Duncker Hall: Olin’s first home

By 1919, the two-year-old School of Commerce and Finance at WashU was “exceeding expectations,” according to its dean, William Gephart.

“It is confidently believed that the fall will show an enrollment of fifty or more in the regular classes, and judging from the number of students now pursuing the pre-Commerce course, the growth of the School will be rapid,” Gephart wrote in the October 1919 edition of the Record. And in what would become a recurring theme in years to come, the dean made a case for a new building to house the growing business school.

The dean wrote in the Record, “Accommodations at present will be provided for the School in the various buildings on the first quadrangle [present day Brookings, Ridgely, and Cupples Halls], but for many reasons it is important that at the earliest convenience a building should be erected expressly for the School.”

Charles H. Duncker Jr., WashU class of 1914 (second row from top, second to the left). “His college career was marked by high scholarship, and three honorary fraternities conferred membership on him for his classroom and research work,” according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “He also took an active part in athletics and in conducting student publications.”

Charles H. Duncker Jr., Washington University class of 1914 (second row from top, second to the left). “His college career was marked by high scholarship, and three honorary fraternities conferred membership on him for his classroom and research work,” according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “He also took an active part in athletics and in conducting student publications.” Photo courtesy of WashU Archives.

Gephart found a generous donor for the building in the family of Charles H. Duncker Jr., who had graduated from Washington University in 1914. His younger brother, Henry, was the first (and only) graduate of the School of Commerce and Finance in 1919. Charles Jr. enlisted in the army in 1917 after working for his father’s firm, Trorlicht-Duncker Carpet Co. He was commissioned as a lieutenant before deployment to France in May 1918. Less than six months later, Charles Duncker was killed when his unit was shelled near Thiancourt, France. His promotion to the rank of captain reached his regiment 10 days after his death.

The exact amount of the gift from Mr. and Mrs. Charles Duncker Sr. and their son’s widow, Ada Nicholson Duncker, is not known, but construction of the building to honor the young officer was projected to cost “$200,000 or more.” That would translate to approximately $2.5 million in today’s dollars.

“Plans for Duncker Hall will be prepared by the firm of Cann & Corrubia, in collaboration with James P. Jamieson, the university’s architect …. It is expected that Dean Gephart of the School of Commerce and Finance, accompanied by one of the architects, will visit other universities to see the provisions made by them for departments similar to the School of Commerce and Finance. This school, now in its third season, has grown in attendance rapidly, and it is planned to make provision in the new building for 2,000 students.”
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sept. 25, 1919

Laying of the cornerstone in Duncker Hall

Robert S. Brookings helps lay the corner stone for Duncker Hall, 1923. WashU Archives.

In what looks like a grand ceremony in the photos, the corner stone for Duncker Hall was put in place by University Corporation president Robert S. Brookings and Chancellor Frederic A. Hall in 1923. Duncker opened for classes in 1924. It was part of a building boom on the Hilltop Campus that took place between 1921– 28:

• Wilson Natatorium (1922)
• January Hall (1923)
• Duncker and Wilson Halls (1924)
• The first five houses on fraternity row and a new power plant (1925)
• Bixby Hall and the Field House (1926)
• Rebstock Hall and three more fraternity houses (1927)
• The Women’s Building (1928)

Photos courtesy of WashU Archives.

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