The Pride Center is one of the many offices currently located in Christmas Saucon Hall at Lehigh University. Other offices in the building include the Office of First Year Experience and the Study Abroad office. (Junqi Cui/B&W Staff)

Christmas-Saucon Hall: Historical or just plain old?


Pre-dating the founding of the university itself is Lehigh’s Christmas-Saucon Hall, the oldest building on campus. 

The structure functioned as a Moravian church following its construction in 1865 before being bought and repurposed as an academic building by Lehigh’s Board of Trustees.

In its 159 years, Christmas-Saucon has since served as a chapel, a dormitory and an academic building. While it holds a unique position as the oldest building on campus, its historical value has been debated. 

Today, Christmas-Saucon is in limbo. It’s currently serving yet another temporary purpose while the Clayton University Center is under construction. The building has been through years of renovation, and there have been conversations about demolishing it entirely. Currently, the future of this historic building is in the air. 

Unlike some of Lehigh’s other well-preserved and restored historic buildings, the beige, four-story structure hardly resembles what it originally looked like before decades of renovations, according to Lehigh digital archivist Alex Japha.

Stucco was added to cover the original brick exterior. The tower, which gave the building a distinctive church style, was removed, and what was originally two separate buildings was joined to form one.

The building in its current state garners differing community opinions.  

Ryan Baker, ‘27, who has two classes in Christmas-Saucon this semester, said he’s not the biggest fan of the building.

“I can see where people are coming from when they complain about having classes in Christmas-Saucon,” Baker said. “It’s not a pretty building like Packard Lab or Linderman (Library), and I feel like it doesn’t fit in with the rest of campus.”

Alternatively, many people, including Japha’s colleague, Ilhan Citak, Lehigh special collections archivist, are in favor of preserving the building as it is.

“We should not look at that space and say, ‘We should put something new here,’” Citak said. “It should be preserved, in my opinion.”

Citak struggles to see what benefit could come from demolishing Christmas-Saucon. Even if the building has been stripped of the historic value from its original architectural details, the building’s sheer age remains. 

At a minimum, Citak believes Lehigh should put a plaque on the building that says, “This is the oldest building on campus.”

Nancy Trainer, associate vice president for facilities and campus planning, said potential demolition plans of Christmas-Saucon have been considered in the past. However, she believes there is no reason for these plans to come to fruition in the near future.

“Right now, Christmas-Saucon is serving a very important, but temporary use,” Trainer said. “Before making any big decisions about its future, we really need to understand the history of the building, its location on campus, its potential uses and see how all those things fit together.”

Since the renovation of the Clayton University Center began in January 2023, numerous campus offices were relocated to Christmas-Saucon, including the Office of First-Year Experience, the Community Service Office, the Pride Center, the Office of Multicultural Affairs and more.

Carolina Hernandez, assistant dean and director of the Community Service Office, said the transition from the Clayton University Center to Christmas-Saucon was smooth and the office has made itself at home in the new space.

“Oh my God, it feels like we’ve been in Christmas-Saucon forever, I’m not going to lie,” Hernandez said.

Painting a mural with students, creating homey and cozy areas throughout the office and hanging art on the walls were all done to create an easy and comfortable transition for the offices that have been temporarily moved.

The biggest challenge the offices have faced with Christmas-Saucon is its lack of accessibility. Many students have expressed frustration that the four-story building has no elevator.

“The downside of Christmas-Saucon has obviously been the lack of accessibility, and it’s been a challenge,” Hernandez said. “We know it’s an old, historical building, and that is always the downside of being in a space like that.”

Under Trainer’s lead, Lehigh Facilities is starting the expected 18-month process of creating a campus plan. The goal of the plan is to make the Mountaintop, Goodman and Asa Packers campuses feel more connected. 

The plan will aid Lehigh facilities in prioritizing the buildings on campus. Trainer said buildings will be assessed, at least partially, on accessibility, practical value, historical value and timing in the grand scheme. 

Christmas-Saucon will be included in these discussions, but as the campus plan is in its early stages, no decisions have been made.

“With Christmas-Saucon, we haven’t decided on anything,” Trainer said. “It’s changed a lot over the years and may not be the prettiest building on campus, but it has a history and we should be thinking about that history as we think about the future of the building.”

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1 Comment

  1. Nick Noel ‘74 on

    Regarding Christmas-Saucon, it is my recollection and understanding that a significant amount of utility structures, which service much of the main campus , are located under that area and that demolition would require complex and major disruption to the campus, and with it excess expense other than the “normal” renovation. Perhaps a follow up with campus engineering would shed some light on that.

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