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The Evolution of the Reed Campus

Today the Reed campus encompasses 116 acres of rolling lawns and winding lanes, a century of distinct periods of architectural design, over 2,000 trees representing more than 125 species, and a 28-acre watershed that is home to a growing population of wildlife and native plants. But in 1908 when the trustees established the Reed Institute after a long court battle over Amanda Wood Reed’s estate, they had yet to acquire a site.

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In 1910 the Ladd Estate Company presented the college—among the trustees was the recently appointed William Mead Ladd—with 40 acres at the northeast corner of Crystal Springs Farm in southeast Portland. Reed’s founding president, William Trufant Foster, together with the trustees faced the unique task of creating a new college to be housed on a new campus. Albert E. Doyle was appointed as the lead architect for the college, and his early plans convinced the trustees that it was necessary to acquire more property. The college bought another 46 acres in early 1911 that included the canyon. Students, the first of them attending classes in downtown Portland while the college’s original buildings were being constructed, referred to Reed as “Mr. Ladd’s cow pasture.”

The first two buildings to be built, the Arts and Sciences Building (now known as Eliot Hall) and the Dormitory Building (now known as Old Dorm Block) followed the Elizabethan Tudor style of St John’s College at Oxford University, an early twentieth-century trend on new campuses across the country. These original buildings established a visual impression of Reed that remains essentially unchanged today. Other structures completed during this early period include the Power House [Physical Plant] in 1912, the President’s House [Prexy] in 1915, Anna Mann residence hall in 1920, and four faculty houses [language houses] in 1920.

The completion of the Eric V. Hauser Memorial Library in 1930, designed by Doyle’s chief designer Pietro Belluschi, marked the beginning of the period of the Great Depression and World War II. While few buildings were constructed during this time—among them the modest Glenn Chesney Quiett Infirmary, now the Student Center—the look of the Reed campus continued to evolve. About 1,000 trees were planted during this period and the college commissioned Elizabeth Lord and Edith Schryver, the first women to establish a landscape architecture office in Oregon, to develop a campus landscaping plan. With the aid of private funding and the National Youth Administration, the Barry Cerf Memorial Theatre and Garden Area was added near the canyon in 1936.

During the postwar era and under the subsequent presidency of Richard H. Sullivan, the college built more buildings than it had since the original campus construction. Classrooms, laboratories, dining facilities, sports facilities, and greater library capacity were added. The cross-canyon residence halls were built, breaking ground for the first time in the sector north of the canyon. Led by Belluschi—who was to give shape to the modernist style in America—and carried out by his successor firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, most of the new construction carefully followed modernist tenets. The psychology building, originally built for the chemistry department, is perhaps the earliest example of the style pioneered by architects such as Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, and Le Corbusier on any campus in the United States. Its plain geometric facades and open interiors introduced a radically new look to the Reed campus.

Paul E. Bragdon’s tenure as Reed’s president in the ’70s and ’80s saw both an increase in the college’s financial stability and prudent investment in academic expansion. The library was enlarged during these years and the Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery, Vollum College Center, and studio art building were completed.

Although Steven S. Koblik was quoted frequently as saying he didn’t want to be a “construction president,” a significant transformation of Reed’s campus took place during his leadership, which began in 1992. The college’s square footage increased 30 percent and the Educational Technology Center, the Gray Campus Center, Kaul Auditorium, and several residence halls were built.

Reed’s campus has seen remarkable changes since the time of the “day dodgers” in the ’30s and ’40s, when most students commuted to campus from their homes in Portland. But even as the college began to draw students from across the country and, eventually, from all corners of the world, off-campus housing remained a venerated Reed tradition. Under the presidency of Colin Diver, the college acquired the Birchwood apartments and built five new residence halls, four of them north of the canyon. Together, these residences are helping to shape Reed’s campus environment and strengthen the deep sense of community that Foster saw as the hallmark of intellectual engagement.

One of Reed’s greatest commitments to the campus and to the region can be seen in its restoration of the canyon. Over the last decade, Reed has spent $2 million restoring this critical part of the Crystal Springs Creek. These efforts, in concert with work undertaken by the city of Portland and others in the area, are helping to reconnect one of Portland’s remaining historical waterways to the Willamette River and the Pacific Ocean and contributing to the long term survival of Oregon’s native fish populations.

As the college began to look ahead to its second century, a new facility to combine the dance, music, and theatre departments within a unified performing arts center was identified as a priority. Part of the campus master plan for over 50 years, the center when completed will provide new opportunities for critical analysis and creative expression and welcome the city of Portland to the Reed campus.

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