Gone but Not Forgotten: The University's Defunct Dorms

Author: Oscar Noem and Claire Early

Zahm Hall"

Nestled on the bank of St. Mary’s Lake near Carroll Hall, there appears to be what looks like a headstone. Unlike most graves, it doesn’t mark where a person is buried; instead, it designates the place where hundreds of students lived, slept, and studied during their four years at the University. The grave is for Holy Cross Hall, one of four dorms that have been shut down over the past 30 years. Likewise, Grace Hall and Flanner Hall, the two imposing high-rises on Mod Quad, used to house 1,100 men between them at any given time. Now they house offices and seminar rooms. 

Zahm Hall is still home to many undergraduate students, but is now a swing dorm, replacing the former swing dorm, Pangborn Hall, and hosting the new students whose dorms are undergoing renovations. The original so-called “Zahmbies” are now scattered among various other residence halls on campus. With the last members of these dorms moving on with their lives and departing the Notre Dame campus, it bears asking the simple questions: What were these dorms like? What were their inhabitants like? And what led to their dissolution? 

Prior to its demolition in the summer of 1990, Holy Cross Hall was the home of the Hogs, a moniker the residents received with pride. Their geographical location put some distance between them, their classes and other dorms, but it brought the residents of the former seminary closer together. 

“No question… We definitely had a sense of unity and commonality,” said Pete LaFleur, class of 1990 and president of Holy Cross Hall during its final year. “A lot of people weren’t that attached to their dorms, but if you were in Holy Cross, for the most part you were. I don’t think we had a lot of people that left the dorm because they didn’t like the group.” 

Holy Cross Hall was one of the older buildings on campus, established in 1889 as a seminary (men of Holy Cross Hall would joke that Fr. Hesburgh was a Hog). In 1989, in fact, the Hogs celebrated their dorm’s centennial, which LaFleur referred to as “a century of zany tomfoolery.” “We didn’t take ourselves too seriously,” LaFleur said. 

The Hogs treated the demolition of their dorm with the same good humor and enthusiasm. They celebrated the closure of Holy Cross Hall with “Hog Week”: a week full of events arranged by out party with live band performances, a pig roast and the “zany tomfoolery” that the Hogs were known for. LaFleur recalls a Holy Cross Hall student making a t-shirt with the Neil Young quote on it: “It’s better to burn out than fade away.” 

“That was kind of our approach, we were going to try to have fun,” Lafleur said. In the end, the building was too old and rundown, posing a safety hazard. Many of its residents found a home in Grace Hall, which reserved two floors for the displaced Hogs. 

In comparison, Grace Hall and Flanner Hall were unique from their conception. These buildings were designed as the first of five high rises that could house 2,500 students. However, the plan was abandoned, and in the end, only Grace and Flanner were built. 

The design of the buildings created a culture dissimilar to all the other dorms on campus. “You could get on the elevator and not know anyone. It was almost like you were riding an elevator in downtown Chicago,” said Ed Trifone, class of ‘88, MA ‘99. “It lacked that friendly familiarity.” 

“We used to say that Grace’s defining characteristic was apathy,” said Fr. Greg Haake, CSC, class of ‘99. “The very nature of the number of students made it that way.” 

As a result of their populations, Grace and Flanner took on a strong, section-based culture, forming tight-knit communities divided by floors and sides of their respective buildings. The floors of Flanner were split into sections A and B, and the floors of Grace were split into sections C and D, linking the two dorms despite their scale. 

Trifone recalls late-night “elevator battles” as being a perk unique to Grace and Flanner, as well as Grace-vision: Grace Hall’s television station that would rebroadcast football games and Knute Rockne’s All-American. “And we had the best Christmas parties,” Trifone said. “I think everyone would say that.” 

Grace Hall was closed after the spring semester of 1996. “The mentality was ‘Rest in Peace,’” Trifone said. While working for the Alumni Association, Trifone’s temporary offices during the building of the Eck Center were one floor above his senior year dorm room in Grace Hall. “I used to joke when I would work late that I could hear the sounds of guys yelling at their TVs and the smell of dirty laundry in the hallway.” 

Grace’s population divided and moved into the newly-built Keough Hall and O’Neill Family Hall. Flanner survived an additional year before being divided into Siegfried Hall and Knott Hall following the spring semester of 1997. 

Certain elements of the section-based culture persist to this day in these new dorms. “That definitely has been something that’s hung on, and I’m surprised at the durability of that culture in O’Neill — that it’s held on so strongly for 25 years,” Fr. Haake said. 

While Grace and Flanner were closed as residence halls to make room for administrative offices, the closure of Zahm Hall was a very different story. Already infamous campus-wide for its hazing culture, proclivity for vandalism and allegations of sexual misconduct, the closure of Zahm was announced in the spring of 2021, immediately sparking massive protests as Zahm men and groups of people from other dorms rallied in support of their fellow students. 

“That was really cool and enjoyable, walking around and seeing thousands of people out there,” said John Noonan, currently a junior and a former Zahm resident. “I think the writing was on the wall already, in terms of the building getting shut down.” said Nick Galley, Noonan’s roommate and additional ex-Zahm resident. 

Zahm residents fought tooth and nail against the dorm’s closure without success. As was the case with the dissolution of Grace and Flanner, students in Zahm were allowed to make a group of two to four friends and choose a dorm to move into. Unlike Grace and Flanner, however, these students were scattered to men’s dorms across campus, instead of being split between two new buildings. 

With such a wide diaspora, the Zahm culture that many called problematic has been stifled effectively. “Even though we knew each other before, everyone kind of splintered down to their own little groups eventually,” Noonan said. Galley agreed. “I’ll still say hi to a lot of people and I hang out with some guys from time to time, but it’s not like I’m texting the Zahm guys every day,” he explained. “It’s slowly fizzling out, I think.” 

Despite the loss of their community, after two years, the former residents of Zahm seem to have made peace with their past. “It was a liability-based decision,” said Galley. “If you’re running what is essentially a business, it makes sense to shut it down.” Fr. Greg Haake, who had been priest-in-residence at the time, agreed. “At the end, the community was suffering,” he said. But he looked back on the time with a touch of nostalgia, too: “There are positive memories, and then I do have negative memories too. But, of course, like any human being, I prefer not to dwell on the negative ones.” 

Noonan and Galley recalled some of the Zahm’s positive moments. “That’s the part of Zahm that I do miss,” Galley said. “I don’t miss the vandalism, I don’t miss whenever something toxic like that happened. But the stupid random stuff.” 

The University’s residence halls represent much more than buildings to the students they house. The physical building’s purpose may change, or it may be demolished, but the alumni do not forget the friendships and memories they made within their walls