The Alliance for Historic Wyoming asked me to write about a favorite building. They published it here. (Please visit them, and join or donate!) Some of it was edited for length; here's the full version.
When I arrived at the UW campus in Laramie ten years ago, like everyone I was immediately struck by the picturesque beauty of Prexy's Pasture and the ensemble of buildings surrounding it. What a wonderful harmony between architecture and landscape we enjoy! Yet I must confess that no individual building impressed me as truly excellent in and of itself.
And then I explored further and encountered Hoyt Hall. Hoyt grabbed me instantly, and all these years later I still believe it's the most interesting building on campus. I go out of my way to walk by it almost every day. Hoyt was built as a womens’ dormitory between 1916 and 1922; the architect was William Dubois of Cheyenne. It was named to honor of Dr. John W. Hoyt, UW’s founding president.
Why do I love it? Hoyt Hall is simply a beautiful architectural composition. Dubois designed a façade with a wonderfully complex and balanced rhythm. The vertical divisions and subdivisions are endlessly fascinating to study, in the same way English majors might analyze a poem by Keats. (I made a diagram to help explain this.)
The proportions, to my eyes, are excellent; that extra bit of solidity at the end of the wall, for example, is just right. And look at the vertical movements! How perfect that the Prairie-Style horizontal roofline is broken in three places, by the peculiar Mission-Style parapets that had no precedent on campus or in the area.* And how clever that the roofline was not broken where the bay windows thrust upward, resolving themselves in attic-level dormers. In 1922 this was stylish and innovative, yet deeply classical.
The backside exhibits a different and complementary hierarchy. The main public space, wrapped in glass, is allowed to step forward in an honorific manner. If the building is a symphony, this is the intermezzo. I expect this was originally the ‘living room’; it’s now an especially-habitable conference room.
And I wonder, as I walk behind Hoyt, if the fire escapes were part of the original design, or a later modification. I can see bold 1920s women hanging out on these makeshift terraces on warm evenings. I’m sure young men reenacted Romeo and Juliet from below. I imagine how Edward Hopper might have painted such a scene.
Now, Hoyt Hall has not been well-loved, and the interior spaces are relatively miserable for academic use today. It's a difficult place to work, and certainly needs to be better-insulated for comfort and energy use. That will change soon; the University has commissioned a modernization. I'm confident the architects will preserve Hoyt’s remarkable design quality, while giving my colleagues a better place to work. I hope those evocative fire escapes will survive.
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*In the region, Mission-style parapets are also found on these buildings:
● Lennox House, Colorado Springs, Colorado (1900)
● Northern Pacific Railroad Depot, Bismarck, North Dakota (1901)
● Union Station, Billings, Montana (1909)
● Holdrege train station, Holdrege, Nebraska (1910)