The University of Iowa was expecting a major growth in student population in the mid-1960s.
Two projects — Rienow Hall II, originally designed for 500 men, and married student housing were under construction and on scheduled to open in 1968.
The first major dormitory approved by the board of regents for preliminary planning was the Melrose Towers in October 1965.
Melrose Towers’s three buildings would be erected on wooded, sloping land south of Melrose Avenue and west of Highway 218. The 18-story north-south wing was designed to house 880 women and the two 12-story east-west wings would house 605 men in each. The buildings were to be connected by a one-story commons on the ground level that contained dining areas, lounges, a fountain grille, counseling offices and libraries.
Melrose Towers drew criticism because its rooms were bigger than those in other dorms and the buildings were to be air-conditioned. Estimated cost for air conditioning each room was $316 per year. Architect Leo C. Peiffer estimated the $13 million project would be finished in 1968.
A new, low-cost dormitory also was in the works for the university in 1966. The Des Moines architectural firm of Brooks-Borg worked on the project for a year before the Board of Regents took a look at it June 17.
The dorm’s tentative name was Harrison Hall because it was to be located on Harrison Street in Iowa City. The architects designed four buildings, four stories high in a quadrangle. It would house more than 1,100 students.
An underground cafeteria was designed in half of the center of the quadrangle, the roof covered by grass. The rest of the center would hold an arena or agora for performances or student gatherings.
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Each room in the quadrangle was designed for two occupants in a 70-square-foot area with six square feet of closet space. None of the rooms had individual sinks or showers.
The cafeteria and kitchen were in the lowest level.
Originally designed to cost $680 per year per student, inflation made that unlikely. In 1966, board and room in the other UI dormitories was $880 per year.
With regent approval, property acquisition began for both projects.
The university already owned most of the land needed for the Melrose Towers complex in the general area of the field house.
The regents authorized the university to buy eight pieces of property in Iowa City, six of them in the block where Harrison Hall would rise. The other two were across the street. The properties purchased were all in an area behind the Johnson County Courthouse.
Acquisition of six of the properties, with Iowa state executive council approval, was completed in September and the UI began condemnation proceedings on the rest. The university then owned the houses, an apartment house and a combination house and grocery store until the time construction would start on the dormitory.
In less than a year, the Iowa City student housing market had changed. Private student housing development resulted in a slowdown of dormitory construction and both dormitories were put on hold. The university asked to use the Harrison Hall block for a parking lot.
Vice President for Business Elwin Joliffe explained that there wouldn’t be a need for a new dormitory for at least three years, but parking was desperately needed.
When faced with criticism for the change of plans, UI President Howard Bowen said, “Right now, there is not a market for added dormitory space. Building it would be a poor investment.” He pointed out that the Harrison Hall project was only delayed, but the university wanted to make good use of the land in the meantime.
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The same decision was made about Melrose Towers, as private construction of apartments increased and the dormitory-like Mayflower provided other options for student housing.
The Mayflower was built in 1966 as a privately owned, off-campus housing option for students of any age. It was air-conditioned, with two-student suites that had adjoining baths and kitchenettes. Laundry facilities were provided on each floor. The Mayflower housed more than a thousand people and charged each student $350 per semester. It was purchased by the university in 1983.
Enrollment of more upper-class students than freshmen and sophomores also was a factor in stopping student housing construction, as well as rapidly increasing costs.
As a result of the hold on the two projects, the board or regents requested a thorough discussion of a university housing study. Both projects were abandoned by 1968.
The board of regents authorized the purchase of four more pieces of land in 1968 for an indoor-outdoor swimming pool behind Burge Hall. The cost was estimated at about $75,000.
The only regent to vote no on the purchase was Tom Louden of Fairfield. He wanted it to go on the Harrison Hall property, but no one else thought that was a good spot for a pool.