Loyola University Chicago

Department of Fine and Performing Arts

History of the Mundelein Center

Mundelein Center for Fine and Performing Arts

On November 1, 1929 - only three days after the stock market crash - the official ground breaking ceremony for Mundelein College was held. Mundelein College was founded as an all-women's college in 1930 by the Sisters of the Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and was the first self-contained skyscraper college for women in the world.

According to Sr. Ann Ida Gannon, BVM, a former president of the college, the building was familiarly called the "Skyscraper" not because of its height (although it was the tallest in the area for several years after construction), but because of the steel framework and structure that characterize urban skyscrapers. In the 1940s the Mundelein Skyscraper boasted one of the country's highest observatories containing a telescope, and the longest Foucault pendulum in existence at the time. By 1960 it was the largest Catholic Women's College in the US, and at the time of its affiliation with Loyola in 1991, it was also the last four-year women's college in Illinois.

Fun fact: The 1966 movie The Trouble With Angels with Haley Mills and Rosalind Russell is based on the Mundelein experience. 

The building was designed by Nairne Fisher, who was only 28 when he began work on the project. This was his first major commission, and he never graduated from college. Although the building contains many attributes of the popular Art Deco style, including strong vertical lines and geometric shapes, it most notably features the guardian angels outside the south entrance to the building. The angels - Uriel (right, Light of God) and Jophiel (left, Beauty of God)- are four stories high and made of limestone. Uriel holds the book of wisdom and points to the cross in Bas-relief on the 14th floor. Jophiel, the angel who guarded the tree of knowledge, holds the planet Earth and lifts the torch of knowledge. 

A complete interior renovation began in 2004 and in the fall of 2012, it was rededicated as the Mundelein Center for the Fine and Performing Arts. 

The renovations, completed by architects from Baranski Hammer Moretta & Sheehy, were completed from top to bottom. The building’s elevator shaft didn’t originally extend to the top four floors, which served as living quarters for the BVMs. Thus, a major project was to build an elevator that went all the way from the basement to the 14th floor. The biggest renovation challenge came with the construction of the Newhart Family Theatre. In order to clear the space needed for the stage opening, three structural columns had to be cut out. A enormous steel transfer beam now holds up the weight of floors 4–7 that the columns previously supported—a design that won the firm Klein and Hoffman an award for excellence in structural engineering.

As the Mundelein Center for the Fine and Performing Arts, the building currently has 57 classrooms on the Lake Shore campus - the most of any current academic building. In addition to classrooms, it's also the home to many of Loyola's performance spaces: the Newhart Family Theatre, the Underground Theatre, Skowronski Music Hall, Studio 409, and the Jo Ann Rooney Hall.