Preservation Magazine, Winter 2022

The University of North Dakota Revitalizes a Campus Centerpiece

The Oxford House was considered one of the most fashionable houses in the Midwest when it was built in 1902 for the third president of the University of North Dakota (UND), Webster Merrifield. The Colonial Revival house featured a ballroom, a refectory, three fireplaces, and a dumbwaiter, and it was the first house in the city of Grand Forks to be wired for electricity.

It served as the primary residence of UND’s presidents until the mid-1950s, and then became a dormitory, the art department building, and finally the university’s alumni center before sitting largely disused since 2012.

The exterior of the Oxford House on the campus of the University of North Dakota.

photo by: Chad Ziemendorf

After an extensive rehabilitation effort, the Oxford House is now the University of North Dakota's student center.

In 2018, the university announced a $3 million donation from local civic leaders Hal and Kathy Gershman to turn the building into a new graduate student center. JLG Architects led the rehabilitation, which involved replacing the cedar shake roof; rebuilding the exterior columns; refurbishing the original windows; sanding and refinishing the original wood trim, built-in cabinetry, and most of the hardwood floors; and adding a new stairwell and elevator shaft.

The first floor contains a kitchen, dining room, library, music room, and study space, with a basement student lounge. The second floor holds additional study space and meeting rooms, and the ballroom is now a conference room for graduate seminars and workshops. The Dr. Kathleen and Hal Gershman Graduate Center opened in August of 2021.

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Lauren Walser served as the Los Angeles-based field editor of Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about art, architecture, and public space, and hopes to one day restore her very own Arts and Crafts-style bungalow.

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