UMass Amherst: The Magazine for Alumni and Friends

Fall 2008

FEATURES
Building Consensus
Balancing preservation and progress on the Amherst campus takes practice, patience, and an appreciation for pastiche
Eric Goldscheider ’93G

Building Consensus
1970 Murray D. Lincoln Campus Center is constructed. Different architecural patterns on its north and south façades represent each floor’s functions: hotel, offices, and food services. (photo courtesy of W.E.B. DuBois Special Collections and Archives)

Past and future had a bit of a scuffle on campus last spring. As crews prepared to dismantle the College Barn to make way for a new Recreation Center across from the Mullins Center, a fledgling preservation group stopped the proverbial wrecking ball mid-swing.

Led by professor emeritus of wildlife biology Joseph Larson ’56, ’58G Preserve UMass, or PUMA, has more than 100 members, including alumni and active and retired faculty and staff. In the face of the barn’s demise, they convinced Preservation Massachusetts, a statewide organization with a kindred mission, to place the campus as a whole on a list of the 10 most endangered historical resources in the Commonwealth.

By the time the College Barn (sometimes called the Stucco Barn or Cow Barn) came down, the media splash of that designation had subsided. But the year-old association gave voice to the cause of historic preservation on campus, where excitement surrounding the current building boom is palpable.

“We blew the whistle and brought the project to a halt for about seven weeks…a major delay for an over $35 million construction project,” notes Larson. While the demolition of a building some regarded as a sentimental monument to the agricultural roots of the campus did go forward, PUMA’s actions prodded the University of Massachusetts Building Authority to hash out a memorandum of agreement to document the barn structure and also to initiate a comprehensive survey of every UMass Amherst building that is more than 50 years old.


Joining TogetherPreserving the FutureDownload pdf of complete article with timeline



A team from the nationally prominent design firm of Einhorn Yaffee Prescott (EYP), led by noted architect and preservation expert David Fixler, is now nearing the end of its mission to catalogue the historically significant attributes of all 113 buildings on campus built before 1958. Some may qualify for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, a designation that would trigger a high level of scrutiny before they can be changed in any way.

The preservationist impulse is guided by a “philosophy of time and responsibility that includes the future,” according to Stewart Brand, author of How Buildings Learn (Viking, 1994). The historic preservation movement, he wrote, “swept seemingly out of nowhere in the 1970s and 1980s to reverse everything that had been done to the built environment in the 1950s and 1960s.” He called it, “a quiet, populist, conservative, victorious revolution.”

The campus’s last significant growth phase came in the 1960s when a number of renowned architects were engaged to design large edifices that define the UMass Amherst campus today. As a result, the older and smaller, yet rock solid, mostly brick buildings from the first century since the founding of the land grant agricultural college, have the feel of being scattered among new neighbors such as the Lincoln Campus Center, the Du Bois Library, the Lederle Graduate Research Center, and the Fine Arts Center.

Fixler brings an appreciation for the newer buildings as well as an informed understanding of what is special about the older ones. He is a principal of EYP, as well as president of the New England chapter of DOCOMOMO, an international organization dedicated to the protection of buildings of the modern movement. He also has considerable experience working in academic infrastructure.

The scope of the inventory under way is limited to getting a basic understanding of campus holdings. “We are doing a broad-brush survey,” says Fixler. The team includes people from Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc., a consulting firm that is participating in the project. Using a form published by the Massachusetts Historical Commission, they are gathering baseline information such as the age of each building, who designed it, and whether it is associated with any significant people or events. Their mandate includes photographing each building’s exterior and drafting a narrative explaining significant architectural or design attributes. The condition of some buildings also will be part of the survey.

Fixler likens the UMass Amherst campus to a “historic city” where you can see an evolution of tastes and styles. “It is precisely the juxtaposition and overlay of different time periods and different types of architecture” that makes the campus so interesting, says Fixler. “The purpose of the survey will be to put all of that into perspective and in context,” he said, so that “as people are planning for the future they understand what is significant and what it means if, say, you want to propose to build next to some historic structure.”

Though the scope of this project is limited, the implications for the future are large. Fixler’s team is essentially developing talking points that will come into play when particular areas of the campus are evaluated as sites for new construction. Their work will be reflected in a master plan that Facilities and Campus Planning and the state Division of Capital Asset Management are writing. “In the long haul you may not be able to save everything, but at least you created a good historic record,” says Fixler.

