September 12, 1954
Cost: $1.25 million
The Frank E. Robinson residence hall marked a dramatic shift from earlier halls. Instead of the single rooms and community bathrooms found in previous halls, Robinson saw the arrival of the "suite" style of rooms at Central. Robinson was the first at CMU and the second in the country to have individual bathrooms in each suite. It was featured in several publications in the 1950s as the ideal way to plan dormitories.
The hall, designed by Roger Allen of Grand Rapids, was dedicated on October 16, 1954. In a way, this was the end of a revolutionary design process in which students, faculty, staff, and the builders cooperated to design a hall that would please everyone. Using six-foot-high cinderblock mock-ups of the dorm rooms, students and staff were able to experiment with different room layouts as workers strained to push the heavy blocks around. In a letter to controller Norvall Bovee on October 14, 1952, housing director Kilborn outlined 27 recommendations made to him by students, faculty, and staff as to how the new building should be designed. The end product followed almost all of them. Kilborn wrote,
"Obviously, students can be encouraged, and it need be, forced to accept most anything... However, we do not exemplify the best traditions of a democratic institution by arbitrarily establishing a policy which is not accepted by the group affected so long as there is a possibility of a satisfactory alternative."
In addition to the innovative planning, Robinson contained other features that made it a groundbreaking experiment in dormitories. The food service area was copied by several other schools. It was the first hall to have a recreation room and a meeting room for the hall council on the first floor. Instead of the usual practice of buying the furniture from Prison Industries of Ionia, the university bought ultra-modern furniture from the Herman Miller Company of Zeeland. It was also the first hall on campus to have music in the dining area.
The building consisted of 123 suites, designed to house three men per room on the first and second floors, and two per room on the third floor. Overcrowding problems, however, led to the housing of 480 men in 1961. Some rooms housed as many as five people by 1967. The architect had anticipated this problem, and had installed steel brackets in the walls so additional bunk beds could be hung.
The hall housed men from 1954 to 1959, women from 1959 to 1960, and returned to being a men's dorm from 1961 to 1988, when it became coed.
The building was named for Frank E. Robinson, who was head of the Department of Commerce from 1916 to 1948. He was born in 1878. Although he never graduated from high school, he passed his teaching examination at Ferris Institute. He attended Central from 1903 to 1905, earning his life certificate. Later, he received his MA from the University of Michigan. Before returning to Central to teach, he was superintendent of Bronson schools for six years, in addition to being commissioner of Branch County schools. He was dedicated to his teaching at CMU, and only retired in 1948 because of a state law that required retirement at age 70. He and his wife had six sons. He died in 1951.