Written for Fundamentals of Journalism course, unpublished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.”