Happy 100th Birthday Gilman Hall

Gilman hall 1909 concept sketch

image: 1909 conceptual sketch of Gilman Hall by John Galen Howard, campus supervising architect, 1901-1922

Berkeley 150 logoAs we celebrate the campus sesquicentennial, Gilman Hall will officially turn 100 on March 22. It  was built between 1916 and 1917 to accommodate the growing College of Chemistry under the leadership of Gilbert N. Lewis  and inaugurated on March 22, 1918 during the University’s 50th anniversary.  Designed by campus architect John Galen Howard, the building provided research and teaching facilities for faculty and students specializing in physical, inorganic and nuclear chemistry. It was named for Daniel Coit Gilman, president of the University of California from 1872 to 1875.

Gilman is a classical three-story building with a red mission-tile roof.  Its north and south gabled end wings flank a central facade of nine bays, defined by a row of engaged Ionic columns rising from a plinth formed by the rusticated basement. Originally intended to be built in granite, Howard excepted defeat on the material allowing it to be done in concrete as Lewis wanted more space in the building. The building was later "mirrored" when the physics building, LeConte Hall was completed in 1923 across the way.

The building received National Historic Chemical Landmark status and was dedicated in November, 1997. Room 307 in the building’s “attic” (aka top floor) was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1966; it is where plutonium was identified as a new element in 1941 by Glenn T. Seaborg and his research team. In 1942, the Berkeley campus became quite involved in the war effort of World War II. The attic of Gilman Hall was fenced off for classified work in nuclear chemistry. Plutonium research in Gilman Hall was part of the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb

Two Nobel Prizes in Chemistry have been awarded for research done in the building. The first went to William Giauque  in 1949 for his studies in the properties of matter at temperatures close to absolute zero. His work was done in his basement laboratory.  Seaborg received the second one in 1951 for discoveries in the transuranium elements. 

The Chemical Engineering Department (renamed Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in 2010), housed in Gilman Hall, was officially recognized as a department of the college in 1957. Charles W. Tobias, the founding father of electrochemical engineering, and former professor and chair of the department, had both his office and lab in Gilman Hall.  His office was in the southwest corner on the first floor and his labs were at the north end of the attic on the west side.

Gilman Hall has been used continuously by the College of Chemistry for 100 years. Today it is occupied by the Department of Chemical Engineering. The most recent upgrade to the building has been the rennovation on the attic floor for the Pitzer Center for Theoretical Chemistry.

Image: Gilman Hall on the left and Physics North (formerly LeConte Hall) on the right. Physics North will be renamed in 2021.

Gilman Hall on the left, LeConte Hall on the right