National Register of Historic Places in Alameda County
Senior Hall, designed by John Galen Howard, is situated between the Men's Faculty Club and the Women's Faculty Club - three rustic buildings in a redwood grove beside Strawberry Creek.
Although John Galen Howard trained in the Beaux Arts tradition, this log cabin demonstrates his facility in a primitive vernacular style characteristic of early California buildings. Senior Hall is a prime example of a type of lumber construction at one time common and now almost extinct. The walls are constructed of indigenous redwood (sequoia sempervirens) logs with bark on, in both the exterior and interior. Each log measures about twenty inches in diameter.
The outside dimensions are 99 feet by 32 feet. The interior is divided into two rooms, one a large meeting room, the other a small secret chamber for the Order of the Golden Bear. The door to the secret chamber is constructed so that when closed there is no indication whatsoever of a second room.
Adapted from the NRHP nomination.
Benjamin Ide Wheeler came from Cornell University in 1899 to be president of the University. His first speech on campus was to the students, and to the end of his twenty-year tenure, he remained a champion of student rights. He introduced a new creed which he called student self-government.
Wheeler established an honor society composed of senior men holding important positions on campus, and exhibiting sound moral character. This society was called the Order of the Golden Bear, whose meetings were to be held in secrecy. Wheeler saw the order as a vital mechanism for wielding public opinion. Thus an hierarchal structure of respect was established among the students.
In 1903, at an initiation banquet held in San Francisco for the Order of the Golden Bear, Charles Mills Gayley, a professor of English, proposed the building of a hall for the exclusive use of the senior men . He thought it deplorable that the senior men had no meeting hall.
The Hall was to be regulated by the senior men, but in recognition of the funding and aid of the Order of the Golden Bear, the Order was given the secret chamber for its exclusive use.
On September 19, 1906 Senior Hall was dedicated by President Wheeler in a speech which stressed loyalty on the part of the students to themselves and to the University.
An article in the Daily Californian in 1909 expressed what Senior Hall did for the student government movement:
What was necessary of course was the cultivation of a healthy active public opinion among the seniors and this was happily provided for by the building of Senior Hall as a general rendezvous for senior men. At Senior Hall the students discuss college questions and decide upon them....
The permanence and effectiveness of senior control and the sphere of the undergraduate Students' Affairs Committee have never been in doubt since the building of Senior Hall. That Hall placed the senior class in the right attitude. When the public opinion for the senior class asserted itself in support of the movement it was a question of a very short time before the entire University community fell in behind student control as an institution of its own.
Since that time many of the members of the Order of the Golden Bear have become distinguished citizens of Berkeley and other communities.
In 1923 a new student union was built named the Henry Morse Stephens Memorial Hall, in order to accommodate the expanding campus. Since then Senior Men's Hall has played a less important role in student affairs although the Order of the Golden Bear continued to hold regular meetings there until the winter of 1973.
Adapted from the NRHP nomination.