In 1853, prominent St. Louis merchant Wayman Crow and his pastor, William Greenleaf Eliot Jr., concerned about the lack of institutions of higher learning in the growing midwest, led the founding of Washington University in St. Louis.

The university flourished at its location in downtown St. Louis for its first 50 years, growing from an evening program to an institution offering a full slate of scientific, liberal arts and classical course offerings. In time, schools of law and fine arts were added.

In the spring of 1892, Brookings and several other board members were appointed to a special real estate committee charged with finding a new site for the university. The following year, the committee decided on a hilltop location west of the city.

Brookings Hall in 1900

In 1900, construction began on the hilltop campus west of the city. Five years prior, Olmsted, Olmsted and Eliot created a landscape-based setting for Washington University’s new location. The Olmsted Brothers’ plan included a park-like eastern portion, which connected visually and physically to the tree-lined Skinker and Lindell Boulevards.

Drawing of the Olmsted landscaping plan for Washington University's new location

The building plan chosen for implementation was the “Block Plan” prepared by Cope & Stewardson in 1900. It has defined and continues to govern the location of buildings on the Danforth Campus.

Drawing of the block plan for the Danforth campus

The first five buildings’ designs were based on the medieval courtyards of Oxford and Cambridge Colleges. In 1901, with the construction of Busch Hall and University Hall (now known as Brookings Hall) underway and cornerstones laid for Cupples I and Cupples II, the buildings were leased to the company organizing the 1904 World’s Fair in nearby Forest Park. The lease money made it possible to begin construction of additional buildings, and all were used by the Fair before the university moved in.

Old photo of the Administration Building during the World's Fair

The Block Plan created a flexible structure for the university’s growth but did not account for the expansion of the academic campus east of Hoyt Drive, at the foot of Brookings Hall. Over the years, numerous other plans, studies, and buildings have shaped the east end of the Danforth Campus. Plans include Jamieson and Spearl (1933), Maki & Associates (1998), and Kallman, McKinnell & Wood (2001).

In 1891, the school acquired the St. Louis Medical College to form a medical department, which merged with the Missouri Medical College in 1899. In 1891, Robert S. Brookings was named to the board of the growing university. Brookings later became president of the board, and was instrumental in the construction of the new campus as well as the transformation of the medical school.

Despite a broadened course of instruction and raised entrance requirements, the medical school had out-of-date facilities and a disorganized faculty. Brookings personally donated $500,000 of the $850,00 needed for new grounds and facilities. In 1911, Brookings signed contracts linking the university with St. Louis Children’s Hospital and the newly constructed Barnes Hospital. The new medical complex on Kingshighway was dedicated in 1915.

The physical facilities at both the Danforth and Medical campuses continue to evolve to meet the growing needs of the community. Visit current projects and recently completed projects to see how the university continues to play an important role in the landscape and economy of the St. Louis area.