The presidency of George E. MacLean (1899–1911) saw the University of Iowa’s most expansive growth to date. A frenzy of construction was initiated after a 1901 fire that destroyed the Medical Building and South Hall and damaged the under-construction Schaeffer Hall—all on the Pentacrest. MacLean Hall, built on the former site of South Hall, was intended to replace classroom and laboratory space lost in that blaze. The project stalled almost before it began, however, when a trove of human bones was discovered during excavation. Further examination revealed that the bones were refuse from South Hall’s anatomical laboratory, and President MacLean ordered them quietly disposed of so that construction might resume. The Cockroft-Walton “atom smasher” was installed here in 1938.
Marching along MacLean’s frieze are the names of noted scientists including Franklin, Newton, Galileo, and Archimedes. This design feature recalls the practice of inscribing names of great artists on the exterior of museums, as was done on the 1893 Art Institute of Chicago, and points to the faculties of physics and engineering that originally occupied the building. The west entry includes ornate pentaglobed lamps that reference the five structures of the Pentacrest and the dominance of the Ionic order on the post-Old Capitol buildings. The lamps are creative variations of the Ionic order column and add interest to this “rear” view. MacLean’s interior is also worth a visit; just inside the west portal an ornate, curved staircase connects the main and lower levels.
The building is accessible to persons with disabilities.