Washington Hall at Notre Dame

Crossroads of the University, 1864–2004

Mark C. Pilkinton

At the heart of the University of Notre Dame’s campus sits the Main Building with its trademark golden dome. Flanking it on the west is the equally distinctive Sacred Heart Basilica, and on the east is the building known today as Washington Hall. Washington Hall at Notre Dame is the first history of this building—the university’s first performing arts center—and illuminates the ways in which Washington Hall has served as the prime venue of secular communal assembly for the university and surrounding communities since 1864.

In addition to detailing the history of Washington Hall, Mark Pilkinton, a theatre historian, emphasizes the art form of theatre and its development at Notre Dame, but also discusses the contributions of music, debate, and lectures, as well as the introduction of the “new media” of film, radio, and television. Among many other fascinating stories, the author recounts the early commencements and “exhibitions” that included students’ orations in Latin and Greek, chronicles the history of the ghost of Washington Hall, and describes the contributions Knute Rockne made to the performing arts at the university, both as a student actor and as a faculty member.

Lavishly illustrated with 50 halftones and 5 line drawings, Washington Hall at Notre Dame offers a fascinating history of Notre Dame through the prism of its first performing arts center and adds to our understanding of American Catholic higher education and American history in general.

Mark C. Pilkinton is professor of film, television, and theatre at the University of Notre Dame.

“Pilkinton has written a meticulously researched, detailed history of not just a building, but also of the artistic, educational, and social events that took place within its walls. In the process he traces a compelling narrative of institutional and cultural change both on and off the Notre Dame campus from 1864 to the present day.” — Wendy Arons, Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama

“This is much more than a history of a building. Mark Pilkinton’s superbly scholarly study shows how, at Notre Dame but with resonances for every campus across America, the place of the performing arts in the culture of the university has changed across more than 150 years. What happens when the community of this university assembles for something other than a mass or a football game is a crucial definer of how it thinks of itself, and, whether for its first film-screenings or its umpteenth Shakespeare production, the transforming nature of Notre Dame is revealed by its encounters with the events that have taken place in Washington Hall. Pilkinton is a wonderfully sensitive and thoughtful guide to the significance of the vast array of offerings in the building that stands, with the Golden Dome and the Basilica, at the heart of the university.” — Peter Holland, McMeel Family Professor of Shakespeare Studies, University of Notre Dame

“Mark Pilkinton has mined the Notre Dame Archives, and many other sources, to produce a history both scholarly and entertaining. He skillfully conjures up the past of a much loved building that has been at the heart of Notre Dame’s cultural and academic life for over 140 years. Readers will enjoy the accounts of musical and theatrical events in Washington Hall, while gaining fascinating insight into changing theatre technologies and performance practices. By exploring the Hall’s various architectural incarnations and its evolving role within the University, Pilkinton has made an exceptional contribution to the history of the performing arts at Notre Dame and in American Catholic higher education.” — Jane A. Devine, editor of 100 Years of Architecture at Notre Dame: A History of the School of Architecture, 1898-1998


“[Pilkinton’s] examination of the evolving character of collegiate performing arts over a century and a half and its influence on campus architecture will be useful for anyone contemplating similar changes at other American universities.” — Catholic Library World

“A centerpiece of a historic university, Washington Hall at Notre Dame: Crossroads of the University, 1864–2004 casts the history of Notre Dame through one of its most important buildings, tracing the performance arts center from its early days to the modern era, reflecting the happenings of the campus and the world upon it.” — The Midwest Book Review