The Chemistry Department was originally located in Building 60, immediately west of Memorial Church. This location was felt to be inadequate by Department members, but the University was reluctant to construct additional buildings before the rest of the planned outer Quad was complete. In his history of the Stanford Chemistry department, Eric Hutchinson writes, "There is a story, of quite uncertain authenticity, that the decision to erect a new building was forced on Mrs. Stanford by stratagem. It was her custom to drive up to the Sunday services in Memorial Church in her carriage, stopping immediately in front of the Church. One Sunday a tank of hydrogen sulfide was reported to be 'accidently' opened just prior to Mrs. Stanford's arrival, and that circumstance, it is said, was quite enough to persuade her that Chemistry should be re-housed as far as possible from the inner Quad."
It is far more likely that the building now known as Old Chem was planned before Leland Stanford's death. Old Chem was designed by architect Clinton Day, who also designed the Library. Construction probably began around 1899 and was finished, after some delays, in 1903. The building was immediately occupied.
In 1906, fumehood chimneys toppled and a portion of the front wall fell. It was reconstructed during the summer of 1906. According to the Commission of Engineers, the building was “[i]n very bad condition as to mason work, requiring the taking down of the greater portion of the outside and interior masonry walls and rebuilding them, likewise plastering, painting, roofing, heating portion of plumbing and carpenters work.” After repairs, the building was immediately reoccupied by the Chemistry department in the autumn of 1906 and continued as such until 1986. In 1979 an inspector noted cracked and twisted structural beams, and a 1984 seismic evaluation also pointed to serious degradation of the masonry mortar. So, the Chemistry Department was relocated in 1986. In 1988, the University deactivated the building on account of maintenance and structural issues as well as notable fire code deficiencies. The building sustained additional damage in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake but, unlike others damaged in 1989, it was not eligible for disaster assistance funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency because it had already been vacated.
Today it is one of the few major structures on campus that continues to be closed due to damage from the Loma Prieta quake. Learn more about Old Chem on the Walking Tour.
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