The Long and Tall History of Notre Dame’s Flanner and Grace Halls

Written for Fundamentals of Journalism course, unpublished

In the early 1960s, the University of Notre Dame announced the construction of two 11-story male residence halls, the campus’ first – and last – tower dorms.

The towers, Flanner and Grace Halls, would be twice as tall as any other dorm, and they would house twice as many – 500 men each.

Flanner and Grace were a sharp departure from the gothic architecture which characterized the older parts of campus. They were supposed to be the first of five tower dorms, arranged in a semicircle around a modernist chapel with a spiky roof, according to an early description of the dorms now housed in the University archives.

Fr. Edward “Monk” Malloy, University president from 1987-2005, was an assistant rector in Flanner for the 1969-1970 school year, its first year as a dorm. He said the University’s architectural direction in the ‘60s had both functional and aesthetic purposes.

“It was a convenient way to add a lot of space,” Malloy said. “In terms of money available it looked like it would work. For a certain amount of money we would get 500-some students. Part of the big-picture game plan was to think of having a very modern part of the campus.”

Compared to the other residence halls on campus, Flanner and Grace were high-end. According to the archives’ description, residents could hang out in a rec room on the top floor, a “conversation pit” on the first floor, or an open space in the basement. Each air-conditioned floor had a study lounge and a kitchenette.

Over the next few decades, the men of Grace and Flanner settled into high-rise living, though Malloy said they were not as culturally cohesive as other dorms.

“They were known as places where the action of one floor wasn’t necessarily the action of another floor,” Malloy said. “There were a lot of discrete subcultures in the dorm.”

The much-advertised common spaces provided a chance for residents of every floor to congregate. Chad Smith, a 1995 graduate who lived in Grace, said he often hung out in the basement, which had a pizza place and game tables,

“Anyone could go in there, I think,” Smith said. “It was a cool place to go hang out and just chill. It was good; it was something that was somewhat unique to the hall.”

Beth Grisoli, director of Notre Dame Multimedia Service and a 1987 graduate, lived in nearby Pasquerilla East Hall had a boyfriend and several friends who lived in Grace. Grisoli said she and her friends used the hall’s conversation pit – “the pit” – for a variety of purposes.

“Friday and Saturday nights they’d show movies in the pit, so we’d all sit on the steps where the ledge is and we’d watch,” she said. “The funniest thing was, we’d be watching Monty Python movies on Saturday night, and Sunday night that’s where we’d have Mass.”

Flanner and Grace’s proximity to one another resulted in an often-fierce rivalry, played out on interhall sports fields and within the halls themselves. Kevin Carroll, a 1986 graduate who lived in Grace, said the rivalry culminated in a series of battles during finals weeks.

“We would shoot bottle rockets out the window, literally out the window – one dorm was trying to get it into another,” Carroll said. “It was obviously not very successful, but if you got one in there, it was a pretty big deal, because you’ve got a bottle rocket going off inside a dorm room.”

Malloy said while the dorms’ height could be bothersome – only the top six floors were allowed to use the elevators because they kept breaking down – the buildings’ height afforded a unique view of campus.

“One of the best things about Flanner and Grace was that if you went to the roof, you had great views of the Main Building and the Basilica and over the whole campus because it was so high,” Malloy said.

But the height turned out to be the dorms’ downfall. Malloy said with 500 residents, the dorms were too big to establish a hall-wide sense of community.

“Some floors, maybe there was a passage back and forth, but there was not as much incentive to go up and down,” he said. “As a result, as a staff member, it was hard to get to know the whole dorm. We tried, but I would get out of the elevator at the end of the year and I’d have no idea who [people] were.”

Smith said while he did not know everyone in the hall, he benefitted both from the size of the dorm and the opportunity for smaller subcultures.

“I think it provided the numbers that helped for getting things like a restaurant downstairs and getting enough support for getting new gym equipment,” Smith said. “It also had the opportunity for small enough subsections like sections and floors to be able to get that small dorm type of feel.”

