Originally called the Liberal Arts Building, Hellems was the first building completed in the Klauder style and it shows all of his major design concepts. He planned building mass that featured a variety of roof planes, gable forms, and chimneys. Hellems uses the "bookend" concept of a central section with vertical windows framed on each end by larger forms. Klauder selected a palette of materials including native pink sandstone; limestone for window surrounds and other sculptural details; black metal for windows, railings, and light fixtures; and red terra cotta tile roofs.
The wings were added in 1938.
The building is named for Fred B. R. Hellems (1872–1929), who was dean of liberal arts for many years. He taught classics and Latin and represented the United States in the 1896 Olympic Games revival at Athens, where he was a runner-up in fencing.