The Simmons Gymnasium, built in 1901, features hardwood floors, a large stage and two winding staircases leading to a wrought iron railed balcony overlooking the main floor. Gilbert Simmons funded the construction of the building and furnished each dormitory room on the 3rd and 4th floors with beds and mattresses. Founder of the Simmons Mattress Company, Gilbert was grandfather to Janet Anderson who deeded her home and surrounding grounds to Kemper Center in 1977.
The basement at Simmons once contained a one-lane bowling alley, storage for stage productions, a pottery studio and kiln, and Sister Prisca’s woodworking shop. On the first floor were basketball hoops and courts, a stage with stage lights and a storage area for athletic equipment. The students played tennis, field hockey and participated in swimming, horseback riding/jumping and ice skating.
The murals in the Simmons Auditorium were copied from the Bayeaux Tapestry. They depict events leading up to the Battle of Hastings in 1066 in which the French Duke William of Normandy, who was the illegitimate son of Edward, King of England, defeated the Saxon King Harold of Wessex, thereby ascending to the English throne. After his success, William was known as “The Conqueror.” The tapestry is considered the most important pictorial work surviving from the Eleventh century.
The drawings on Simmons walls of selected scenes from the tapestry were done between 1910 and 1916 by Kemper Hall students, directed by art teacher Miss Edith Bacon. Many art classes, some sponsored by the Art Institute of Chicago, have come to view the mural. Today the Simmons Auditorium, which can seat up to 160 people, is the scene of wedding receptions, dances, parties, concerts and fairs.