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Ravaged by a storm, a sturdier Swallow Hall is rebuilt with sweat and steel

Seventy years after it was hit by a tornado, Swallow Hall was restored to its original splendor under the supervision of Jude Wawrzyniak.

Multimedia and text by Lee Jian Chung

On Sept. 21, 1931, a tornado ravaged the university grounds. The storm was so strong, it ripped off the roof of Swallow Hall, according to an article the next day in the Columbia Daily Tribune.

“The south turret was knocked from the building,” the article said.

The Columbia Missourian also reported that “several large windows were broken and the upper floors flooded.” The cost of damage was estimated to be between $25,000 and $45,000, according to the newspaper.

When the rubble was cleared, the north tower was removed to preserve the building’s symmetrical facade – a decision made because of financial constraints. Because the tornado took place during the Great Depression, the university did not have sufficient funds to restore the blown-off south tower, said Kee Groshong, a former MU vice chancellor.

Swallow Hall was further plagued by structural problems. A letter dated Dec. 19, 1956, written by Dean W. Francis English stated that Swallow Hall was “unsound” and “weak.” A document from the university archives also recorded that the “library auditorium was so cold in the southwest corner due to missing doors.” There were several other maintenance issues, including the deteriorating wood structure beneath its floors, poor exterior brickwork and water leaks.

In 1969, a survey of the building recorded that the cost of renovating Swallow Hall would be “excessive.” It suggested that the land could be put to better use if the building was torn down. But the building held its ground. A later report in 1975 determined the building could still “serve well for a number of years” if more renovations were carried out.

In 2001, the “witch’s hat” spires were restored to Swallow Hall along with exterior repairs. The old spires were made of wooden structures, but the new spires were framed with steel. Steel columns now run from the spires to the turrets below, making the witch’s hats sturdier than before.

Jude Wawrzyniak, the project manager for the repair of Swallow Hall in 2001, said the cost of renovating the building was not as expensive as earlier generations thought it would be. The project cost $2 million, according to the Columbia Daily Tribune.

Wawrzyniak said it has been exciting to restore Swallow Hall back to the building’s “character of 1893.” He said buildings such as Swallow Hall are what lead back to the university’s beginnings and there is an obligation to restore them. Swallow Hall now houses the Department of Anthropology and Museum of Anthropology.

Without the most recent renovations, the Swallow Hall exterior would have gone into disrepair and eventually would have lost its features, Wawrzyniak said.

“If we keep going that way, in another 30 to 40 years, we’ll just end up with brick boxes.”