Cost: $1.25 Million
Robinson Hall was the first residence hall built in a northwest quadrangle that would eventually include Calkins, Larzelere, and Trout Halls as well. It introduced a period of campus expansion, when the University would build a total of four quadrangles in the next twenty years. Robinson Hall was built on the site of Vetville, the temporary housing complex constructed after World War II to house veterans attending Central on the GI Bill. The barracks were sold and removed and construction on the $1.25 million building was underway by summer 1953. The building, which included a food commons that would eventually serve the other buildings in the quad, opened for occupancy in the fall of 1954 and was officially dedicated the Frank E. Robinson Residence Hall on October 16, 1954.
Even though it was designed by Roger Allen of Grand Rapids, an architect with a long relationship with Central, Robinson Hall marked a dramatic shift from the design of earlier residence halls. The architect and College officials solicited input from the entire campus community prior to completing the final plans. Students, faculty, staff, and the builders cooperated to design a hall that would please everyone. Using six-foot-high cinderblock mock-ups of the living quarters, students and staff were able to experiment with different room layouts as workers strained to push the heavy blocks around a warehouse on campus. In a letter to controller Norvall Bovee on October 14, 1952, housing director Don 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."
As a result of this collaboration, Robinson Hall featured several unique innovations in design and layout. Instead of the single rooms and community bathrooms found in previous halls, Robinson was one of the first residence halls in the country to feature "suite" style of rooms, a dramatic departure from the communal bathrooms in older residence halls. Robinson was the first hall on campus designed with private telephones in each suite. Future maintenance was also taken into account. For example, the building was designed to be constructed with painted cinder blocks rather than plaster. Robinson became a model for future on-campus living construction, and indeed around the country. It was featured in several publications in the 1950s as the ideal way to plan residence halls.
In addition to the innovative planning, Robinson contained other features that made it a groundbreaking experiment in on-campus living. 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.
Robinson Hall was originally designed to house 250 men, although housing shortages on campus often led to overcrowding. 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 hall 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.