Built in response to the need for more affordable student housing, Helaman Halls has served as home to thousands of BYU students. Originally intended to be male, it now houses men and women. Named after a group of valiant young warriors, Helaman Halls stands as a reminder of BYU’s mission.
In 1953, and in response to a rising need for affordable student housing, BYU administration completed the plan for a new complex of men’s dorm rooms. Originally to be located in the northeast portion of campus, it was soon moved to a plot of land north of the old stadium. Further architectural setbacks pushed the completion date of the dorms back a few years, until they were finally finished in 1959. By now, BYU had bought land adjacent to the new dorms and decided to expand the complex of buildings to include an extra building. Because of this land, administrators decided to alter the original plans and add an extra floor to all the buildings. This increased the potential capacity of the buildings from 800 to 1170 students. The students were planned to be male, as a compliment for the new Heritage Halls, which would be female. These new complexes tripled the total amount of rooms for students and provided affordable housing for many students. According to the Daily Herald, a local newspaper, when Helaman Halls was opened, a student could rent a room in Helaman Halls for $23 a term, which would be about $200 today. A term lasts about 2 months. Today, students pay about $350 a month, much more than they would have 50 years ago.
Each room was designed to hold two occupants. There would be a large closet, drawers, beds, circular desks for studying, and typewriter stands. There were living rooms with fireplaces to make the dorm rooms feel comfortable for students. The architects decided that the stairs should be placed on the exterior to reduce noise from residents going to their rooms. A central building was also planned, to give students a nearby place to eat and congregate. It would have two dining halls and a kitchen for students to use. There would also be meeting rooms, a mailroom, business offices, music rooms, a snack bar, and a large patio. It was named the Cannon Center, after George Q. Cannon, a prominent leader in the LDS church. While building the foundation for the Cannon Center, a high water table of good drinking water was found. They decided to build a well and use the water, which has now been integrated into the Provo Water system, with the school receiving a water concession for its use.
Because the nearby Deseret Towers complex had a swimming pool, students who lived in Helaman Halls often asked for a pool. It wasn’t feasible at the time, to do monetary and space concerns, so the administration did not make any pools. Once, some students in Helaman Halls decided to make their own pool in the shower room. They removed the doors to their rooms and blocked off the showers. By flooding the room, they created their own pool. However, the weight of the water burst out the walls to the room and flooded the floor they were on. No one was injured, but in 1976, a pool was built in Helaman Halls. It has since been removed.
Once the complex was finished, the university needed to name it. As with Heritage Halls, administrators sought out suggestions from the students. Some of the names were “Pioneer Halls” and “Foundation Halls,” thought the name Helaman Halls was eventually selected. This refers to a story found in the Book of Mormon about a group of young men who served as warriors for their country to defend their families. The man who commanded them was named Helaman, and the group was known as the Sons of Helaman. A mural depicting their virtue is found in the Cannon Center. The individual buildings were named after prominent people in Mormon History, commemorating people like Stephen L. Chipman and the Ira Nathaniel Hinckley family. The first group of 5 buildings and the Cannon Center were dedicated on November 7, 1958, while the second group of two more buildings were dedicated less than a year later. In 1970, another building was finished, and in 2010, a final building was made. Today, there are nine housing buildings and one common center, to make a total of 10 buildings in the complex. The complex went through renovations for about a decade, from 1991 to 2003, providing each room with more amenities and bringing them up to a modern standard of living.
Today, Helaman Halls holds both men and women, reflecting the evolving housing needs of the students on campus. It holds over 2,000 students and allows them easy access both to campus and the many stores just west of campus. It is a common starting place for young freshman, embarking on their BYU experience.