A Building UW Loves To Hate

Condon Hall, home of the University of Washington Law School, looks like the county jail. With its drab concrete exterior and mismatched windows, it's a sure-fire contender for the UW's ugliest building.

"It's Stalinist architecture," declares Dean Wallace Loh, who hates the 20-year-old structure, three blocks from campus.

"It was built to withstand a direct atomic-bomb attack, not to house a law school."

For years, law-school officials, students and alumni have wished for a more respectable-looking home.

Now, despite a state budget crunch, university officials are thinking about converting Condon Hall into an office building and constructing a new law school on campus. Possible sites include a parking lot near the main entrance off 17th Avenue Northeast and Northeast 45th Street.

"It's only a germ of an idea," asserts Tallman Trask, UW executive vice president.

But it's one that has school officials, alumni and students pining for something a little more romantic than a building that looks like a bleached shoe box, although the state has not appropriated a single dollar for such a project.

They want their school on campus, as in the past before it was moved from Gowen Hall in 1974. They want a place made of mortar and bricks instead of poured concrete. They want anything but Condon.

Loh has stacks of commentary from UW alumni who detest Condon. They reminisce about Gowen Hall (also originally named Condon),

which has wood panels, lead-trimmed windows and ivy.

The joke about the current Condon building is that it's so cold, a weed wouldn't grow on it.

Worse, Condon costs lots of money to maintain, Loh adds. Because the building has 30 entrances, books have a way of walking out the doors. Thousands of books.

The normally reserved Loh practically oozes venom when he talks about Condon.

How times have changed. When Condon was completed at a cost of $7.9 million in 1974, a UW publication described it as one of the best examples of modern architecture in the city.

But Gordon Culp, former president of the UW board of regents and a 1952 law-school alum, gives it poor marks.

"The architectural types would always say what a wonderful building it was and how it was an architectural triumph," Culp says. "But it was a piece of architecture that only an architect could love."

Gradually, the building lost favor.

Trask says the university had been planning to renovate and build an addition for $20 million to $25 million. But he isn't convinced paint or a new addition would help.