To accommodate the growing student body, in 1937 BYU began constructing its first building meant specifically for use as a student dormitory. Utahn architect Joseph Nelson designed the building in the style of Jacobethan Revival, including gabled parapets and striated brick, and BYU students donated time and labor as construction workers to help building contractor Louis De Young turn Nelson’s vision into reality.
Completed in 1938, the dormitory accommodated up to seventy residents, which BYU set aside for specifically male students. BYU named the building Allen Hall, after Inez Knight Allen and R. Eugene “Gene” Allen. The Allens were the daughter and son-in-law of Jesse Knight, a Latter-day Saint philanthropist who had financially supported BYU (a loan from the Knight Endowment Fund financed Allen Hall itself), and they were accomplished Latter-day Saints in their own right. Inez had been a student at BYU’s predecessor, Brigham Young Academy’s Normal Training School, from 1892 to 1896, where she studied pedagogy and philosophy. Two years after that, Knight became one of the first single sister missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, serving for twenty-six months in Great Britain from 1898 to 1900. Gene was also a Brigham Young Academy alumnus; he also studied at Rochester Business College. As an officer of Knight Trust and Savings Bank, Gene managed the Knight Fund. Gene and Inez married in 1902, and they became philanthropists in their communities, following Jesse Knight’s example.
BYU considered Allen Hall such a success as a housing unit that it immediately drew up plans to build another dormitory building, this time for women, which it named Amanda Knight Hall and completed in 1939. BYU Students lived in Allen Hall for the next twenty-four years. Though originally intended only for men, when an influx of female students strained available housing during the mid-1940s, BYU temporarily used Allen Hall to house both men and women, renting first-floor rooms to men and second- and third-floor rooms to women. Eventually, the first floor was converted to women’s housing as well, and men did not fully occupy Allen Hall again until 1953.
In the 1950s, BYU built new dorms to house its increasingly numerous students, perhaps making Allen Hall less significant to BYU’s overall housing needs. Students stopped living in Allen Hall in 1962, and the Church’s Language Training Mission took over the building to house missionaries-in-training. In 1980, BYU took over the building again and used it to host its Museum of Peoples and Cultures for over thirty years. After the museum moved to its present location on Canyon Road in 2014, BYU occasionally used Allen Hall to accommodate university employees when construction created a shortage of office space.
Four years later, in June 2018, BYU announced plans to demolish Allen Hall on the grounds that its age made it unusable for university purposes. Preservation Utah, a historical preservation nonprofit, objected to the planned demolition, arguing that losing Allen Hall would “erase a key part of the university’s story of historical growth and expansion.”
Despite Preservation Utah’s passion, however, its intervention came too late. BYU demolished Allen Hall in August 2018. As of January 2022, BYU maintains the empty lot as a grass field.