Still, Smith said he and his fellow residents knew something was going to happen to Grace and Flanner. By the mid-1990s The University was running dangerously short on office space: one-fifth of the Hesburgh library was used for non-library purposes, according to a Sept. 1998 University press release, and the Main Building, which housed many administrative offices, was about to be cleared for renovation.

In the spring of 1994, Grace residents received a letter informing them their dorm would be converted to an office building after the 1995-1996 school year. Smith penned a letter to the Observer, the student newspaper, denouncing the decision. A few months later, the University announced Flanner would follow suit.

The halls’ construction was part of a modernist architectural shift on campus; their conversion was part of a shift back. Malloy said the construction of a new quad of residence halls, West Quad, reflected a return to the college gothic style.

“The experience was that horizontal space, even if it winds around, is easier to get to know people and establish community,” Malloy said. “Usually there’s four floors or three floors, and that’s a whole lot easier than 11 floors. It was easier for the hall staff to get to know people as well.”

In 1996, Grace residents moved into Keough and O’Neill Halls on West Quad. The next year, the men of Flanner moved to Knott and Siegfried Halls, whose residents – women – moved to McGlinn and Welsh Family Halls, also on West Quad.

Flanner and Grace were filled with administrative and academic departments and centers. Bedrooms became offices. Study lounges became conference rooms or were incorporated into office areas. Flanner’s first-floor pit became one wing of the University’s Career Center; Grace’s became a restaurant, Café De Grasta.

Grace and Flanner’s former residents and their friends, meanwhile, graduated, moved away, started families and then, in some cases, moved back.

Grisoli joined the University communications office in 2007, and her office was moved to the fifth floor of Grace in 2009. Until a 2011 renovation, Grisoli said the floor retained the appearance of a residence hall: the showers were gone, but some offices had connecting doors because they were once six-man suites.

As it turned out, some of Grisoli’s friends lived in the room that was now her office.

“They’re like, ‘Look up at the ceiling tiles; see if we left anything up there,’” Grisoli said.

25 years later, Grisoli is still friends with the people she met in PE and Grace.

“They’re a great bunch of people,” she said. “Really special in my life.”


Student groups stage ‘die-in’ demonstration

From The Observer

As part of a series of protests this week against police brutality and racial injustice, Notre Dame students staged a “die-in” between O’Shaughnessy and DeBartolo Halls at 12:15 Tuesday, lying down on the sidewalk as students in both buildings changed classes.

Students and members of the Notre Dame community cover the space in between O’Shaughnessy and DeBartolo Halls in a “die-in” Tuesday, part of a demonstration against police brutality and racial injustice.Emily McConville | The Observer

Students and members of the Notre Dame community cover the space in between O’Shaughnessy and DeBartolo Halls in a “die-in” Tuesday, part of a demonstration against police brutality and racial injustice.

The die-in was part of the All Lives Matter Week to End Racial Injustice organized by the Notre Dame National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Latino Student Alliance (LSA), the Black Law Student Association (BLSA), the Progressive Student Alliance (PSA) and students in the Masters in Peace Studies program. The events also include a prayer service, another die-in, a roundtable discussion and a public display.

The demonstrations come most directly in response to the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. The week before Thanksgiving break, protests erupted across the country after a grand jury decided not indict Darren Wilson, a white police officer who fatally shot Brown, an unarmed black man, in August in Ferguson, Missouri.

Two weeks after the decision in Wilson’s case, more protests broke out when a Staten Island grand jury also did not indict Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer implicated in Garner’s death in July. While a group of officers tried to arrest Garner for selling untaxed cigarettes, Pantaleo put him in a fatal chokehold.

In response to these events, NAACP Notre Dame president and senior Niciah Petrovic said she invited representatives of several campus organizations to join a planning committee last week.

“We wanted to make sure we gave as many people as possible the opportunity to shape what this week would look like,” she said.

Sophomore Xitlaly Estrada, LSA’s social justice chair, said the purpose of the week is to start conversation about the institutional nature of police brutality.

