The Emerald is continuing its series on names of University of Oregon campus buildings this week with the Collier House. Check out the previous building stories on Prince Lucien Campbell Hall, Lillis Hall, Gerlinger Hall and Condon Hall.

Partially obscured by decades of old trees and shrubbery, the Collier House is not immediately noticeable to passers-by, and its history is similarly shrouded in mystery. Built in 1886 by George H. Collier, a former physics and chemistry professor at the University of Oregon, the house has played many roles to the campus community over the years.

After Collier retired from teaching in 1896, he sold the house and corresponding 9.5 acres of surrounding land to the school for $5,000, according to the Historic Survey Resource Form conducted by the UO Cultural Resources Survey.

Charles Hiram Chapman, UO president at the time of the sale, began the tradition of university presidents residing in Collier House in 1896, moving his family into the upstairs level of the house, as the downstairs adopted the university library holdings until a formal library building could be built. In 1900, the Board of Regents voted to make Collier House (at the time simply called South Hall) the official residence of university presidents.

The Collier House circa 1900. (Courtesy of UO special archives)

During the tenure of former President Prince Lucien Campbell from 1902 to 1925, the Collier House was “the very center of university life and activity,” according to a Collier House renovation review in the UO Special Archives. Campbell reportedly encouraged intellectual and cultural mixing, hosting visiting dignitaries, or even concerts and parties at the house. 

The Collier House remained the official residence for UO presidents until 1941, when the building was converted to house the UO Faculty Club. The house was to faculty what the EMU is to students today. It was retrofitted with a dining area, kitchen, billiard table and recreation room. Lunch and tea were routinely served, along with many faculty social events.

In 1976, the Collier House was added to the city of Eugene’s historic landmark list, per request of members of the Collier family. In 1980 the building was formally renamed in George Collier’s honor.

“It’s architecturally significant because it’s one of the rare examples of that style existing in Eugene,” said Ed Teague, head of the Architecture and Allied Arts Library, “and also it’s one of the oldest buildings left on campus.”

However, the Collier House seen today is a far-cry from it’s previous activity over the years. Since the closure of the Faculty Club in 2003, the house is now used for classrooms, small music recitals and faculty offices. The inactivity of the building combined with its centralized location has raised some internal questions in Campus Planning as to its long term value to campus.

“A big building can be put where Collier House is now,” Teague said. “Particularly if it goes up to four stories.”

According to the Campus Physical Framework Project of 2015, on which Teague was a member, the Collier House was identified as a building that is “sensitive to redevelopment in the next 20 years,” opening the door to the possibility of demolishing or replacing the structure.

“Some alternative design schemes were discussed, some of them without Collier House,” Teague said. “That was the same time the EMU was rebuilt and [the proposed] idea was to extend that plaza across the street.”

Teague noted however that several obstacles stand in the way of a possible Collier destruction. Firstly, the historical landmark title would have to be removed from the house in order to perform anything more than a renovation of the building. Additionally, the large trees and landscaping surrounding the house would have to be removed, something Teague said could be the real challenge.

Even if the Collier House is eventually done away with, Teague values the open space a removal of Collier could provide for the campus.

“It’s prime real estate right in the middle of campus,” Teague said, “and it takes up a lot of space — so the fact it has historical value as a city of Eugene landmark and emotional attachment is why it’s contentious.”

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