Know your campus: The Pentacrest


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Other parts of campus are probably jealous.

Everyone is always talking about the Pentacrest — where this building is in relation to that building and where your introduction to American politics meets.

Meaning “five on a place of prominence,” the name “Pentacrest” was chosen by a naming contest sponsored by The Daily Iowan in 1924. The “five” referred to the Old Capitol and the other four limestone buildings laid out in a formal axial relationship to the Old Capitol, Schaeffer, Macbride, MacLean, and Jessup Halls.

The Old Capitol was built in 1842 as the state’s capitol. Credited as the “mastermind behind the Pentacrest plan,” architect Henry Van Brunt brought back to the UI the ideas of monumentality and symmetry from the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. The symmetrical plan for the other four buildings was formed when Schaeffer was built in 1902, followed by Macbride in 1908, MacLean in 1912 and Jessup in 1924.

The site on which the Pentacrest was planned was at the time occupied by several brick buildings, including the Science Hall, known today as the Calvin Hall. The Science Hall was moved to its current site in 1905 to make room for Macbride Hall in order to fulfill the symmetrical Pentacrest layout.

During the development of the five-building plan, other brick buildings on the site either burned down or were razed. The decisions were made by the Board of Regents and UI presidents at the time, beginning with President Charles Schaeffer. The Pentacrest layout was not fully realized until the last piece of the old Dental Building was razed in 1976.

The university’s Campus Master Plan designates the Pentacrest as the symbolic and historical campus center to be preserved and protected, although it no longer serves as the geographical center of the campus. The entire Pentacrest block and its buildings are listed by the National Register of Historical Places, the nation’s official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation.

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