Bringing back the beauty of the Women’s Building

Oregon State chooses to restore instead of re-do

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Many would agree that the Women’s Building on the Oregon State University campus is one of the most – if not the most – beautiful buildings on campus.

Built in 1926-27, Oregon State University architect John V. Bennes designed the Women’s Building to function as the women’s gymnasium.

Housing the College of Public Health and Human Sciences’ Dean’s Office, the Office of Student Success and Kinesiology faculty, the building has maintained it’s original purpose, offering CPHHS programs and classes focused on physical activity for students, faculty, staff and community members.

The final product.

The final product.

The large gym on the building’s main floor, two large dance studios, a swimming pool and additional rooms used for yoga, Pilates, back conditioning and more are used for Faculty Staff Fitness, Physical Activity Course Program and research programs in the college, including IMPACT (Individualized Movement and Physical Activity for Children Today), MS Exercise Program and Go Baby Go.

In addition to its functional purpose, the entrance of the Women’s Building, clad with arched windows and decorative details, is iconic to the university and often used as a backdrop in photos.

“Viewing old images of the Women’s Building showed me more than time stamps of the entrance over the decades, they showed past generations of students and staff proud to have their photos taken in front of OSU’s most compelling entrance design,” says Oregon State Painter Dave Cross, who is restoring the entrance to the Women’s Building. “My goal is that students, staff, administrators and donors once again choose to have their pictures taken before the elegant black walnut doors and arched glass entry.”

“My goal is that students, staff, administrators and donors once again choose to have their pictures taken before the elegant black walnut doors and arched glass entry.”

Dave Cross.

Oregon State Painter Dave Cross restores the Women’s Building.

Funded by Oregon State Facilities Services, Dave has been working on preserving the original elegance of the building since late July.

“Preservation of our historic monuments on campus is a priority of our Facilities director,” he says. “We strive to address the worst first when it comes to entranceways, and a decision was made to focus our attention on what many consider to be the most beautiful building at Oregon State.”

But preserving a nearly century-old building isn’t easy. After researching archived photos of the entrance and choosing the right tools and finishing products, Dave first had to remove previous failed attempts at refinishing the building, using a HEPA vacuum to eliminate harmful contact to passersby.

In the four months he’s been working on the project, he has removed the large decorative crest with a welcoming pineapple; stripped and refinished the crest and doors in the paint shop; re-painted the original hand painted “WOMEN’S BVILDING” lettering above the doors; removed and cleaned door hardware; and applied five coats of proprietary sealer and finish engineered to withstand UV radiation.

Photo courtesy

This image is from the 1940-41 Beaver Yearbook, and is of the Women’s Physical Education Club. Courtesy, Oregon State University Special Collections and Archive Research Center, Corvallis, OR.

“In many cases on campus, the integrity of the architect’s designs have been altered to accommodate for increased office space or cost-effective maintenance,” he says. “The Women’s Building, fortunately, has suffered very little encroachment from those forces. This, one of the last designs of architect John Bennes on OSU’s campus, and the only one with elements of the Italian Renaissance style, should always hold forth as it was originally built, regardless of difficulty.

“As retirement nears for me, I feel my commitment to preservation becoming stronger,” says Dave, who has restored the entrances to other college buildings including Milam and Langton. “I feel a connection to the architect who drew the plans on a drafting table, the tradesmen who labored here, the administration who hired them, the donors who backed the project and lastly to the living history and future of a building functioning as it was intended.”