The mansion stands upon the precise site of the original Shadow Lawn, which was destroyed by fire in 1927, soon after $1 million had been spent on its refurbishing. That former colonial frame structure contained 52 rooms and was built in 1903 for John A. McCall, former president of the New York Life Insurance Co.
Woodrow Wilson Hall, formerly known as the Shadow Lawn mansion, was built in 1929 at a cost of $10.5 million as the private residence of former F.W. Woolworth Co. president Hubert Templeton Parson and his wife Maysie. Philadelphia architect Horace Trumbauer and his chief designer Julian Abele, the first African-American professional architect, designed the mansion in the neoclassical French tradition. The construction incorporates limestone quarried in Bedford, Indiana (also used in the Empire State Building), steel, concrete, and 50 varieties of Italian marble.
It was later purchased by Joseph B. Greenhut, the head of Siegel, Cooper Co., a New York department store. Greenhut loaned the mansion to President Woodrow Wilson during the campaign of 1916 as the presidential summer home. Thereafter it was known as the Summer White House.
The current mansion fell under municipal ownership in the Depression, and later served as the site of a private girls' school until the University (then known as Monmouth Junior College) acquired the property in 1956.
The private girl's school, Highland Manor Junior College, named the building Woodrow Wilson Hall in the mid-1940s. When Monmouth acquired the property from Highland Manor, the building's name was changed from Woodrow Wilson Hall to The Great Hall, as one of the first actions to delineate a distinction between the two schools.
In 1965, Monmouth College President William Van Note shared with the board that there was a need to find "attractive names for all buildings on campus." The Board formed a committee of trustees to work with faculty, administration and members of the student body to recommend names for all the buildings on campus. On May 7, 1966, Wilson Hall was dedicated, along with the Thomas A. Edison Science Building. On June 23, 1966, a bronze plaque was installed on the exterior wall of Wilson Hall with the following inscription: WOODROW WILSON HALL
This building, on the site of his one-time summer home, honors the memory of WOODROW WILSON, historian, college president, Governor of New Jersey, twenty-eighth president of the United States, and principle architect of the League of Nations.
The mansion underwent extensive restoration in the 1980s, beginning in 1984 as part of Monmouth's 50th anniversary. Funding for the $770,000 project came from the McMurray-Bennett Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the State of New Jersey, and private contributions.
In 1978, along with the University's Guggenheim Memorial Library, the Wilson Hall building was entered in the National Register of Historic Places. In 1985, the U.S. Department of the Interior designated the building a National Historic Landmark.
Because Wilson Hall has been designated a National Historic Landmark, meticulous care in accordance with strict guidelines has been taken to maintain the original features of the building. A $270,000 grant was awarded from the New Jersey Historic Trust in 1996. The grant, which was matched dollar for dollar by Monmouth University, has been used to restore and renovate the Wilson Auditorium and to develop a historic structures report for Wilson Hall. A second application of the Trust is pending. If awarded, it will enable to University to restore Wilson Hall's roof and exterior and revamp the air handling system over the next several years.
The building encompasses some 130 rooms on three main floors, plus rooftop and lower-level rooms. In the main portion, there are 96 rooms, which include what once were 17 master suites and 19 baths. Each of the baths was decorated and furnished in a different period and had gold-plated or silver-plated fixtures.
Covering the parquet floors were 60,000 square feet of carpeting and 146 rugs specially designed and loomed in Europe and Asia. It took four years to complete the order. A rug woven in the Canary Islands and measuring 24 feet by 93 feet covered the main floor of the Great Hall, also known as Haslam Slocum Hall.
Wilson Hall has been described in newspapers throughout the world, is featured in many books on architecture and art, and has been used as backdrop for innumerable print ads and television commercials. It also served as the setting for the 1982 film version of Annie.
Woodrow Wilson Hall is the administrative center of the University, though classes are still held in the building.
Wilson Hall's interior design was crafted by one of the first professionally trained African American architects in the United States, Julian Abele (1881-1950). Abele worked for Horace Trumbauer, and their relationship was unusual for the time with Abele serving as Chief Designer at a major Philadelphia firm. Throughout his career, Abele designed more than 400 buildings including the Harvard University Widener Memorial Library, the Central Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Duke University Chapel. Read more about Julian Abele on the Smithsonian Magazine website.