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Bowles Hall History

Our History

In 1927, Mary McNear Bowles (Class of 1882) proposed a major gift to the University in memory of her late husband and former UC Regent, Philip E. Bowles (also Class of 1882) to construct the first student residence hall at Berkeley. The project was furthered by future UC President Dr. Robert Gordon Sproul and designed by renowned architect Dr. George Kelham to follow the residential college model that was in use at Oxford and Cambridge in Great Britain (and planned for Harvard and later for Yale).

Bowles Hall opened in 1929 with 102 male student residents, two per three-room suite. If offered four-year residence in gracious living spaces that included on-site community dining. And it was self-governed by the student residents under the helpful eye of what was then known as a Housemaster. Our residential college concept stressed academic achievement and collegiality, including educational programs, tutoring and self-government, where upperclassmen served as role models and mentors for newer residents.

In 1938, the prized Julien and Helen Hart Memorial Library was added to Bowles Hall as a gift from Berkeley Professor James D. Hart and his sister Mrs. Joseph Bransten of the Julien and Helen Hart family. The residential college library was designed as communal space for academic pursuit and housed historic volumes and shared academic resources collected through generations.The Hall underwent a few other changes over the years, including its temporary dedication to the housing of military students during World War II.

For nearly 50 years, the Hall's motto of “Education Through Fellowship” became the guiding principle for more than 6,000 residents who came from all walks of life. The lives of residents were enriched through a vibrant academic and social setting that produced men of high ethical standards who were well-equipped to meet social and economic responsibilities upon graduation. Many Bowlesmen ultimately took their place as leaders in American and global society, including a number who became known nationally and internationally.

In the mid-1970s, the Hall became a University-managed facility that used an admission-by-lottery approach. But while its residential college and governance structure were abandoned, the significance of Bowles continued to live strong in the minds for its residents. In 1988, thanks to efforts driven by undergraduate Bowlesmen, the Hall became a Berkeley City Landmark; in 1989, the same group of students led to the Hall being listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Over time, however, the iconic Hall fell into significant disrepair due to the absence of much-needed and costly maintenance, repairs and renovations. And when it was turned into a conventional dormitory without on-site dining in 2000, it lost its sense of community and admirable purpose. In 2005, the Bowles Hall Alumni Association, led by Bob Sayles (Class of 1952), was formed with the primary objective to restore the Hall to its original purpose as a residential college. In 2009, the Association secured support from the UC Berkeley Academic Senate to pursue that goal. During negotiations with campus administrators, the Association also garnered support for its plan from the Finance Committee of the Berkeley Foundation and later the campus real estate office. In 2013, newly-installed Cal Chancellor Nicholas Dirks endorsed the plan, one that he saw embodied the best interests of both student residents and the campus as a whole. This helped pave the way for approval from the UC Board of Regents and, in June 2015, the signing of a 45-year ground lease that gave ownership of the Hall to what is now called the Bowles Hall Foundation. Thus began the privately-financed, 14-month transformation towards a painstakingly restored, renovated and refurbished Bowles Hall Residential College. In August of 2016, Bowles Hall re-opened after over $45 million in renovations as the only residential college on the Berkeley campus and the premier 4-year co-ed housing option for Berkeley students.

Bowles Through the Years

1927: Mary McNear Bowles proposes a major gift to the University in memory of her late husband and former UC Regent, Philip E. Bowles to construct the first student residence hall at UC Berkeley.

1929: Bowles Hall opens, dedicated to “Education Through Fellowship,” with 102 male student residents, two per three-room suite, with on-site community dining, gracious living, self-governance and four-year residence.

Depression Years: In the depths of the Depression, several Bowlesmen could not afford to continue living in the Hall. The Bowles hall Association decided that rather than forcing these residents to leave, they could live rent free in the attic. Paying residents would give a portion of their food to them.

1938: The Julien and Helen Hart Memorial Library is added with a gift from UC Berkeley professor James D. Hart and his sister Mrs. Joseph Bransten of the Hart Family.

1943–1945: Bowles Hall joins the War Effort as home to military students completing degree work. Occupancy doubles to 204 residents.


1945: Bowles Hall reverts to a UC residence hall; occupancy remains at 204.

Mid-1970s: Bowles' self-governance is replaced by UC Berkeley Student Affairs oversight; the lottery system reduces returnees. As a result, the sense of community diminishes.

1989: Bowles Hall is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of the Interior, in an effort initiated by student residents and supported by the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association.

2000: On-site community dining discontinued.

2005: Hall Residency limited to only freshmen. Sense of community, with ties to heritage, has disappeared. Simultaneously, the Bowles Hall Alumni Association is founded for the purpose of working to re-establish the Bowles Hall Residential College and to renovate and refurbish Bowles Hall.

2009: The Bowles Hall Foundation, a California 501(c)(3) corporation, is established to solicit and collect funds to support the effort and to provide a non-profit vehicle to create a public/private partnership with UC Berkeley.

March 2014: The UC Board of Regents approves the Bowles Hall Residential College plan.

June 2015: The Bowles Hall Foundation signs a 45-year ground lease with UC Berkeley granting the Hall's control to the Foundation. The restoration project begins.

August 2016: Restoration work on Bowles Hall is completed on time and under budget. The restored Hall welcomes 183 new undergraduate residents at a Grand Re-Opening Celebration.

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