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The Art Building was built in 1905 to serve first as the College of Medicine, which after being established in 1867 was the oldest such institution in Oregon. Built with funds donated by Salem citizens who wanted to encourage medical training in the capital city of Oregon, it was the second brick structure to be built on campus. After the College of Medicine relocated to Portland in 1912 until 1941, the building housed the science departments of the university. In 1941, these departments moved to the then newly constructed Collins Hall and became home to the College of Music (and later department of music). The Hallie Brown Ford Gallery occupied the top floor later developed into the university's Hallie Ford Museum of Art, established in a separate building in 1998. In the 1970s, the building was in such disrepair (its upper level was declared off limits by the fire marshal) that an extensive renovation was undertaken in 1975-1976. The art and art history department now currently resides in the building.
The Art Building is in excellent condition following another major project in 2002-2003 that stabilized the original building to withstand earthquakes and also created a new addition to house studios and a student gallery that complemented the original Beaux-Arts building on a smaller scale and in modern terms.