Today, it takes a pretty good imagination to envision the all-purpose nature of McMillan and Ballard halls, which for decades now have served exclusively as men’s and women’s residence halls. But until the mid-1940s, Whitworth College was these two buildings. A student might have risen from her bed on the third floor of Mac, headed down to the basement for breakfast, joined her classmates for chapel on the main level, crossed the short pathway to the Ballard basement for a biology class, and returned to Mac to study in the library.
Built in 1914, the Young Ladies Dormitory and Young Men’s Dormitory (renamed a decade later as McMillan and Ballard halls, respectively, in honor of Whitworth trustees) were sufficient for a college that had just relocated from Tacoma to Spokane. Bigger plans were in the works, of course. By January 1915, college administrators had spent nearly $60,000 ($1.4 million in present-day dollars) on these two dorms as well as classroom equipment, an athletics field, tennis courts, a water system, and a gas plant. Later that year, a temporary gymnasium would provide a place for indoor sports activities.
The next few decades would see a suspension of classes during World War I and growth and decline in enrollment, due in large part to the Great Depression. Building at the college stalled until President Frank Warren arrived in 1940, just as Whitworth began feeling again the constraint of its initial three-acre campus footprint.
A new dining hall provided much-needed relief. For 30 years, meals had been served in the basement of McMillan Hall. When the dining hall was completed in September 1944, faculty pitched in one Saturday to prepare tables and chairs for a student body that had increased 100 percent since the prior spring. The biology lab was moved from Ballard into McMillan’s basement, and, for a few days during the transition, the basement served double duty. Care was taken, however, to cover the bottles of pickled biological specimens while meals were served.