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Gatke Hall was originally built in 1902 to serve as the U. S. Post Office for Salem, Oregon. In 1938, it was moved to its present location to serve as the university's College of Law. The building is a handsome example of early twentieth-century Beaux-Arts design in the mode of an Italian palazzo. Visually, the stone exterior is distinctive on a campus where nearly all other buildings are constructed of or veneered in brick.
As the College of Law from ca. 1938 to 1966, it was the seat of learning for many law students who would go on to develop careers as distinguished attorneys and judges. The current name of the building honors Robert Moulton Gatke, a prominent professor of political science and history at Willamette University. The building has some significance in popular culture, since when it was transported to its new location it was deemed by Ripley's Believe It or Not to be heaviest building ever moved.
The building is in good structural condition but has endured some makeshift remodelling on the interior (the inside lobby, for example, has been walled off as a storage area). Marble flooring, elaborate woodwork, and other historic features of the interior, however, remain intact. Since Gatke Hall is not compliant with the ADA requirements, most of the building is not used for purposes requiring public access.