Get to know the history behind some of AU’s most prominent buildings

Founders, donors recognized in naming of different schools, residence halls

Get to know the history behind some of AU’s most prominent buildings

The Katzen Arts Center at American University. 

It has been 125 years since Congress chartered American University in 1893, after John Fletcher Hurst, a Methodist bishop, founded the school.

Hurst was a bishop in the city of Washington at the time, according to the school’s history, and opened AU as an institution for graduate-level education. The site also said he envisioned “a university that would train public servants for the future.” According to AU’s timeline, Hurst was elected the first chancellor of the university in 1891.

Hurst Hall was the first building constructed on AU’s campus followed by the McKinley Building. 

The building received its name from the 25th U.S. president, William McKinley. However, according to the University Courrier, when the structure was first built, it was called the Ohio Hall of Government. The cornerstone of the building was set to be laid in December of 1901. Due to McKinley’s assassination in 1901, the cornerstone wasn’t laid until 1902 and the building was named in his honor, the McKinley Memorial-Ohio College of Government.

In more recent history, Katzen Arts Center was constructed as the result of a monetary gift to the University by Cyrus and Myrtle Katzen. The Katzens were philanthropists who donated over $30 million to universities in the D.C. area, according to Cyrus Katzen’s obituary in The Washington Post.

The University unveiled Cassell Hall in 2013, named after alumnus and Board of Trustees chair Jack Cassell. In a statement released by the school, Cassell’s $3 million in gifts to the University were recognized in the naming of the residence hall. The Stafford H. Cassell Jr. Fitness Center honors Jack Cassell’s twin brother, another alumnus of AU.

The Cassell family name is one that has been familiar to the University for over half a century. The Cassell brothers’ father, Stafford H. “Pop” Cassell, served as AU’s head basketball and football coach, followed by a career as the University’s athletic director. Additionally, Cassell attended AU and played on several sports teams while he was a student at the University.

The most recent addition to AU’s naming of buildings after significant figures in the University’s history: the renaming of the Ward Circle Building to Kerwin Hall. Neil Kerwin, an AU graduate who led the University as president for about 10 years until stepping down in 2017, has worked at AU for over 40 years as a professor, provost and president. He remains a faculty member at AU in the School of Public Affairs.

AU’s campus buildings, particularly those named after notable alumni and donors, are a reminder of the University’s history and symbolize all who came before.

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