At least as early as 1944, President Malcolm Price recognized the need for a building purposely designed to serve the needs the art and industrial arts programs. As part of a plan including other capital improvements, he asked the General Assembly for $200,000 for a new art and industrial arts building. He believed that the Vocational Building (now Wright Hall) had inadequate facilities to serve what he believed would be a great postwar demand for technical and vocational training. In 1945, the General Assembly appropriated a total of $905,000 for postwar capital improvements on the ISTC campus. This funding was designated for a new laboratory school, a health center, physical plant enhancements, and an Arts and Industries Building. By August 1945, plans for these facilities were in the hands of architects. The two story Arts and Industries Building was to be approximately 240 feet by 60 feet, with the first level devoted to industrial arts and the second floor devoted to art.
However, postwar inflation and building supply shortages did not permit construction to begin. President Price asked for an increase in funding, and the legislature responded with a forty per cent increase in the $905,000 appropriated earlier for all capital projects. Because of the greatly increased postwar enrollment and the need for more classroom space, the Arts and Industries Building took priority in construction. The now $366,000 project was designed by Morgan and Gelatt Architects of Burlington; Kucharo Construction of Des Moines was the general contractor. The target date for completion of the project was September 1948.
Excavation for the building began on October 11, 1947. Footing work began on October 17, 1947. The foundation work was complete by January 1948, but the project stalled until April 1948 when structural steel was finally delivered to the site. Even at that point, the contractor believed that he could complete the work by September 1948, if he could get a large crew of bricklayers to do the exterior work. By September 1948, the target completion date was moved back to January 1949. However, by the spring quarter of 1949, just three art classrooms were ready, and little equipment had been delivered.
Both Harry Guillaume, head of the Art Department, and Harold Palmer, head of the Industrial Arts Department, were enthusiastic about their new facilities. Professor Guillaume said that the new building enabled his department to design new courses and to hire new faculty. He believed that art education at the elementary level was critical to human development. Professor Palmer believed that his new quarters enabled his faculty to prepare citizens for useful lives in an increasingly technical society. His curriculum expanded from just three areas of study to fourteen areas. Gordon O. Wilbur, a visiting expert in industrial arts, found the new building to be one of the finest in the United States.
In 1959, as part of a building program that resulted in Russell Hall, a new health center, and an expanded power plant, the General Assembly appropriated $209,250 for an addition to the Arts and Industries Building. In July 1959, Morgan and Associates of Burlington was again selected as the architect for the work, which would include classrooms and a home for the safety education program. Preliminary plans and specifications for the project, now budgeted at $235,000, were approved in February 1960. The addition would be be located on the south side of the existing building and would be of a similar design. The project was completed by September 1961.
The Department of Art and the Department of Industrial Arts (later Industrial Technology) continued to share the Arts and Industries Building until Industrial Technology moved to the new Industrial Technology Center in August 1975. The Department of Art expanded its work into some of the space opened up by the Industrial Technology relocation. Art students Bill Boss and Laurie Harn suggested and then developed a Student Art Gallery in the building. A student committee scheduled both competitive and individual shows in the gallery. But other campus offices moved into the building as well. In 1976, the Graduate College and Alumni Affairs moved into former Arts and Industries quarters that had been remodeled for $54,000.
UNI has a longstanding tradition of naming one campus building for each of its presidents. President Latham's name had been attached to O. R. Latham Stadium, but that facility had been razed in 1976, following the completion of the UNI-Dome. Consequently, for several years no facility had carried President Latham's name. So, on August 26, 1980, the Regents approved the renaming of the Arts and Industries Building to Latham Hall in honor Orval Ray Latham, president of UNI from 1928 to 1940.
By late 1984, with the Kamerick Art Building nearing completion, the university administration was considering what to do with Latham Hall after the Department of Art moved out. Consensus seemed to be that Latham Hall would make a good home for the Department of Earth Science and the Department of Home Economics. The university asked for $3 million to renovate Latham Hall for these two departments. But funding was delayed for several years. The building continued to be used for offices of Personnell Services and the Graduate College. Some classrooms were also used, but they were in poor condition.
As Director of Planning Leland Thomson said, "We are trying not to use it, because the building in its present form is not efficient . . . We're just sort of limping along at the present time with the present building."
President Curris made Latham Hall his top priority for capital improvement, but it was not until 1987 that $3 million was appropriated for the renovation. The project would improve the mechanical, electrical, and HVAC systems as well as make interior and exterior modifications. Bids were let in October 1988, construction began in November 1988, and the work was completed in November 1989. The architects were Grimes, Port, Jones, and Schwerdtfeger of Waterloo. Except for stairways and load-bearing walls, the interior was stripped and re-built into well-lit labs, classrooms, and offices. Deteriorated exterior awnings were removed. Classes were held for the first time in the renovated building in the spring semester of 1990.
The Department of Earth Science occupies the first level of Latham Hall. The School of Applied Human Sciences occupies the second level.
Compiled by Library Assistant Susan Witthoft and volunteer Julie Peterson; edited by University Archivist Gerald L. Peterson, July 1996; substantially revised by Gerald L. Peterson, September 2002; last updated, March 21, 2012 (GP); photos and citations updated by Graduate Assistant Eliza Mussmann, September 14, 2022.