This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Dwenger Hall

Dwenger Hall at Saint Joseph's College is easily recognized because, unlike all the other campus buildings, it is constructed of concrete blocks rather than bricks.
Dwenger Hall was completed in 1907. It was named after Joseph Dwenger, a bishop of the diocese of Fort Wayne and also a member of the order of the Precious Blood, the order which founded the college. He died in 1893. The building was designed and the construction supervised by Fr. Seifert, who was president of the college at the time.

There are a number of buildings in Rensselaer that were constructed of similar concrete blocks, and I think most of them were built in the early twentieth century. For example, there are three houses near Cullen and Oak made of similar blocks. Were these blocks produced in Rensselaer? There was some kind of concrete factory active long ago north of the railroad tracks.

A few of the blocks on the porch have a raised decorative design of grapes.
Dwenger Hall served primarily as a infirmary and health center until 1982. In the early days of the college, the dorm rooms were not like modern dorm rooms, small rooms occupied by one or two students. They were large rooms filled with beds. (In the 1960s these still existed--I lived in several.) So when a student got sick, he needed to be isolated from the rest of the population. (Again, I attended an educational institution in Minnesota that was probably quite similar to Saint Joseph's in those days, and I spent a few days in its infirmary.)

For about a decade after the infirmary closed, the building was used for faculty offices. In the 1960s, before I came to Rensselaer, faculty offices were in the main building that burned in the 1970s. Most faculty offices were then moved to Gaspar Hall for several years. For some reason Gasper was deemed an inappropriate office building, and they were moved out. (Gasper Hall was demolished in the 1990s.) Most went to Merlini, but a few ended up in Aquinas. After one year, they were then moved to Dwenger. Finally, the offices were moved to the new Core Building when it opened.

One person who had an office in Dwenger was David Osterfeld. You can see his old office window on the second floor above the porch--it is the one to the right. David was probably the most successful of all St. Joseph's College faculty in the arena of publication. His highpoint was the book Prosperity Versus Planning, published by the Oxford University Press in 1992. (He mentioned me in a favorable way in the preface to this book.) His work attracted the attention of some important scholars, and he spent a semester at one of the Washington think tanks (Heritage, I believe.) He died unexpectedly in the early 1990s.

I believe that students moved into Dwenger for a year or two after the faculty offices left. The last use of the building was for some student offices, such as for the student newspaper.  It has been empty since sometime in the 1990s. You might notice that all the windows have the curtains drawn. This is because the original windows did not look good, so they were all removed and the present windows are simply panes of Plexiglas with a black framing. They may look nice but they would not work as real windows if the building was reoccupied.
One of the peculiarities of the Dwenger Hall as an office building was that the sizes of the rooms varied greatly. The corner offices in the front were huge and the corner offices in the back of the building were quite large. The other offices were quite small. In contrast, all faculty offices in the new Core Building are almost identical in size.

There were several offices in the basement. The top floor was used a bit by the art department, such as it was at the time. It was one large room.

The current president of Saint Joseph's College has called Dwenger the white elephant in the middle of campus. He says that the college needs to either renovate it or tear it down. I would like to see it renovated, but I wonder if renovation can be justified on a costs-benefit basis. The floors and the staircase are made of wood, which probably is a problem from a fire-code point of view. The building would probably have to have the interior gutted. There is currently no need for additional space.

The Jasper County Interim Report does not mention Dwenger Hall. I suspect that its omission was a mistake.


Ed said...

Where was Gaspar? I don't remember it, I also didn't realize that you only moved into Dwenger in the early 80's, I always thought that you had been there for quite awhile.

Anonymous said...

For some reason I thought the building had asbestos and that is why they have not torn it down yet.

Capouch said...

I'm pretty sure Dwenger was abandoned at the same time the new Core building was occupied; 1995? It wasn't used after that point.

Gaspar Hall sat right east of Merlini; there is a bit of its sidewalk still there just east of the walk going along Merlini to the Post Office.

Gaspar was torn down in 1982, the first year that I taught at Saint Joe. It was an impressive building, but for whatever reason Fred Plant, who ironically was the person in charge of our physical plant at the time, decided it had to come down. It's a pity.

Michael J Oakes said...

I think David Osterfeld spent some time at the Cato Institute. His book cover was framed on a publication wall some years ago when I attended a conference on China. Here is a list of some work he did with The Freeman: