Dental Building – SUI’s Eye Tooth for Eighty Years.

The Dental Building – circa 1900.

Built in 1894, this three-story, red brick and wooden structure was the second home of the College of Dentistry. But even before the doors opened for classes in 1895, it was already too small to accommodate the growing enrollment. For decades, long after the College of Dentistry moved on, stalwart Old Dental remained ensconced, being used for a variety of purposes over the years. The two-story addition to the original building (1906) – on the west side – was removed in 1923, making way for the construction of University Hall. The three-story section – on the east side – remained until 1975.

Location: Built in 1894, with an addition added in 1906, the Dental Building was situated immediately north of Old Capitol and North Hall, near the corner of North Capitol and Jefferson Streets.

Historical records show that in 1860, there were 160 dentists throughout the State of Iowa. And while few people, even today, look forward to a visit to their dentist, pity our poor ancestors who experienced this type of dental care (see below).

In 1863, in an attempt to modernize the practice of dentistry across the state and offer a place where the sharing of knowledge could occur, The Iowa State Dental Society (ISDS) was established – yet only seven dentists and one apprentice attended the first gathering. One dentist explained his reluctance this way…

Eventually, after ten years of persistence, the ISDS finally gained enough momentum to persuade the Iowa legislature to pass a law regulating the practice of dentistry across the state. As a result, in 1882, a new dental department was established at the State University in Iowa City, making SUI the 13th dental school in the country, and the first west of the Mississippi River! Yet while this milestone was a key development in the training of dentists, this fledgling dental school received only minimal support in starting this new endeavor.

Consider this: The first classes offered in dentistry in 1883 met in two small rooms in South Hall – one on the first floor and one in the basement, working within a $300 budget given by the Board of Regents. Records show that the department had the following inventory: one used dental chair, fifteen pre-owned barber chairs, and a handful of dental equipment. There was no minimum entrance requirements in 1883, so literally anyone could sign up for the ten month program, receiving certification if you met the following requirements: 1) you must be at least 21 years old, 2) you must make an artificial denture, 3) you must complete one case of operative dentistry in the clinic, and 4) you must write a two-page thesis!

Here’s the SUI Dental School’s first faculty: Left to right: William O. Kulp; Luman C. Ingersoll; Israel P. Wilson; Alfred O. Hunt.

But, despite these humble beginnings, the School of Dentistry was a huge success. By the late 1880’s, the school had outgrown its first home in South Hall and was looking for a way to expand. A new three-story dental building to be built on the north side of University Square was proposed through a special appropriation of $25,000 from the Twenty-Fifth General Assembly.

Katherine Bates, author of an insightful look at the earliest facilities of the University, writes…

The Building Committee assumed supervision of construction, accepting the bid made by P. H. Wind for $21,175 on June 13, 1894. This appeared to be well within the limits of the appropriation, however, with a change in construction plans, it became apparent that more funds would be needed. To the original amount was added $2,546.33 from the Income Fund, and the Twenty-Sixth General Assembly granted an additional appropriation of $2,500.

Construction of the SUI Dental Building began in 1894, and when it opened in 1895, the main building measured eighty by seventy-two feet, with two wings on the west side – added in 1906 – each measuring fifty-four by twenty-eight feet. The building contained a large clinic & demonstration hall, classrooms and offices, and a well-equipped dental laboratory that could accommodate 150 students.

Dental classes in the new Dental Building.
This 1895 picture shows North Hall (left), the new Science Hall (right) and the new Dental Building (center) along with the beautiful oak trees of University Square.

Despite the new facilities and growing influence, facility issues began to develop right away for the SUI Dental School. First of all, with the success of the department, enrollment was such that the new building was undersized from day one.

(Above) The Dental Class of 1902. (P-0268) A penny postcard featuring the Hall of Dentistry.

In this picture, you can see the small addition to the Dental Building – added in 1906 to the west end of the main structure.

Reports from students indicated problems like uneven heating and ventilation, poor lighting, and inadequate means of sterilizing lab work. To address some of these issues, a small addition to the building was made in 1906, but with President MacLean‘s ‘New University’ facility plan, the idea of a big expansion on University Square was out of the question.

Circa 1910 – University Square is in transition. MacLean’s ‘New University’ plan was to remove all existing buildings surrounding Old Capitol, replacing them with large educational halls, such as The Hall of Natural Science (MacBride) seen here on the far left.
(P-0234) Click here to view the postcard story of the Wieneke family.

So, in 1915, the General Assembly approved a new state-of-the-art dental building to be located near the corner of Market and North Capitol Streets with a cost of $290,000 – fully equipped.

The new Dental Science Building (1916-1973) was reprogrammed for the Department of Geology in 1973, becoming the Trowbridge Building; named after Arthur C. Trowbridge, a longtime geology professor at the University.

The new Dental Science Building opened for the 1916-17 school year, leaving the old Dental Building up for grabs. In 1917, the building was given to the University Experimental Schools, but by 1923, it became necessary to remove the west wing of the building to allow for the construction of the fourth and final building in MacLean’s ‘New University’ plan. When University Hall (Jessup) was completed in 1924, only two red-brick buildings (see pic below) remained on University Square: North Hall (1865) and the Old Dental Building (1894). Keep in mind that Science Hall (1884) was relocated across the street in 1905 (Calvin Hall). Click here to read that story.

Circa 1925: MacLean’s ‘New University’ plan is nearly complete, but note that North Hall and the old Dental Building are still intact just north of Old Capitol. In the 1920’s, after the completion of University Hall (Jessup), a naming contest was announced in The Daily Iowan – resulting in the winning name – The Pentacrest. Read more here.

Circa 1955.

In 1927, the Department of Buildings and Grounds took over Old Dental, renaming it the Physical Plant Administration Building and using it for office space, storage and equipment. In 1949, North Hall came down, but Old Dental, as the students still called it, stood for nearly three more decades.

I remember it well when I was a student on campus in the early 1970’s. Since it was the Buildings Department Administrative Building, I never went inside for any classes, but passed by the old lady on a regular basis on my way to classes in Macbride Hall. By then, it really looked its age.
Here’s the Pentacrest in the 1960’s. Note the Old Dental building (on the left) is still stuck between Jessup Hall and Macbride Hall, remaining there until 1975.

In 1975, Old Dental, the oldest Red Brick building still remaining on the Pentacrest finally met its end at the hands of the wicked wrecking ball. Fortunately, the University has placed a small marker near the spot where the Dental Building stood (see below). The plaque reads…

Part of the university’s medical department since 1870, dentistry was granted department status in 1882, becoming the first dentistry program established west of the Mississippi River. A dozen years later, the Dental Building was erected on this site to house Iowa’s dental school, which was located here until 1916. In 1975, Old Dental was razed, thus removing the last extraneous building from the Pentacrest.

In 1973, with the relocation of the health sciences to the new Medical Campus on the western bluffs of the Iowa River, the growing Dental Science Department moved into a new facility, which eventually became part of the extensive world-class dental training campus it is today. Certainly a far cry from the days when dentistry was done by any strong-willed man who could wrestle their patient to the ground!

So, here’s to the Dental Building – SUI’s Eye Tooth for Eighty Years . . gone, but never forgotten.

DYK-February 9, 2022

Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.

History of the State University of Iowa: Aspects of the Physical Structure, Katherine V. Bates, MA (Master of Arts) thesis, State University of Iowa, 1949, pp 131-132

University of Iowa Libraries: Iowa Digital Library website

Historical Chronology of The College of Dentistry & Dental Clinics, Christine White, 2015, College of Dentistry and Dental Clinics

Old Dental, The Final Extraction, Old Gold, IowaNow, University of Iowa

Old Dental Building,

Click here to go on to Building #11 of The Red Brick Campus – Homeopathic Medical Building…

Click here for a complete INDEX of Our Iowa Heritage stories…