One More: Remembering Carlson Hall

Photo courtesy Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah

Carlson Hall was one of the first dormitories in the western United States to be built for women. (Photo courtesy Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah)

In the first decades of the University of Utah’s existence, students lived off campus in rented rooms in boarding houses or private homes and commuted to campus by riding the Bamberger and other trolleys or by walking. But the University’s first dean of women, Lucy Van Cott, who served from 1907 to 1931, had long dreamed of a dormitory for female students. As U President George Thomas noted, “For some reason, there is a disposition not to accept women as readily as men in boarding houses.” It was not until the Great Depression that Van Cott’s dream was realized, however.

Prior to her death in 1933, Mary P. Carlson in 1931 had made a bequest of more than $120,000 to the University in honor of her late husband, August W. Carlson. He was a Swedish immigrant who had become treasurer of the Z.C.M.I. system, a director of the Zion’s Benefit Building Society, and director of the State Bank of Utah and the Deseret National Bank. He had also served as a member of the Board of Regents of the University of Deseret, the precursor to the University of Utah. In 1911, he had a heart attack on a hotel veranda while on vacation with his wife in Santa Barbara, California, and died. His wife, who was from England, never remarried. They had no children.

After her bequest to the U, the University administration approached the Public Works Administration, a New Deal agency, and it provided a further $90,000 in funding to allow the creation of the new women’s dormitory. The building, named Carlson Hall, was completed in the late summer of 1938. Carlson was the first residence hall on the University of Utah campus, and one of the first in the western United States to be built for women.

Planned for 80 students, the dorm’s interior design was by noted artist and designer Florence Ware, who also painted the murals in Kingsbury Hall. The rooms at Carlson Hall were furnished in Early American style, but the sun room on the third floor was more modern. The dormitory also featured a dining hall and a “date room,” where escorts of Carlson Hall students were expected to wait for the young women.

Carlson Hall served generations of women students, but the wave of new students on campus after World War II meant that other housing for students, both men and women, had to be found. After other residence halls were built on campus, Carlson Hall was converted to offices and classrooms in 1971. The decision was not without controversy, however. Brigham Madsen, who served as the U’s administrative vice president from 1967 to 1972, remembered meeting with the law dean in Carlson Hall’s dining room. At the end of the meeting, “the door opened suddenly and about a dozen of the women residents marched in in single file, dressed in the flowing robes of classical Greece, each bearing a lighted candle, and with the last two women bearing Mrs. Carlson’s portrait draped in black. They were absolutely silent as their ghostly procession circled around us,” Madsen wrote in his unpublished autobiography, a copy of which is in the U’s Marriott Library.

In 1996, Carlson Hall was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. But by 2012, as the U was planning its new College of Law building, Carlson Hall was deteriorating and in need of costly seismic upgrades and remodeling for handicapped accessibility and code compliance. U administrators decided the best option would be to replace it with a new structure, and this past summer, Carlson Hall was torn down to make way for the new law building. But Carlson won’t be forgotten: The new law building will feature a display of commemorative items from the U’s first residence hall.

—Roy Webb BA’84 MS’91 is a multimedia archivist with the J. Willard Marriott Library.

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4 thoughts on “One More: Remembering Carlson Hall

  • In the ’70s, my roommate and I rented an apartment in one of the great old homes across from Carlson Hall. It was a great place to sit on the front lawn and study and soak up some sun on nice spring, summer, and fall days. Great memories of the neighborhood. Loved the pictures and the memorial.

  • A highlight of my freshman year at the U. of U. was living at Carlson Hall in 1949. It was a thriving hub of activity. I met so many friends there. There were strict rules in curfews, but some of the girls got around them by going out the windows to meet their boyfriends. We laughed about some of the meals we had. One entree was beef tongue, and another was parsley soup with not much else in it. I had a private room, so that I could get my studies done. Just loved the place!

  • I was renting a room two houses from the Institute of Religion. I was selected for the NROTC Program. During my 1952 junior year, I met this very attractive freshman whose father was an Army colonel stationed in Germany. She came home to go to the U. She attended the LDS Institute. I asked her out, and when I found out she was living at Carlson Hall, this was perfect. I could date her on my $10 a week spending money. We went to all the U and the Institute’s functions. Every night, I would walk down to Carlson Hall to see her. As I had to wait in the date room, I spent time playing “Old Buttermilk Sky,” which was the only piano piece I could remember. Upon graduation, we got married. I went into the Navy and was stationed at the U.S. Naval Base in Sasebo, Japan. She came over, and the rest is history. August 30th will be our 60th. Thanks, Carlson Hall.

  • I loved living in Carlson Hall! It was so much more comfy and gracious than the “new” dorms. By the time I lived there in the late 60s, the “date” room was just called the living room. After dinner many evenings, I enjoyed hanging out there for a while, socializing with the (male) law and med students who lived in rooming houses nearby and ate in our dining room.

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