Preflight: Pillsbury Hall Sneak Peak
In fall 2019, construction fencing went up for the interior renovation of Pillsbury Hall, set to be the future home of the Department of English, the Creative Writing Program, and the Liberal Arts Engagement Hub. After almost two years (including two and a half semesters of distance learning), fall classes will again take place in the 1889 building, the second oldest on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus. (Grand Opening events are scheduled for mid-September; watch for details.)
This June, the last touchups were being completed and furniture installed. In July, the Department of English embarks on its journey down Church Street from Lind Hall to a permanent home in Pillsbury Hall, a move of a couple blocks that represents years of planning and organizing.
When, on September 7, 2021, English opens Pillsbury Hall's renovated offices and classrooms to University students, they will discover a new world in an old building, with exciting amenities such as the Media Lab and a large attic space to host literary readings, student activities, and classes. Professor offices will be easy for students to locate. There is an office for the department's literary magazines, The Tower and Great River Review. Students will enjoy dedicated study spaces. Best of all, the department can call the building its own.
The opening of Pillsbury Hall for English is the realization of a dream first envisioned in 1996, when Interim Dean of the College of Liberal Arts Robert Holt suggested to English chair Shirley Garner that English might work for a building that was an increasingly awkward fit for Earth Sciences' laboratory needs. At the time, English had already been housed within Lind Hall, the College of Science & Engineering's home, for more than 25 years; the department would remain in Lind for another quarter century.
With its arched entryways and patterned sandstone, Pillsbury Hall has been called “the best remaining example of nineteenth-century architecture on the Minneapolis campus.” It was the work of LeRoy S. Buffington, who also designed and constructed Burton Hall (1894), Nicholson Hall (1890), and Eddy Hall (1886). Harvey Ellis, an associate at Buffington’s firm, is believed to have been the design architect; Ellis is best known for “mission” furniture designs produced by Gustav Stickley’s company.
In the 1980s, Pillsbury Hall received an exterior update, but its interior needed serious renovation. Layers of remodeling projects bore the marks of various decades, jarring with the hall's historical character. Mechanical and electrical systems were out of code. The building had to be stripped down to its bones, and remade.
English's move into a renovated Pillsbury is the product of many hours of advocacy, particularly by Professor Emerita Garner and Regents Professor Emerita Madelon Sprengnether, along with a Pillsbury Hall committee of faculty and alums. Advisory Board member Paul Taylor was recognized for his efforts on behalf of Pillsbury by the Minnesota Alumni Association with its 2018 Advocate of the Year Award. The work of Advisory Board member Judith Koll Healey was likewise honored when she received the College of Liberal Arts Dean’s Liberal Arts Champion Award in 2020. Through the years, many donors contributed much-appreciated funds toward the renovation; gifts toward the project continue to be welcome.
The English department's outreach to University leaders was convincing. During the administrations of Presidents Robert H. Bruininks and Eric W. Kaler, a series of department moves to new (Physics and Nanotechnology) and renovated buildings (John T. Tate Hall) opened up Pillsbury Hall for English's use. After the Board of Regents included the Pillsbury Hall renovation in the University's Capital Budget Request (beginning in 2015-2016), English faculty, Advisory Board members, students, and alums testified to the Minnesota Legislature about the importance of Pillsbury. Thanks to all who sent emails, made phone calls, and met with representatives!
In May, 2018, then Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed the legislature's 2018 bonding bill, which included $24 million (of this $36 million project) for the renovation and restoration of Pillsbury Hall. Over the next year, project design and management were formalized. The architectural firm Rafferty, Rafferty, Tollefson, Lindeke was chosen for the renewal of Pillsbury, included on the National Register of Historic Places. JE Dunn Construction, which previously completed renovations of Northrop and the Minnesota State Capitol, managed the construction project. Public artist Seitu K Jones has been at work creating sculpture for the building.
The move into Pillsbury Hall launches an exciting new era for the Department of English and the Creative Writing Program. We can't wait to welcome you into our new home. Keep an eye out for invitations to Grand Opening events in September and to our usual slate of literary readings and talks, now presented in our own venue!