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Rutgers University Closes 98-Year-Old Dormitory on College Avenue

Ford Hall, Rutgers' Second Residence Hall Might Re-Open as an Office Building
Ford Hall
Ford Hall was closed on July 31, at least temporarily. It was the oldest active dorm at Rutgers and the second in its history. Richard Rabinowitz

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ— In just one of many major changes happening on a small stretch of College Avenue, Rutgers University opted last month to close Ford Hall, the oldest dormitory on campus, at the end of last month.

"The building is no longer a residence hall," university spokesman EJ Miranda confirmed this week.  "The university is exploring its options regarding its future use."

Because of a lack of wheelchair accessibility, and perhaps other factors, the four-story building with 67 apartments is likely to be converted to a non-residential use, like offices or academic space.

"Ford Hall had been used as a residence for grad students, but because of its age, size and the fact that it did not contain kitchens, it was decided that the building should be put to other use," said Miranda.

However, this reporter lived in the building until its final days and remembers it having five functional kitchens, each equipped with a stove, oven, refrigerator, closet, and sink.

Sources say that the university may close some other dorms for similar reasons on the historic College Avenue campus, where the university and a private developer are already preparing to build over 1,000 new student housing units in the next two years.

Ford Hall opened in 1915 and was donated by John Howard Ford, a member of the Board of Trustees from 1912 to 1914 who gave Rutgers money several times to help acquire properties.

At the time, the whitewashed rooms were praised as being larger and more comfortable than those at Rutgers' first dorm, Winants Hall. The rooms at Winants were notorious for being small, and wind blew through the cracks in the wall.  That building is now home to the offices for top-level administrators.

Ford Hall is divided into apartments of various sizes, ranging from studios to two-bedroom suites.  Each section of the building, or "house," had its own entrance and a restroom on the top floor.  Most of the houses also had a kitchen on the top floor.

House 3, located in the center of the building, connects directly to the lounges, and has its kitchen, and residence hall advisor apartment, on the ground floor.

Each apartment had a fireplace, though they haven't been functional for more than a decade.  Many of the units have walk-in closets. 

The residence hall was not air-conditioned, except for the "new" lounge (built in the 1950's or the 1960's).  The old lounge, a room with tall benches, a decorative ceiling, and paintings of idyllic campus scenes, was dedicated to Charles Lutz.

After Ford became a coed dorm for grad students, this created a problem: the bathroom in the basement was normally reserved for men.  This meant that female guests in male houses had to trek to the basement, and then upstairs to the top floor of a female house, in order to go to the bathroom.  And if a ladies restroom were broken, the downstairs bathroom would switch to a ladies room.

The downstairs restroom has many old fixtures. The antique shower stalls downstairs have more elbow room, but separate hot and cold water handles, unlike the smaller mid-20th century stalls upstairs.

By the time of its closure, Ford Hall was getting rather dilapidated and patchwork repairs were common.

Ceilings peeled or cracked, and chunks occasionally rained down on unsuspecting students or furniture, while blue and green coats of paint revealed themselves beneath the peeling coats of gray or white.

In some places, such as the shower stalls in the basement, paint erosion had uncovered the stone surface of the stalls themselves.

Pieces of banisters and railings had been torn off years ago, and those wounds had been painted over. The occasional graffiti could be found in a floor tile or two, but this was the exception rather than the rule.

The building overheated in the late spring and in the summer.  It was chilly at the beginning and end of winter, when the steam radiators were turned off.

People had to walk up a few steps and pull open the automatically locking door to enter, which could be particularly difficult if carrying a bicycle or other heavy object.  Life would have definitely been a lot easier with elevators.

Ford Hall is in the middle of an area for which huge developments are planned, where a theological seminary nearly as old as Rutgers will give up much of its land to a developer, who in turn will build facilities for Rutgers.

Although it is not directly involved in the plans that come along with the land swap, Ford Hall could become a candidate for redevelopment if Rutgers cannot find a safe and code-compliant use for the building.

Four buildings were razed this summer across the street from Ford Hall, including a Victorian house.  Across College Avenue, a large new Rutgers Hillel building will soon replace a faculty parking lot.  On the former seminary site, Rutgers is moving ahead with plans for a new "honors college" in partnership with New Brunswick Development Corporation (DEVCO).

As we reported Sunday morning, the city's famous grease trucks will be forced out of their home in a university parking lot next Thursday, and a sixteen-story privatized student housing building will rise from College Avenue in their place.

So where does Ford Hall fit into this dance?  Stay tuned.

Editor's Note: The author of this article was a resident of Ford Hall.