Renovated: 1960, 1997
Powers Hall, which now houses the Department of History, has undergone several major changes since it was first built as the combination student union and first men's residence hall on campus. Although the outside looks nearly the same, the inside would be completely unrecognizable to its original inhabitants.
Groundbreaking for the new student union occurred on October 31, 1938 when President Warriner turned the first shovel of earth. The building was funded through a grant from the Public Works Administration. Weber Construction of Bay City was responsible for excavation and the Spence Brothers Construction Company of Saginaw was awarded the general construction contract for the building's superstructure. The architect was C. William Palmer of Detroit. The cornerstone was laid in February 1939. Cornerstones often contain materials relating to the period in which the building is built. For some reason, among typical items like newspapers and school material, this cornerstone included a bottle filled with wheat, corn, and barley.
The building contained the Student Union in the wing facing the present-day Ronan Hall, as well as a 90-bed living area now known as the old section of Barnes Hall. The residence wing opened in September of 1939, but the Union section was not ready until November. Despite the fact that it was the first and only men's residence hall on campus, it remained partially empty that first year. It was difficult for the college to convince men who were used to living off campus to move in and conform to the myriad regulations of on-campus living. For those who did move in, room and board was $45 per semester.
The interior of the building was dramatically different than it is now. The lobby opened onto a grand staircase to the second floor. The first floor contained a cafeteria, men's lounge, and a game room. The second floor housed the women's lounge on the west end, a billiards room, and the grand ballroom, which was remodeled in twenty-first century. The men of Keeler were required to wear ties to dinner in the dining hall, which is now a classroom (room 140). The west wing of the building on both the first and second floors housed the dormitory section. This area was converted to offices and practice rooms when the Music program took over the building in 1961, and now houses the offices of the Department of History.
Like the first building named Ronan Hall, portions of this building were turned over to Navy V-12 cadets during World War II. These cadets, who exceeded the original capacity of the building by housing 125 people, remained from 1942 until the program ended on July 1, 1944. During this time, the hall was also used as a rallying point for the Red Cross. In November of 1944, the hall was turned over to women residents for the first time. They remained until after the end of the War, and the male residents returned in March of 1946. Present-day students concerned with residence hall overcrowding should know that this is not a new phenomenon: in 1949, Keeler was at double capacity with 180 residents.
In 1951, a new residence hall wing was added. This was designed by Roger Allen and Associates of Grand Rapids, the architect responsible for most of the buildings on CMU's campus. On October 25, 1952, the entire residence hall area was renamed Charles C. Barnes Hall, thus ending that section's connection with Keeler.
A 1960 "renovation" presided over by Roger Allen gutted the interior of the building. It was reconstructed and soundproofed for the arrival of the Music Department, which took residence in 1961. The building was dedicated as Powers Music Building on March 31, 1966, named after J. Harold Powers, the former head of the music program at Central.
By the 1980s, Powers Hall was proving to be inadequate for the needs of the Music Department. Swelling enrollment numbers, combined with the poor acoustics and lack of performance space in Powers Hall, prompted University officials to seek funds for the construction of a new music building. Although this process was delayed multiple times, the project was approved in 1994 and the new Music Building opened in the fall of 1997.
With the departure of the School of Music, the University announced plans for a remodel of Powers Hall in preparation for its new tenants. The $1 million renovation included an expansion of the original lobby and improvements and remodeling of classroom and office space. Included in plans for the renovated Powers Hall were the Dean of the College of Health Professions, the Department of History, the Charter Schools Office and Resource Center, the Cross-Cultural Leadership Program, and space for graduate assistants and fellows for the psychology department. The decision to relocate these departments into such an old building was met positively around campus. Although it meant the loss of air conditioning and separating the Department of History from the College of Humanities and Social and Behavioral Sciences, the move allowed faculty individual office space and saved Powers Hall from demolition.