University of Chicago to Close Pierce Dorm

By Sam Cholke on December 17, 2012 2:46pm 

 The University of Chicago will demolish Pierce Tower to build a new dormitory.
The University of Chicago will demolish Pierce Tower to build a new dormitory.
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DNAInfo/Sam Cholke

HYDE PARK — After students complained about deteriorating conditions in a University of Chicago dorm, the school will close the Pierce Tower dormitory at the end of the academic year and plans to demolish the dorm and build new student housing on the site.

“It’s really sad to see it go,” said Yihao Jiang, a second year economics major, outside the 5514 S. University Ave. dorms. “We have these huge lounges we all congregate in. The Pierce culture is very close knit.”

Pierce has 250 of the smallest rooms on campus, arranged in two-level houses circling a central two-story high lounge. The 10-story dorm, which is home to the Tufts, Henderson, Thompson and Shorey student houses, will close at the end of the academic year. A new dorm and dining hall will be built on the site and the adjoining North Field and is expected to open in 2016. The athletics turf serving the Henry Crown Field House will be replaced with a new field on East 61st Street.

Built in 1960 in the Brutalist architectural style, upkeep on the dorm appears to be slipping. The university student government launched a campaign in February to secure repairs on the building after a toilet exploded.

“On the floor there were rivers of excrement and urine and pieces of porcelain,” Michelle Rodriguez, a member of student government, said in a Youtube video posted on Feb. 29. Rogriguez itemized a list of problems at Pierce, including intermittent hot water, un-insulated steam pipes, broken door locks, unreliable elevators and other problems.

Administrators met with students about the maintenance issues and, according to the university, students are involved in planning the new dormitory.

It is unclear whether the new dorm will carry on the Pierce name. The dorm was named for Stanley “Schnitz” Pierce, an alum and former Maroon halfback from 1911 to 1913, who donated the funds he acquired as a broker to the university. Pierce left the university to find his fortune, according to Jay Pridmore in “University of Chicago: The Campus Guide.

 Pierce Tower on the University of Chicago was built with gold found buried in alum Stanley “Schnitz” Pierce's backyard.
Pierce Tower on the University of Chicago was built with gold found buried in alum Stanley “Schnitz” Pierce's backyard.
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DNAInfo/Sam Cholke

“Shortly after Pierce’s death, his lawyers found a series of numbers among his papers which they rightly guessed to be the combination to a safe in the shed behind the home. It was opened and inside was a note saying that the money was buried in the backyard. Some vague directions led the hunters to dig under a pear tree where they found $20,000 in gold coins and another note. In time more than $200,000 in antique gold coins was found buried; this and more conventionally deposited assets brought the Pierce bequest to about a million dollars,” Pridmore wrote.

The university used the gold to build the dorms for $2.4 million, according to university archives. A second tower was planned but never built.

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