West side of campus developed its identity in 1920s


In the early 1900s, the Iowa City area that would become the health sciences campus was little more than grassy fields and a few scattered homes.

But when UI President Walter Jessup initiated a building boom just before World War I, the landscape of the University and Iowa City was forever changed.

According to John Gerber's Pictorial History of the University of Iowa, Jessup detailed his plans in a 1918 Iowa Alumnus article titled "Westward Ho!"

He described how the University had begun buying up land on the bluffs overlooking the Iowa River, which was spanned by new bridges that connected the west side area with downtown Iowa City and the UI. Jessup envisioned the new west campus as home to the College of Medicine and the UI hospitals.

In the 80 years since then, the UIHC has expanded into one of the nation's largest university-owned teaching hospitals.

Meanwhile, the College of Medicine occupied relatively modest facilities, including some of the original buildings constructed during Jessup's time.

The first building on the west side campus was the Steindler Building, then known as the Children's Hospital. Its red brick and collegiate Gothic trim set the style for the hospitals, dormitories, and other projects that would follow throughout the 1920s.

Westlawn and the Psychopathic Hospital (now the Medical Education Building) were the next additions to the health campus, just north of then-recently completed Quadrangle and Armory. A small, battery-operated bus shuttled medical staff between the new buildings and the main hospital on Iowa Avenue.

In 1922, a gift of more than $2 million from the Rockefeller Foundation launched plans to build a new westside hospital. The Iowa Legislature matched the award, and construction began on the facility-with its landmark Gothic tower-and an accompanying Medical Laboratories building.

When dedicated in 1928, the new hospital boasted 750 beds, and a network of tunnels connected it with other buildings. Ambulances and buses carted some 350 patients across the river to the new facility, which was praised in the local press for its scale and state-of-the-art features.

By the 1930s, the west campus was more than four times as large as the east side areas occupied by the University. Once thought to face downtown Iowa City, the campus now seemed to look westward.

The colleges of Dentistry, Pharmacy, and Nursing eventually joined Medicine west of the river, along with the Hardin Library for the Health Sciences. The UI hospital continued to grow, and additional research space was built between it and Med Labs.

In the early 1970s, the six-story structure now known as the Bowen Science Building became home to the basic sciences.

The next building project for the College of Medicine-the Eckstein Medical Research Building (EMRB) dedicated in 1989-took a decade of planning and cost $26 million.

The new Medical Education and Biomedical Research Facility will be the first major construction for the college since a wing of administrative offices was connected to Med Labs and EMRB in 1991.

The improvements that will reshape the west side build on the vision of pioneers like Jessup who imagined a campus within a campus, with buildings that create a center for education and discovery.

by C. Lindon Larson