Flashback • On Commons Ground
Commons building history dates back to Franklin campus
by Richard H. Harms, Archivist

Franklin Campus Commons Building
The Franklin Campus Commons was dedicated in February 1953.

Already in 1940, the Board of Trustees recognized the need for a commons building on the Franklin campus. At the time, the only dining facilities were in the men’s dorm, and the growing need for classroom space eliminated space for student organizations to meet. Neither was there a place where off-campus students could eat, nor a place where students could gather informally.

The post–World War II surge in student enrollment necessitated several building projects. Temporary buildings were erected, and off-campus space was rented to meet immediate needs. But more permanent solutions were needed. First, the library was expanded, followed by construction of the $1.5 million science building. The third major construction project was a commons building, designed by J. & G. Daverman and constructed by Owens-Ames-Kimball Co. The two-story commons provided space for 450 diners, a smaller 50-person dining room, a kitchen, a snack bar, a student lounge and meeting rooms on the upper level.

Excavation of the site began in early April 1952, once the “shack” had been taken down. The “shack,” which was a former army mess hall that the college had acquired in 1947, had housed the sciences and — after the opening of the science building — the music department. A shortage of steel due to the Korean War delayed construction a bit. But on November 10, 1952, the laying of the cornerstone was marked by an appropriate ceremony featuring the playing of “The Calvin College Commons March,” composed and conducted by student Dale Grotenhuis. According to a newspaper report, construction progress was closely monitored by the college’s new president, William Spoelhof, who “knew every brick used.” The dedication was part of the February 27, 1953, chapel service, and the formal opening occurred one month later.

The cost, just under $500,000, became part of a $2 million “Needs of Today” fundraising campaign, launched in the fall of 1952. The goal of the campaign, in addition to the commons, was to expand the administration building and construct two women’s dorms and a physical education building on land acquired one block east of the campus. Shortly after the commons was completed — as enrollment continued to rise beyond the projected new construction — the remaining major capital projects funded by the campaign were deferred. Instead, in the mid-1950s, land was purchased for the Knollcrest Campus, where a new Commons Building was completed in 1967.