“My goals are not just to spread awareness about police brutality and its victims but also about the underlying factor behind many of these injustices,” she said. “I’d hope that after this week more people will be willing to realize that we don’t live in a post-racial society, but we must openly act to combat racism, prejudices and systematic injustices so that one day we might.”

Petrovic said the events are also meant to address backlash among Notre Dame students against the national protests.

“We have classmates of ours, peers of ours, people that we live in dorms with and eat with telling us that this isn’t an issue, or you guys make everything about race, or even a lot of hateful and hurtful things have been said,” she said. “We have to take the time to, one, make space to engage in our feelings about this and, two, to bring into the conversation people who may just not be enlightened about what these issues are and how they’re complicit in them.”

Petrovic said the planning committee decided with a vote to organize the week using the title “All Lives Matter,” instead of “Black Lives Matter,” which is more commonly used nationally, in order to be inclusive of all allies of the movement.

All Lives Matter Week began Sunday afternoon at the Grotto, where organizers handed out copies of the Yale Law School BLSA’s statement denouncing the Ferguson grand jury decision and asked for 4.5 minutes of silence, symbolizing the 4.5 hours Brown’s body was left in the street after he died. Petrovic said the group walked to Ryan Hall for a prayer service afterwards.

Notre Dame students and South Bend community members “die in” at the South Bend city council building on Monday to protest racism.
Emily McConville | The Observer

Notre Dame students and South Bend community members “die in” at the South Bend city council building on Monday to protest racism.

“[We prayed for] the healing of our community as a whole,” Petrovic said. “We wanted to recognize and mourn that loss and the sense of un-safety that a lot of us are feeling.”

On Monday, the group set up rides to a die-in and demonstration at the South Bend City Council building, organized by local rapper “Blu” Casey, special education teacher Regina Williams and Gladys Muhammad, associate director of the South Bend Heritage Foundation. Petrovic estimated 25 Notre Dame students attended. She said the group joined with the community organizers in order to show solidarity with South Bend.

“When there’s no community solidarity, you can’t take solid action and meet the problems that are going on,” Petrovic said. “There’s long been a chasm between the Notre Dame community and the South Bend community, so we want to dissolve that chasm.”

Small-group discussions in which community members developed action plans followed the die-in at the City Council building, which also lasted 4.5 minutes. Sophomore Jourdyhn Williams, Notre Dame NAACP’s Diversity Council representative, attended the South Bend and Notre Dame die-ins and said her group discussed resurrecting the “I, Too, Am Notre Dame” photo project.

“Our group mostly consisted of Notre Dame students,” Williams said. “Our biggest issue was trying to bridge the gap between Notre Dame students and the South Bend community because on campus a lot of people say we’re in our own bubble.

“Basically one of the things we proposed was bringing back the photo project that was started last year by a student who graduated that was called ‘I, Too Am Notre Dame.’”

Williams said she was glad her community was able to demonstrate in a constructive way.

“I was obviously hurt by the [Ferguson and Staten Island] decisions,” she said. “It makes me sad to see things that are going on across the country. The protests — people breaking into things, tearing up the city — I also don’t think that’s the response that people should take because if we want to be treated as equals, we can’t be going around tearing up property and want equality or want justice, because we’re falling into the trap that they’re setting for us.”

Tuesday’s Notre Dame die-in lasted 11 minutes, symbolizing the 11 times Garner said, “I can’t breathe” before he died. Junior Alex Rice, president of the Africana Studies Club, said she was struck by the number and diversity of people who attended.

“It was a large group, and not just large, the makeup of the crowd was very diverse,” Rice said. “You had faculty, you had administrators — some of them I’d never seen but they came out in support. I just hope that community feels empowered to keep meeting, keep doing things. I know it’s kind of hard because we are leaving in a week, but I hope we still hear that same kind of fervor and excitement and involvement into next semester.”

Wednesday, a dinner and discussion session will take place at Legends at 7:30. Petrovic said the event will be a way to plan for the future.

“We’re going to come out of it with an action plan going into next semester, of what we’re going to do to keep these conversations going,” Petrovic said. “How do we want to keep raising awareness and keep getting people to engage in these conversations that they wouldn’t necessarily?”

