Ballard Hall: Out of the Ashes, a New Building Rises

Ballard Hall, the mythical Phoenix of Whitworth College.

Ballard Hall is home to about 66 young women, forming part of the historic community with McMillan Hall, known on campus as "BMAC". Ballard is a hall known for its rich history and long standing traditions, as well as a close sisterhood and a tight brother-sister relationship with McMillan Hall. Ballard was the second building built on Whitworth's Spokane campus, with its completion in 1915, Ballard was originally the men's dormitory, along with the science labs and the Dean's apartment. Ballard was named for Captain W.R. Ballard of Seattle, for whom the neighborhood in Seattle was named, in 1924. Captain Ballard served as a long time trustee of the college beginning in 1892.

Whitworth College, after moving from Tacoma, opened in Spokane in September 1914 with the completed Young Ladies' Dormitory, today known as McMillian Hall. "The basement of the Young Men's Dormitory (what would later be known as Ballard) was ready by October for 15 students.

On March 8, 1927, disaster struck. A fire was discovered by senior Carl Boppell, who lived on the third floor. Students scrambled to carry out furniture and belongings from the fire, but the building itself could not be saved. While firemen quickly arrived on the scene, they suffered from inadequate equipment and had to stand by as Ballard was enveloped in wind-fueled flames, working instead to save McMillan Hall. Dean Orrin Tiffany's extensive library collection and his wife's doctoral research notes were lost in the fire. As mentioned in Kathryn Bockman's account in the yearbook in 1927, the Whitworth community gathered together to sing the Alma Mater as fire crews worked to put out the fire and Ballard Hall lay in a smoldering heap.

In the aftermath of the fire, classes carried on in McMillan Hall, and the women "doubled up" on the second floor, with the men of Ballard Hall moving onto the third floor, utilizing the fire escapes to enter and exit from their new quarters. After the fire, the college worked hard to rebuild quickly, both physically and in morale. The front page of the Whitworthian from March 30, 1927 contains several articles pertaining to the rebuilding of Ballard Hall. "A donation of five thousand dollars by Miss Sarah Beaty of Center, Ohio, is the latest encouragement received by President W. A. Stevenson in his planning of a new Ballard Hall. Construction began to rebuild Ballard in June 1927, and construction was completed in December. Ballard remained home to the men of the college until the late 1930's when Ballard Hall was converted into an additional women's dormitory. The difference of the old and new Ballard is that the front is extended out while the main wings of the building is receded back.

World War Two dramatically reduced enrollment at Whitworth College. However, in the wake of Pearl Harbor, people of Japanese descent across the west coast were forced to enter internment camps or move inland. Several Japanese families came to Spokane, and "in 1944, ten percent of the student body was Japanese American, including nearly half of the basketball team." Several Japanese-American women lived in Ballard Hall at this time, and their picture hangs over the fireplace in memory of their inclusion into the Whitworth community at a time when those of Japanese descent were seen as the enemy.

In the 2000's, Ballard reinvented itself as a strong sisterhood with an equally strong connection to McMillan Hall. As a tight community housed in the oldest buildings on campus, the two halls filled the roles of sorority and fraternity, providing a place for students to feel at home and connected. Emilee Bosh, a four-year Ballard Alum from the class of 2009, explained how Ballard came to be defined in her last years as the most desired dorm to live in on campus. In the early 2000's, many of the traditions that continue today were established or reinstated, such as Milk and Cookies every Wednesday. These traditions and the strong community feel are strong components of Ballard today, and the close knit "family" is what draws many residents to Ballard each year. Today, a highlight of Ballard traditions is the Ballard Tea. This tradition involved the men of McMillan Hall putting on a talent show and serving tea and cookies to the ladies of Ballard who come to the chapel beautifully dressed up. Every year on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, the entire BMAC community gathers together around a long table set up through the first floor of McMillan Hall to share a meal together, ending with singing carols gathered around the piano in the lounge. This tradition in particular showcases the strong bond between the two residence halls, as well as the sense of family fostered by their residents.

The Fire (3:06)
Dorothy and I awoke suddenly in what seemed to be the middle of the night. But we heard voices, people running through the halls, girls calling to each other, footsteps running outside. This was no proper mode of action in the middle of the night or early morning! I called to Dorothy, as she sat up in bed, I heard her gasp and try to speak, but speech would not come. The windows were red with a strange light, the kind of light that is seen through icing-glass in stoves. Up we jumped out of bed to the window. Ballard Hall was aflame! Boys were running and calling to each other. Some were carrying bedding and all sorts of property to all parts of the already strewn campus. Most of them were running around half dressed. As we looked, several came out of Ballard Hall with arms loaded while others were re-entering the building. Not being able to see the full extent of the fire I rushed to the other window, the side window. With a jerk of the blind which sent it flying upward, the whole scene burst upon me. Ballard Hall was one mass of flames. I did not need to look long: it was not necessary, the awfulness of its grandeur was appalling. With another glance, I turned away; there were other things to be done. Rushing out into the hall we found that the other girls were gathering together as many of their belongings as possible. Returning to our room, we hastily dressed, and did the same. A queer procession it was as we with hands and arms loaded, trundled down the stairs and across the campus. The morning was bitter cold, and the wind, which was blowing terrifically, acted as if desirous of blowing us away. Sparks from the burning building rained upon us and burned various articles strewn about the campus before the conflagration was noticed. The fire engine soon arrived, but it was impossible to save Ballard Hall, so all attention was turned to saving McMillan Hall. The wind blew sparks directly towards our dormitory, and this, added to the proximity of the two buildings, made the danger very great indeed. But water was turned to our roof, soon freezing and making a coat of ice, and the danger gradually lessened. The time came when there was little left to do but watch. With varied emotions we looked upon the ruins of Ballard Hall. How greedily the flames lived every available surface, and relentless and awesome as they were, they nevertheless seemed to grip us with an awful fascination. It was a dejected looking group that gathered in the "Rec" room. Sleepy and tired, numb and cold, most of the boys half dressed, we looked like a refugees' camp. But it was when we sent our "Alma Mater" ringing out, that a hard lump filled our throats and a mist spread before our eyes. Never before not never since have I heard our college song sung with suck vim and meaning, for a deeper realization of what Whitworth meant to each one of us and thankfulness that the tragedy had been no worse filled our hearts to overflowing. Then when at chapel, Dr. Tiffany read the telegram from President Stevenson, "We will rebuild Whitworth bigger and better," the student body stood as it ever will stand, ready to take up our share of bringing about that bigger and better Whitworth. - Kathryn Bockman, '30.