Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Looking back at building behind the dome

Kai Swanson educates students about the Old Main Dome.
Kai Swanson educates students about the Old Main Dome.

The plan for Old Main, originally named Memorial Hall, was designed in 1882 and was completed in 1888. The first students entered the building on January 29, 1888.
The Dome, however, was not completed until 1893. It was originally constructed out of wood, unlike today. It was not finished with copper until 2013, with the funding coming from a gift from the Wallenberg Family Foundations. The Dome was restored and covered with copper that was then oxidized to make it the green color it is today. The project cost 1.4 million dollars.
“Old Main is the building that best represents Augie,” states Kai Swanson, special assistant to the President at Augustana. “If it’s true that up to its roofline it’s Swedish and then from there on up with it’s American, than in that way, like Augustana, its roots are in the old world but its aspirations have become more American.”
According to Swanson and records from Special Collections, Old Main was the center for a few pranks over the years.
“It’s the icon. It’s such a powerful symbol for Augustana,” states Swanson, in response to the pranks that have been pulled over the years.
In 1955 a group of students famously transformed the Dome into a teapot. The boys constructed a handle and spout out of cardboard and hoisted them onto the Dome in the middle of the night.
In 1950, a group of boys pushed 7 cars from the Seminary lot to the front lawn of Old Main. They called it “Crazy Connie’s Used Cars,” named after the current president, Conrad Bergendoff. One of the cars was put at the very top of the Old Main stairs.
Even before 1950, cars were a theme of Old Main pranks.
“Everybody would say, ‘Oh yeah, that was our generation that figured that out,’” says Swanson. “No. They put a Model T in there, a Model T Ford, in the 1920s, and there is a picture of it”
Placed inside the main rotunda of the building, the Model T had been stuffed with the students’ hymnals from the chapel.
In 2010, thanks to major donations amounting to 13 million dollars, Old Main and the Dome could be restored. Before restorations, the wood construction of the Dome was rotting out and pigeons could fly inside through holes in the structure.
In 2013, LED lighting was added to the Dome. Before 2013, lighting the Dome had been protested because of energy cost and conservation protests from students and faculty.
There are three additional floors above the third floor of Old Main. The floor beneath the Dome used to feature the library and a science lab.
Inside the Dome, the floor is made of old wood that depicts the Dome’s approximate 123 year history. Signatures from as early as 1908 have been located on the inner walls and wooden beams supporting the structure.
Much of campus can be viewed from the Domes main windows. Inside the Dome, Augustana’s rich history is preserved.
“There is no building like it on campus. It has collected all kinds of stories over time,” Swanson said.

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Looking back at building behind the dome