University of Illinois at Chicago - A Brief History


It might be said that the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) began back in 1867 as a promise - a promise to establish a "polytechnical" branch in Chicago if the main land-grant university campus could be built downstate - a promise that would not be fulfilled until 98 years later in 1965 when state and local dignitaries cut the ribbon officially opening the University of Illinois Chicago Circle campus (UICC). Chicago architect Walter Netsch of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill designed and master planned the campus in the, at the time, revolutionary Brutalism style. (The Chicago Circle was the name of the interstate highway interchange at the northeast corner of the new campus.)

On the other hand, it could also be said that UIC dates back to 1859 when the Chicago College of Pharmacy was chartered, followed by the College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1882 and the Columbian Dental College in 1901. Affiliation with the University of Illinois occurred as early as 1896-97 with incorporation following in 1913. Some of the West Side buildings were built as Public Works Administration (PWA) projects and have classic features and unique artistic touches. In 1961, the Chicago Professional Colleges, as they were known, became the University of Illinois at the Medical Center (UIMC).

Before the Chicago Circle campus was conceived with its graduate programs and four-year undergraduate degrees, there was the two-year University of Illinois, Chicago Undergraduate Division (CUD), located in the former Naval Training School at Navy Pier. CUD was also called, primarily by students, the "narrowest university in the world," a "sideways skyscraper," the "horizontal cathedral of learning," and "Harvard on the Rocks." It opened in 1946, principally to accommodate local young men who wanted to take advantage of the educational benefits of the "Servicemen's Readjustment Act," or what came to be known forever as the G.I. Bill.

In 1961, the City of Chicago offered the University the 105-acre, Federal Urban Renewal site at Halsted Street and Harrison Street for what was to become the Chicago Circle campus. This was the Near West Side site of Hull House, the settlement house founded by Jane Addams in 1889. At its peak, Hull House was a complex of 13 buildings attracting over 1,000 neighborhood residents each week to its various programs.

There was stiff community opposition to the plan to place a University campus in its midst - opposition that continued through various courts until the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case in 1963. As a result, an estimated 8,000 people and 630 businesses were displaced to carve out the new campus. As a nod to the history and residents of the area, the original Hull House and Residents' Dining Hall were preserved and are located on a prominent campus location on Halsted.

Although UICC was constructed just east of UIMC, it was 17 years later, in 1982, when the two campuses merged to become UIC, the University of Illinois at Chicago - one campus with an East Side and a West Side, two different histories, (at least) two distinct architectural styles, and two locations separated by a mile of residences, businesses, schools, etc.

Then came the South Campus along Halsted Street south of Roosevelt Road which revitalized an historic neighborhood that had been rapidly deteriorating and filled several city blocks with new buildings, student residencies, adaptive reuse of existing buildings, and a 3000-person capacity conference center. This successful multi-phase project, a public-private partnership, was completed in 2008 and helped influence the continued redevelopment of the much of the area along Roosevelt Road between the East Side and West Side of the UIC campus.


News Archives

UIC Honored With International Real Estate Award, UIC News Release, June 8, 2007

Chicago architect Walter A. Netsch dies at 88; designed UIC campus and Air Force Academy Chapel,Blair Kamin, The Chicago Tribune, June 15, 2008

Oral History of Walter Netsch, Interviewed by Betty J. Blum, The Art Institute of Chicago

The University of Illinois at Chicago: A Pictorial History, Fred W. Beuttler, Melvin G. Holli, and Robert V. Remini, The College of History Series, Aracadia Publishing, 2000

Some Fields Are in the City, A Talk for the Chicago Literary Club, William G. Jones, March 28, 2005


Historic Netsch Campus

University Archives

University of Illinois Alumni Association


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