Section: Features

Fire, fugitives and fungi: a history of the New Apartments

Fire, fugitives and fungi: a history of the New Apartments

The New Apts have been a source of infamy for nearly 50 years. | COURTESY OF GREENSLADE SPECIAL COLLECTIONS AND ARCHIVES

As the College celebrates last week’s $100 million anonymous donation for new, apartment-style residence halls on South campus, as per the suggestion of the recent housing study, it also prepares to bid farewell to the most infamous housing option at Kenyon: the New Apartments. Tucked away on the north end of campus, the so-called “New Apts” have been home to some of Kenyon’s trademark shenanigans since becoming the first student apartments and co-educational residence on campus. 

Among current Kenyon students, the New Apts are generally known for their run-down nature, which has, at times, made them uninhabitable. The New Apts have had problems with mold for many years; in 2003, residents of Apartment D-2 were relocated to the Kenyon Inn after returning from winter break, when they found the mold in their apartment had grown to the point that it was falling off the walls. Even as recently as the fall of 2019, the residents of the neighboring D-1 were forced to relocate to Weaver Cottage following black mold and mice infestations. According to Maggie Perkins ’20, one of D-1’s residents that year, the apartment also flooded while students were away for spring break last year. Upon returning to retrieve her belongings last March, Perkins found that nearly all of her possessions on the floor were covered in mold.

These repeated instances support the Kenyon lore that the New Apts were meant to be temporary housing — it is no wonder that they are not in the best shape after nearly 50 years. As early as 1989, then-College Archivist Thomas Greenslade told the Collegian that the New Apartments were meant to be temporary. In more recent years, College Historian and Keeper of Kenyoniana Thomas Stamp ’73 refuted this claim. But when asked definitively about the intended lifespan of the New Apts, Stamp — who himself was one of F Block’s first residents in 1972 — said that they were built with “an anticipated expiration date.”

“They were built, basically, to be 20-year buildings,” Stamp explained. “Of course, at this point, it’s [been] temporary for a considerably longer period of time.”

Stamp also said that is why the New Apts were never renamed. “You don’t want to honor someone with the naming of something you’re going to be tearing down,” he said. 


In their earliest years, the New Apts were viewed as an appealing housing option for students, largely on account of their being Kenyon’s first student apartments. Trouble with the New Apts, however, began within the first decade of their existence; in February 1978, Apartment F-2 caught fire. The fire, the cause of which is unknown to this day, also spread to Apartment F-1 downstairs, which also experienced significant damages. While the fire itself was troubling enough, the incident also revealed an even larger issue: The New Apts, despite having been occupied for five years prior, did not have any smoke alarms. 

The New Apts fire only marked the beginning of their tumultuous history. Only a year later, in 1979, the Knox County Sheriff’s Office arrested a man from Connecticut who was hiding out in the New Apts complex. Wanted for violating his parole, the man was said to have had a record of 14 thefts and an armed robbery. How the man ended up at Kenyon is unclear. 

By 1993, the New Apts underwent some much-needed renovations. Although the renovations were initially a success, their effects didn’t last. According to a September 1993 Collegian article, soon after the renovation was complete, a gas leak prevented residents from accessing hot water for five days; residents also complained that the new walls were incredibly thin. In the same article, the writer called these complaints “the last few kinks that needed to be worked out.” In retrospect, it seems he may have spoken too soon. 

Yet in spite of the New Apts’ mold, mice and thin walls, their former inhabitants still manage to reflect on them with a sense of nostalgia and disgust. “It was a hell hole,” Izzy Kotlowitz ’20, who lived in Apartment C-5 her sophomore year, said in a message to the Collegian. But, she added, “I also love that everyone knows about the house centipedes that have lived in the downstairs new apts, a shared experience of sorts.” Perkins agreed. “No one should have to live in a rodent-infested, mold-infested apartment block,” she said. “But there’s something looking back on it that’s so nostalgic.”

The College’s recent announcement that it will demolish the New Apts in the coming years is not its first — in 2004, the apartments’ destruction had been proposed as part of the College’s Master Plan, although obviously this did not come to fruition. When asked whether he thought Kenyon would follow through this time around, Stamp said, “I do know for sure that the College is committed to tearing them down — it’s just a matter of when.” 

President Sean Decatur did note in a recent interview with the Collegian, however, that the timeline on this was “not a crisp one,” as construction for the new South campus apartments will not begin until 2023. 

Though Perkins agreed that the New Apts are long past their expiration date, she will still be  sad to see them go. “No one should have to live there,” Perkins said. “But also, it’s so Kenyon.”


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