Petrovic said the event will also be an opportunity for people who disagreed with the demonstrations to join the discussion.

“We really want our non-sympathizers to come out,” she said. “We don’t want them to stay silent or feel like we don’t want to engage with them because we do.”

Thursday, the organizers plan to set up a display between DeBartolo and O’Shaughnessy Halls.

Kathryn Lance, a PhD student in the Peace Studies Program, said the week is a way for students to take action in the context of their own environment.

“Taking part in actions such as those being coordinated on campus this week and hopefully in the upcoming semester help people to feel less hopeless and defeated and may even make them feel more empowered,” she said. “It is a way for us as single individuals to tap into a wider, nationwide movement that is standing up, speaking out and demanding change.”

Petrovic said she heard racial slurs and curse words during Tuesday’s die-in and saw negative comments on social media sites such as Yik Yak, but she was encouraged by the numbers and diversity of the demonstrators.

“We want to make sure, when things like this happen, we feel a sense of community that shows that not just black people are concerned about this,” Petrovic said. “It’s not just Latinos who are concerned about this. If you look at the die-in earlier, there were way more white people than black people.

“That gives us in the black community and Latino community a sense of comfort and solidarity in knowing that we’re not the only ones who care about our lives. We’re not the only ones who feel a sense of loss or a sense of grieving when things like this happen.”

Notre Dame Fire Department celebrates 135th anniversary

From The Observer

The Notre Dame Fire Department (NDFD) conducts a fire drill for each dorm twice a semester. Thursday afternoon, it was Mod Quad’s turn.

The firefighters on shift — Captain Michael Holdeman, firefighters Damien Cruz and Wayne Bishop and fire protection technician Dwight Niles — as well as Amy Geist from the Office of Human Resources and her yellow lab Dakota, piled into two fire trucks and drove around the corner to Pasquerilla East Hall for the day’s first drill.

IMG_20141204_133332Emily McConville | The Observer

Firefighter Damien Cruz and fire protection technician Dwight Niles drive to Pasquerilla East Hall for the first of five fire drills on Mod Quad on Dec. 4. Cruz said the fire trucks can pump 1,500 gallons of water per minute.

NDFD’s job was to walk in, trip the fire alarm, ensure everyone left the building in a timely manner and check for any fire code violations. They took the elevator, one man getting off at each floor. Cruz reached the fourth floor, where a few PE residents were studying in a lounge.

“Let me know when you guys are ready,” Bishop’s voice said from a walkie-talkie.

“We are ready on four,” Cruz replied.

One by one, the firefighters radioed in. One of them reminded Bishop to check the chapel.

A few seconds later, the fire alarm screeched through the building.

Cruz said the fire drills have only been this frequent for awhile, since the Clery Act required them, but NDFD has been doing this sort of thing — inspecting buildings, overseeing drills and responding to emergencies, fire and otherwise — since 1879. According to a University press release, it is the first and oldest campus fire department in the country. It celebrated its 135th anniversary Nov. 21.

When the fire alarm rang on Thursday, the PE residents in the fourth floor lounge jumped, then began to make their way downstairs and out of the building.

“Is this real?” one girl asked Cruz. He said he gets that a lot.

“We’re supposed to treat everything like it’s real,” Cruz said. “I’ll stand right here just for a few seconds. It clears out, the other wing, then I’ll give the all clear on this floor.”

Cruz began to walk down one hallway, nudging and occasionally knocking on doors. After only a few seconds, the floor appeared to be empty.

“We’re a little more lenient if there’s anybody in the shower or anyone with crutches or wheelchairs,” Cruz said. “In a real emergency, we ask them to wait in the stairwell, and we’ll come up and get them.”

“Third floor is clear,” Niles said from the walkie-talkie. Cruz turned around, went through the floor’s second section and gave his own all-clear.

On the way back, Cruz pointed at Christmas lights hung from the ceiling in a zigzag pattern. Not the best place for them, he said, but as long as they didn’t obstruct fire detectors or firefighters themselves, they could let it slide.

