The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

84° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    A glimpse into the past: How dorm life has evolved

    How would you feel about living in a residence hall with no air conditioning, no electricity or phone service?   

    These were the living conditions faced by the residents of North Hall, the first dorm built on campus in 1896.

    People were still fishing in the Santa Cruz River in the downtown area in 1898, said Peter Dourlein, interim associate vice president of Planning, Design and Construction. “”A mule-powered streetcar was first put into service, pressurized water was recently put into service; the first bathtub in Tucson connected to water wouldn’t occur until 1904.””

    Dourlein said that this required the construction of a new sewage conveyance system such as out-houses; cesspools would be over capacity with the added water.

    He added that today’s buildings are system intensive — involving mechanical air conditioning, heating and filtering systems with high tech controls and lighting systems.

    This includes everything from outlets and lights to elevators and fire alarm systems.

    North Hall was later converted into offices and classrooms and then demolished in 1957, according to “”A Photographic History of the University of Arizona,”” a book by Phyllis Ball.

    Aside from the difference in facilities, it was a lot cheaper to build a dorm in that time than it is today.

    North Hall cost $10,711 to build, according to Melissa Dryden, senior program coordinator for Planning, Design and Construction.

    Today, the two construction projects located on Euclid Avenue and Sixth Street, and Highland Avenue and Sixth Street cost a combined $159 million to build.

    Manzanita Residence Hall, located on the west side of campus, became the UA’s first coed dorm in 1976.

    Jim Van Arsdel, director of Residence Life, has been a witness to the changes on the UA campus for 24 years. Arsdel came in 1986 and remembers visitation hours, meaning that women residents could not have guests of the opposite sex in their rooms after midnight during the week and past 2 a.m. on weekends.

    When he arrived at the UA, Hopi Residence Hall, Cochise Residence Hall and other buildings lacked air conditioning, Arsdel said. They only had evaporative cooling in the lounge space area.  

    “”It was a different world back then,”” Arsdel said. “”People who are old-time Tucson residents here that I know talk about growing up in houses that had bare concrete floors, and when they wanted to cool the house, they would throw water on the floor and spread it around. As the water evaporated, the house would cool.””

    Refrigerators and microwaves did not exist back then, he said, nor did fire protection devices such as sprinklers, detectors and emergency stairwells.

    “”If you look at some older halls like Yavapai, Gila and Yuma, you see the added stairwell outside the building,”” Arsdel said, “”because they were built in the early 1980s. Before then, there were no emergency stairwells, and the buildings were a more dangerous place than they are now.””

    There was also a major difference when it came to communication, he said, since cell phones were nonexistent.

    “”If I wanted to call someone I would call the front desk of a residence hall, and they would buzz you,”” he said. “”There was a certain code for each person, and if you got a call you would hear the buzzer and take the call in the hallway.””


    Some other dormitories built in the early years of the UA included East Cottage and West Cottage, which were built in 1892 and housed women.

    Men were temporarily housed in Old Main until North Hall was built.

    Arsdel remembers the women’s rights movement initiating in the early ‘60s and late ‘70s on the liberal University of Illinois campus where he attended school.

    He said on his campus they had already accepted coed facilities and visitation rights, but the UA campus had not.

    The policies at the UA were mainly in place in an attempt to separate men and women, Arsdel said.  

    “”And everyone assumed that if you had these policies, you could keep men and women from engaging in sexual activities.””

    He added that people were expected to leave the residence halls at the times assigned, but some did not.

    “”It was painfully obvious that some of these rules were maybe well intended but were not having the impact they expected them to,”” he said.

    The policies began to change in the mid ‘80s when the university decided to commingle genders in the buildings.

    The only two buildings today that remain single-sex dorms are Maricopa and Parker House.  

    “”Students tended to love the coed dorms. It was seen as, ‘Oh this is going to be fun,’ and on a more meaningful level, students saw it as the university treating them in a more adult-like fashion,”” Arsdel said.  

    The policy was then that students could have visitors 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with permission from their roommates. This would force students to interact and respect one another.

    “”Part of living in a residence hall is experiencing a group living experience,”” he said.

    “”There are all kinds of issues in life that need to be negotiated by people, and as freshman, they have little experience doing that.””

    Arsdel explains that in the process of coming to the UA, which was a relatively conservative school compared to the University of Illinois, he was surprised that the women’s movement did not carry the same urgency among students than it did at his other school.

    More to Discover
    Activate Search