Located near the intersection of Montview Boulevard and Quebec Street on the east side of Denver, Treat Hall is a Richardsonian Romanesque academic building that served as the original home of Colorado Women’s College. Completed in 1909, the building was the heart of the Colorado Women’s College campus until the college merged with the University of Denver in 1982. In 2000 Johnson & Wales University acquired the former Colorado Women’s College campus, renamed Treat Hall to Centennial Hall, and renovated the building for use as classrooms and offices.
Colorado Women’s College
In 1887 Reverend Robert Cameron of the First Baptist Church of Denver started to pursue the idea of a college for women in Colorado. He soon garnered support, and by 1888 it looked as if the college, envisioned as the “Vassar of the West,” would soon become a reality. That fall, Colorado Women’s College (CWC) was officially established, the first board of trustees was elected, and future governor Job A. Cooper donated a twenty-acre site in Montclair for the college’s campus. Located several miles east of Denver, the site featured commanding views of the Rocky Mountains.
The trustees hoped to complete the college’s first building quickly. The architectural firm of Jackson and Betts drew up plans for a building, and the cornerstone was laid in March 1890 in a ceremony attended by Governor Cooper, several ex-governors, and other dignitaries. The building’s superstructure was finished by August. It was a three-story building with heavy, rusticated stone walls, round-arch windows, and a steeply gabled roof. Its most notable features were its grand entry arch and its horizontal bands of red stone trim.
Unfortunately, the fledgling college ran out of money and could not pay to finish the building. The massive stone structure was boarded up, and the college remained an unfulfilled idea. The Panic of 1893 and the ensuing economic depression soon put off all hopes of the building’s completion for the rest of the decade.
By the early 1900s the embryonic college had a rosier financial outlook and was again generating enthusiasm among its backers. In November 1908, the board of trustees selected the college’s first president, Jay Porter Treat. In line with a major strain of thinking about women’s higher education at the time, Treat believed in what he called “the old idea that a woman’s first duty is in the home and to her family” and thought the college should help women become good wives and mothers. After nearly two decades, work on the college building finally resumed in December 1908, and the building was finished in time for the college to open in September 1909.
Originally, Treat Hall was the only building on the CWC campus and was known simply as the college building. It housed the whole college: classrooms, student dorm rooms, faculty and administrative offices. After 1916, when a four-story brick addition was built, it was often called Main Hall or the Administration Building. It was not officially called Treat Hall until 1930, when alumnae requested that the building be named in honor of the college’s first president.
Treat Hall’s function gradually changed as the college added more buildings to its campus. It stopped serving as a dormitory in 1951, and in the early 1960s the building’s basement gymnasium was converted into a bookstore and canteen.
Colorado Women’s College occupied Treat Hall for more than seventy years. Starting in the 1960s, the college faced declining enrollments and persistent financial difficulties. In 1982 it negotiated a merger with the University of Denver and held its final commencement. Treat Hall, which had been listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, was shuttered for more than three decades after the merger, even as the rest of the campus enjoyed a second life as the University of Denver’s Park Hill campus.
In 2000 the University of Denver began to consolidate its programs on its main campus. The entire Park Hill campus, including Treat Hall, was sold to Johnson & Wales University (JWU), a private institution founded in 1914 in Providence, Rhode Island, that has opened a handful of campuses across the country since the 1980s. JWU’s Denver campus opened in September 2000 with a focus on training students in hospitality and culinary arts. In the early 2000s JWU hoped to convert Treat Hall into a boutique hotel, but those plans ultimately went nowhere.
In 2014 JWU announced that it would renovate and reopen Treat Hall as an academic building. The university also renamed Treat Hall “Centennial Hall” to mark the university’s centennial and as a nod to the Centennial State. The $17 million renovation was finished in time for the 2015–16 academic year and made Centennial Hall into a campus hub with classrooms, offices, a café, and an event hall. The project received Historic Denver’s Community Preservation Award for restoration.