.

There are 13 buildings designed in this style on this street alone. At least 5 of them have already undergone renovation, and 3 more are pending to begin in the coming year.  They may be seen as unimaginative by some, but I will have to say no more so than the newest series of dormitories to be built on campus.  The new ones are just taller, and house more than ten times as many students.


Categories: Historic Preservation, New Deal, Oxford, Universities/Colleges

15 replies

  1. i lived in one of these dorms ( Helveston) as they were built in an ” H” configuration with 3 buildings in each group. we had a small sink in our room for 2 students, and opening windows and no AC. we ran 3 flights of stairs and there was no elevator and we were comfortable as we did not know any better. I recall the radiators for heat and water would condense on the walls and freeze in the winters on the north side of the building ! one student had 2 inches of ice on the inside of his walls next to his bed ! Just another of life’s “experiences” ! they are nice buildings !


  2. :^)

    In fact, I do not think this one a dog at all. Given its obviously modest budget, I think the rather elegant simplicity of the mass is set off quite lovingly by the beautiful classical flourishes at the entries. Even the later butcherings of the windows don’t overcome those entries . . . they almost enhance them. (And good architecture has to be capable of withstanding such onslaughts of change.)

    But Lewis Hall had no such gestures. I still think it’s a DOG.

    So there!


    • Your point is duly noted and accepted. :) Actually, as I looked back at Lewis, I think some of its doggyness (although my regal and beautiful German Shepherd Dog raised his nose in disdain at the comparison, whilst his little Heinz 57 mutt of a step-sister said “who cares as long as I eat regularly and sleep on the bed?”) may have been a remodel at some point–like the windows, and that gable over the front. None of the other buildings in that style have either of those features. Most of the buildings had those swing-out windows with cranks, like Leavell–which I personally find much more appealing than aluminum or plastic windows. In the remodel of my building (next door to Leavell) they gutted the windows and put in plastic ones, however in the remodel of Hill (next door to Leavell), the wooden windows were retained, and are far more attractive.


  3. I lived in Falkner Hall one semester and thoroughly enjoyed the convenience and the congenial atmosphere. I was even allowed to decorate the second floor halway withan architectural mural. I loved the place- especially so when compared to the grim, tenement-like garrison Twin Towers dormitory.


  4. Good points, Suzassippi. I wondered about the gable too. Lewis is a dog that may really only be in need of a trim and a bath.

    It has been over forty years, of course, but I am thinking my best friend from high school may in fact have lived in Leavell his freshman year, and that I may have stayed there with him (I spent that year at Mississippi State, trying to convince my father that I wanted to be a painter). So these exchanges have another level of poignancy for me, too.


  5. Baxter Hall, which is similar to the buildings being discussed, was built in 1948, according to UM’s campus map. Apparently it was built in response to the surge of enrollment caused by returning GIs. Was this also where James Meridith first lived upon arriving on campus? I seem to remember a photo of him entering it, or at least one of these dorms.


  6. While these dorms are simple, I like the arrangement of three around a courtyard, which is unique among Mississippi universities and I think creates a more intimate, homey living feeling than a big institutional dormitory. It also seems to harken to a British university model and therefore seems suited for young scholars.


    • I agree, with EL, and the other comments about these dorms own individual loveliness and being frugal does not stop you appreciating these touches. Memories make a building beautiful also. The things young folks would call deprivations, back then, were not in thought of as such by scholars then.. They
      were pleased for an education and a home away from home.


  7. Love the variation in brick color especially the purple color. Is there any documentation on where the bricks were manufactured or where the clay that was used was mined? Inquiring minds would like to know.


    • Now there is an observation I hadn’t noted! I have no idea about the bricks–that information was not included on the MDAH HRI or in the contractor/builder information. Perhaps our brick expert can answer–TR?


      • Sorry this question slipped by me :).

        Simple answer: Different firing temperature exposure.

        Detailed answer: Large volumes of brick were fired under greater kiln temperature variations. These conditions created a wide variance of finished product color and quality. Brick from the high temperature zones were hard burned resulting in darker colors (and are generally considered higher strength product). Those from low-temperature zones were less-burned (sometimes resulting in a lower strength product). Since brick is stacked in a Periodic kiln some areas of a brick are exposed to more heat that others. This is what creates a variation of color on a single brick.

        More info can be found at The Brick Industry Association website http://www.gobrick.com. The technical notes section has a glossary of terms that I think you will enjoy!


  8. I have seen tthe original plans for Baxter Hall, but cannot remember the original configuration/type of the windows. I’m fairly sure Baxter’s windows date from the 1980s renovation and were replacements because, as Dr Robert Bailey vividly describes above, the steel units were rusting and single-pained and not air-tight. (I do remember some occupants wearing jackets and using space heaters while working). And the original toilet rooms (two on each floor?) were intact…finishes and fixtures. The 1980s were not so long ago but, still, hopefully we have advanced to a point where buildings of this type and age are appreciated. At least by us.


  9. I was dormitory President of Falkner-Howry-Leavell and over my four years lived in all of these residence halls. I enjoyed Leavell the most, unlike the other two they had not taken out the parquet wood floors and the windows allowed a lot more sunlight. Plus, at the time the rest of the dormitories above us were abandoned, so it was a very quiet area. My room was on the second floor corner, and yes it could get cold during those rare times when an artic air mass came down. I was also there doing the “paint your own room” period. You cold get free paint from campus housing – foam green, sun yellow and a third color I have forgotten. I painted two rooms while there – I wonder if the radiator is still painted green in my old room in Leavell? I wish they had kept them as residence halls instead of turning them into offices – having students in the middle of campus does make for a more lively mix.


  10. What was the process for having PWA buildings approved re siting, building design, finishes and details? There must have been someone higher up than local architects who approved everything.


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