Have you noticed Staughton Hall? It’s that three story, human-scale, white brick building at 707 22nd St. – next door to the back of Gelman Library and the GWU Police/Emergency building and that little park you walk through on your way to Leo’s GW Deli. It was built in 1916 as an apartment building, and has had a somewhat interesting history, more relevant to GWU than Foggy Bottom in general. It housed soldiers during WW2, served as GWU’s second Women’s Dormitory, and was a center of GWU-conducted Cold War era research for the U.S. Navy.
GWU has filed for a raze permit to demolish Staughton Hall. At a time when GWU appears to have shortages of student and classroom space, its demolition of serviceable buildings seems odd. In the light of GWU’s claimed commitment to the environment, its lack of interest in adapting historic buildings for current use also seems odd; after all the greenest building is one already standing. In any case, if GWU can afford to demolish these buildings, it can afford to commission a report documenting the building’s history. Although the building will be gone, at least its history can be preserved. And GWU should adopt a policy of such documentation.
Staughton Hall started out as the Madeira apartment building, built in approximately 1912. The building had 12 apartments and one basement apartment. It continued as an apartment building through 1941.
GWU bought the building in 1942 and remodeled it, painting the brick white (as it remains today). Initially conceived as a men’s dormitory, it housed servicemen in 1942. Staughton Hall opened as a women’s dormitory in 1943. It was to house about 100 women, including women who worked for the federal government and took night classes, as well as Navy nurses taking special courses at GWU. Thereafter it housed about 80 women, including many day students. It was GWU’s second women’s dormitory, Strong Hall having opened in 1937. Unlike Strong, Staughton did not have a phone in every room. GWU closed Staughton as a dormitory in 1950.
In 1951, the building housed the GWU Logistics Project. The project used a digital Office of Naval Research relay computer named “Abel.” The computer was 20 feet long, seven feet high, and two feet deep, and contained about 350 vacuum tubes and 700 relays. It was maintained by electrical engineering students, making GWU the only area school at which students could work with computers. The computer was designed to solve the problems of Navy logistics, addressing supply issues. Staughton Hall also housed a U.S. Army study in psychological warfare in 1951. Staughton continued to host military logistics research through the Vietnam War and was the subject of an unsuccessful effort at occupation by anti war protestors in 1970. In 1976, GW moved the Engineering Administrative Offices to Staughton Hall. Starting in 1986, the Department of Defense Science and Engineering Apprentice Programs were administered from Staughton Hall.
Staughton Hall is named for the Rev. Dr. William Staughton, first president of GWU (then Colombian College), who served from 1821-1827. Staughton had previously served as Principal of the Baptist Theological Institution in Philadelphia, which was the predecessor of Columbian College. Staughton continued as President of Columbian College when the operation was moved to Washington D.C. He also taught theological and classical courses at the College, including General History, Belles Lettres, Rhetoric, Moral Philosophy and Divinity, and Pulpit Eloquence. He presided over the first commencement in 1824. During his tenure as President, Staughton simultaneously served as Chaplain of the Congress for two session. After five years serving as President in 1827, Staughton resigned due to the College’s financial troubles. No word on whether GWU will bestow the Staughton name on anything else.
GWU excluded Staughton hall from the GWU/Old West End Historic District and it and the land at the corner of G and 22nd is slated for development sometime in the future. The GWU Strategic Facilities and Campus Master Plan https://ourmasterplan.gwu.edu/ envisions a New Student Center/Technology Hub/Center for Entrepreneurship occupying that site, as well as replacing the current EMS/Police building (built 1874), and the existing small park.
Sources: GWU, Digital Editions of the Hatchet and The Cherry Tree; Elmer Louis Keyser, Bricks Without Straw: The Evolution of George Washington University, 1970.