Building legacies: Friendly Hall, a facility of firsts
The Emerald is continuing its series on names of University of Oregon campus buildings this week with Friendly Hall. Check out the previous building stories on Collier House, Prince Lucien Campbell Hall, Lillis Hall, Gerlinger Hall and Condon Hall.
Despite its nondescript appearance on campus, Friendly Hall has served as the location for many historic campus firsts.
Built in 1893, Friendly Hall served as the first dormitory at UO. It was also the first dorm in the United States that was co-ed designed, according to the UO Libraries Architecture of the University of Oregon’s website. The two main entrances — which are still used today — distinguished the living quarters. The northern entrance led to the women’s rooms and the southern entrance led to the men’s rooms.
Samson Friendly (1865-1915)
But this was not the only groundbreaking moment for Friendly Hall. The ex-dorm housed the first students of color at the UO. According to the UO Special Archives “Unbound” blog, Bobby Robinson and Charles Williams, the first African American student athletes at the UO, moved into Friendly Hall as sophomores in the fall of 1927. The university forbade the two football stars from living in the dormitory their freshmen year for fear over the local reaction to desegregation.
“It was a Ku Klux town and they thought there might be trouble from the townspeople,” Williams said in a 1974 Register Guard article. “We accepted that.”
It was only after their white teammates petitioned for Williams and Robinson to stay in Friendly Hall that the UO granted them space with the rest of the on-campus students. The space they were given was an apartment disconnected from the other dorms that required them to use a separate entrance to access.
“I suppose to the university it wasn’t quite the same as putting us right in the dorm,” Williams said in the same Register Guard article. “But it was to everyone else. We had the use of the dorm. We were right with the fellows we knew. We visited back and forth and did everything we wanted.”
Another Eugene civil rights icon who made his mark in Friendly Hall was Wiley Griffon, the first African American employee at UO. He served as the janitor for Friendly Hall during the building’s years as a dormitory. Despite Oregon’s exclusion laws that forbade African Americans from entering or owning property in the state, Griffon found his way into Eugene as a street car driver. Once the streetcar service ended, he found his role at the university.
Only two known photos of Griffon remain despite his significance, but accounts by various residents of Friendly Hall held him in high regard as a respected member of the community.
Friendly Hall was relieved of its residential duties when Straub Hall was built in 1928.
Today, the traditional red brick structure houses various liberal arts classes and faculty offices. Other than a few benches scattered around the exterior of Friendly Hall, the building is rarely a social gathering spot for current UO students. It remains today one of the last reminders of what the old campus looked like. Besides one major renovation in 1950, it looks identical to the building that the first UO students called home.
Follow Franklin on Twitter @Flewis_1.
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