“Something that’s really going to catch our eye is if it’s wrapped around a sprinkler head or if it’s struck in a doorway that’s supposed to close,” Cruze said. “Usually little stuff like this, we’ll let it go.”

The firefighters and Geist congregated in the lobby as PE residents filed back in after only a couple minutes outside. Then they walked over to Knott Hall and repeated the procedure. (“I just wanted to take a nap!” one resident said on the way down).

After the second drill, the firefighters stuck around for a few minutes and chatted in lobby with students and hall staff. A few guys pet Dakota and tried to convince rector Patrick Kincaid to get a dog, while the firefighters talked about getting a dog themselves.

Emily McConville

This part of the job, 32-year veteran Bishop said, is his favorite.

“Interacting with students, faculty and staff,” he said.

NDFD was created after most of campus burned down in April 23, 1879. Cruz said until 1995, when it hired its first full-time firefighter, the station was staffed with priests, brothers and student volunteers.

Now, with 18 staff members, four of whom cover each 24-hour shifts, the department covers all buildings on the Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross campuses, and gives and receives help from nearby fire departments for bigger emergencies and football games, Cruz said.

Though the department was created because of a devastating blaze, Cruz said today, most of the station’s runs, or responses to calls, deal with something other than fire.

“We do a lot of medicals, a lot of investigations — we smell this, we smell that, we spilled this in this chemical lab, we spilled this in this science lab,” he said. “The majority of our runs — we don’t have too many fires on campus. Every building on campus is sprinkled … I wouldn’t say [fire is] impossible, but it’s not very likely.”

When the station gets a call — Cruz said it happens about three to five times a day, and ten times as often on football game days — it’s either a dispatch from Notre Dame Security Police or a fire alarm in a building, which runs through an analog system that alerts the firefighters through a series of bells.

“Every building on campus and at Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross has a number assigned to it, and the number of times it rings signifies where we go,” Cruz said. “For example, the number of the firehouse is 333, so it rings three times, two second break, ring three times, two second break, ring three times. So we count the bells, and we know where we’re going.”

NDFD has three fire trucks at its disposal, all of which hold 500 gallons of water and can pump 1,500 gallons a minute, Cruz said. In addition to buildings, the station covers five lakes, so it also has a boat at its disposal. At least one firefighter per shift is trained in diving.

Cruz said the department’s average response time is two minutes. The station has computers on each floor as well as in the apparatus bay and in the fire engines themselves, so by the time they get to where the call is — a dorm, for example — they know as much about the emergency as possible.

“We get to the dorm and we’ve got one guy who will go to the alarm panel, and he’s stationed there. That’s his location, to silence it or tell us, hey, we’ve got something else going on in here. The rest of the guys go upstairs or to wherever the alarm is, and we’re investigating it.”

When the department isn’t responding to emergencies, Cruz said it performs various services, whether maintaining fire safety at football games or overseeing normal campus activities.

“We cover everything on campus that goes on, so bonfires we have to light and babysit. Any kind of sports on campus we’re involved in, either watching … we’re managing it,” he said. “Or, for instance, they’re having a dinner at DPAC for a Snite gathering, and we have to provide emergency medical coverage and fire watch. They’ll have live flames on candles for the dinner, so they’ll shut the fire alarm system down. You can’t do that for any building without having a firefighter there for what we call fire watch to make sure nothing happens.”

Cruz said the department is also one of the main groups responding to electrical problems, such as the recent South Quad power outage or the larger outage in June, which left several people stuck in elevators.

“They were dealing with elevator entrapments,” he said. “So the power goes out; the elevator stops where it’s at. I think they did maybe 10 of those.”

Cruz said the station often receives visitors, whether interested visitors or alumni who participated in NDFD’s 135-year history.

“We get visitors from everywhere who stop by,” he said. “That, to me, is always the exciting part.”

The anniversary, said fire chief Bruce Harrison, was business as usual.

“We quietly did our job,” he said. “That was our celebration. We’re just happy to be here.”