Visit the University of Washington and you’ll likely pass through Red Square, a huge open space bordered by two student libraries, a lecture hall, and a school administration building. Most days, it’s dotted with food trucks and student-run clubs. But when local and national issues heat up, Red Square is a hub for student protests.
In honor of May Day, let’s get into the square’s history…
WHAT IT IS: An open plaza in the heart of University of Washington’s campus that’s made almost entirely out of red brick. It was built in 1971 outside Suzzallo Library to replace a field because engineers were afraid that when it rained, water could leak into the school’s brand new garage.
HOW IT GOT ITS NAME: Its official name is actually the “Suzzallo Quadrangle,” after the Suzzallo Library, which borders the plaza. Before the brick was laid in the ‘70s, the quad was a grassy field and “a common meeting place for student activist groups,” reported The Daily, the UW’s student newspaper. Student Cassandra Amesely, who wrote for the school paper, is credited with giving Red Square its nickname after she created a campaign to rename it as part of a class assignment on propaganda (!), HistoryLink reports. It’s not clear whether its name was meant to allude to Russia’s own Red Square, but it makes us wonder…
KNOWN FOR: Aside from being a gathering space for students, Red Square has long been a home for student activism. In 1970, thousands of students protested against the Vietnam War in the wake of the Kent State University shooting, in which members of the Ohio National Guard troops fatally shot four college students protesting the war. More recently, the plaza made headlines on inauguration night in 2017 after a man protesting right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos’ campus appearance was shot.
NOT-SO-FUN FACT: The brick-paved plaza is infamous for becoming extremely slippery when it rains or snows. 💦
HOWEVER… The plaza was long-rumored to have been paved with brick to make it easier to hose down student protesters in the 1960s — but that’s not true, The Daily reported. The quad was laid with brick in 1971 per modernist architect and UW grad Paul Hayden Kirk’s designs. He said he designed Red Square to be “open for the people to use and the big groups to get together.”
What are your memories of Red Square? Did they involve any political activism or protests? Share your reflections here.