Winona State University will host an Open House in Somsen Hall from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, May 18 to celebrate the building’s centennial in honor of Preservation Month.

The event is co-sponsored by the City of Winona’s Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC).

The Open House is free and open to the public. Parking is available in streets and campus lots.

Self-guided interior tours will be available on the second floor of Somsen Hall during the event. Areas of interest include the President’s Office, which maintains much of its original decor and where visitors will be greeted by Winona State President Ken Janz; the site of the 1938 WPA mural by John Martin Socha in the main entryway; the elaborate Harriet Johnson Auditorium; the Paul Watkins classical art collection; and the Jim Brandenburg and Craig Blacklock photography exhibition.

Guided tours of Somsen Hall’s exterior and grounds will be conducted at 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. by architect Jim Goblirsch, Assistant Vice President for Facilities Management at Winona State; and Nancy Reynolds of the Winona State Landscape Arboretum.

A program will begin at noon in the Auditorium. President Janz will introduce Winona State Distinguished Alumnus Scott Hannon, former superintendent of the Winona Area Public Schools and current president of the Winona County Historical Society. Dr. Hannon will give an illustrated talk on the history of the Winona Normal School, the oldest public teachers college west of the Mississippi River and forerunner of today’s Winona State. He’ll emphasize the central importance that Somsen Hall played in the University’s development over the past century. The Heritage Preservation Commission will also present its 2024 Historic Preservation Awards during the program.

Throughout the event, short videos depicting Somsen Hall and aerial views of the Winona State campus — produced by Bill Kuhl — and close-ups of the building’s distinctive “grotesques”–allegorical figures that decorate the exterior–produced by Professor Emeritus Tom Grier — will be screened continuously on monitors located on the second floor. Full-size reproductions of Somsen’s 1923 blueprints also will be on display.

Other event sponsors include: Winona State Landscape Arboretum, Winona State Foundation, Winona State Krueger Library Archives, and Winona County Historical Society. Preservation Month activities are promoted each May by the National Trust for Historic Preservation to celebrate the country’s architectural treasures. This year’s theme is “People Saving Places.”

About Somsen Hall

College Hall, known as Somsen Hall today, was designed by Clarence H. Johnston, who was a chief architect for the State Board of Control.

In 1924, the brick Collegiate Gothic style building was built to serve as the main administrative building, as well as the site of the auditorium, gymnasium and the junior high school program of the laboratory school. Somsen Hall was placed on the National Register of Historical Places in 2013.

At both ends of the main entrance archway sit grotesques carved from original Winona stone by Italian stone carvers. Adding grotesques was a decorative way to protect the outside walls of the Gothic style architecture from stains and erosion.

Somsen Hall’s main entrance passes through an interior stairway decorated with a mural painted by Minnesota native and teacher John Martin Socha. The mural represents various aspects of Winona history as told from the perspective of the white settler, including the legend of the Sioux princess Wenonah and depictions of Winona’s early industries along the river, railroads, and sawmills. In 2020, Winona State University made the decision to cover the mural in an effort to promote inclusivity and due to the mural’s historical inaccuracies.

Since the building’s opening, the Somsen Hall Auditorium (now Harriet Johnson Auditorium) has been a premier venue for major campus events, including lectures, readings by famous authors, and major performances.

Through the years the auditorium has hosted acclaimed guests like Maya Angelou, famous poet and author of the memoir “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” and performances by world-renowned artists like Yo-Yo Ma, Andre Watts, and Branford Marsalis, as part of the Minnesota Beethoven Festival.

In 1937, College Hall was renamed to Somsen Hall in honor of Stephen H. Somsen, who spent a quarter century of service on the State Teachers College Board. He was the Board’s liaison with the Legislature, drafted bills that became law, and helped plan the construction of several new buildings for Teachers Colleges in Minnesota.

Today, Somsen Hall continues to serve as the main administrative center for the university, serving as the seat of the President’s Office, and home to Academic Affairs, the Winona State Foundation and Alumni Engagement offices, the Adult and Continuing Education office, and Tech Support Center.

Somsen Hall is also home to the Winona State College of Business, which offers innovative, high-value business programs for a wide range of interests, including marketing, accounting, human resources, economics, finance, and business administration.

The College of Business offers 7 undergraduate majors, 12 undergraduate minors, 3 online degree completion programs, and a Master of Professional Accounting. The college’s Bachelor of Science majors and minors have earned accreditation by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). They are one of only 50 undergraduate-only accredited programs nationwide. Within the College of Business, the Engagement Center and the Strauss Center for Excellence serve as hubs to foster campus and community engagement through events, workshops, special guests, and more.

With the building’s gothic style architecture and grotesques carved from original Winona stone, the historical importance of Somsen Hall is undeniable. Yet, beyond its physical features, Somsen Hall represents the aspirations and achievements of the countless students who have walked its halls over the past 100 years, and continues to inspire and shape the future of Winona State University and its students.