An accurate public record is especially germane now as $790 million in projects are currently under way on campus and more money for a complex for research stemming from Governor Deval Patrick’s statewide life sciences initiative and a new classroom building are foreseen for the coming years. Besides the Recreation Center and Integrated Science Building to open next year, the campus christened a new Studio Arts Building and a renovated Skinner Hall for nursing this past September.

Ground soon will be broken for a new police station. Meanwhile, a comprehensive study last year identified $1.3 billion in deferred maintenance problems, meaning that older buildings, which tend to yield fewer square feet for the money invested in them than new construction, may be viewed as prohibitively expensive to maintain or refurbish.

James Cahill, the Director of Facilities and Campus Planning for UMass Amherst, said objections that surfaced around the demolition of the College Barn last year took him by surprise. Part of the problem, he said, was that there was no source of reliable information about the building and its distinguishing features. He didn’t know that it was listed with the Massachusetts Historical Commission, and when it was brought to his attention that it was, basic information—such as the name of the building—didn’t conform to any records he had on hand. “We want to do the right thing,” said Cahill, “so at the very least the campus should have information that is comparable, compatible, and reconcilable with the information that is sitting with the Mass Historical Commission so we’re not interpreting something one way that they interpret differently.”

Cahill foresees differences over what is worth saving as the need for more space on campus intensifies in the coming decades. “Some of the historical buildings are very small, but our needs come in large buildings. We’re a huge enterprise with complex needs;” said Cahill, “therein lies the dilemma... sometimes preserving your history and moving into the future come into direct conflict with one another.”

The work Fixler and his team have been commissioned to do won’t solve that dilemma, but it will provide fodder for what are sure to be passionate debates as the physical landscape of the campus evolves. It is also part of a process that will ensure that a wide variety of voices will be heard as those debates unfold.

Some buildings, such as the Old Stone Chapel, which was in fact built as a library and never served a religious function, and the University Club in the wooden Boltwood-Stockbridge House, might well be candidates for protection. The first, according to Cahill, is a “cherished asset.” Larson calls its sturdy lines and recently restored steeple the “iconic image” of UMass Amherst. As David and Lynn Adams, a faculty couple who are also both alumni, pointed out in their recent book, Massachusetts Memories, on the campus’s history, the chapel was completed in 1885 from grey stones acquired from a quarry in nearby Pelham, and has stood on its original site overlooking the campus pond “since well within the lifetimes of the 1871 graduates of the pioneer class of the Massachusetts Agricultural College (MAC).”

The Boltwood-Stockbridge House, on Stockbridge Road, which parallels North Pleasant Street, has the distinction of being the oldest structure in the town of Amherst. Built in 1728 it has several claims to fame, including being the boyhood home of Daniel Chester French, the sculptor who designed the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. His father, Henry Flagg French, served as the first president of what was affectionately called “Mass Aggie.” According to literature put out by the University Club, which now occupies the house, “Daniel worked on the college farm before students enrolled at the College and his father referred to him as ‘the first graduate of MAC.’” Among other things the house saw use in the 1930s as a “residence for women who were taking the practical homemaking course required of students majoring in Home Economics,” and in an earlier era, according to Larson, as a place where patriots kept British Tories under “protective custody” during the Revolutionary War.

While these buildings and the desire to preserve them may not become a source of contention, others, like South College, may. Built in 1885 the distinctive narrow L-shaped building with rows of pointed dormers along the roofline, was listed on a 2007 assessment of campus structures that are potential candidates for demolition. Just west of the massive Du Bois Library, South College has a quirky history in that its predecessor on the site burned down less than 20 years after it was built at the college’s founding. One of the oldest buildings on campus, its central location makes it at the same time a desirable site for new construction and a highly recognizable artifact of days gone by. The current historic survey being done will help planners figure out which structures, such as South College, can harmonize a beloved past and future usefulness.

Of the 113 pre-1958 buildings included in the current survey, a dozen were built before the turn of the 20th century. The rest are fairly evenly distributed over each decade of the campus’s existence. It doesn’t take a highly trained eye to see a progression of styles over time. Sigrid Miller Pollin, a practicing architect and a professor in the Architecture + Design program, sees the architecture on campus as “a kind of hodgepodge” of buildings coming out of different periods of the university’s history. “It’s like a soup mix of things that don’t seem to have very much coherence both in terms of their style and in terms of the overall layout of the campus,” says Pollin. She is a fan of the modern buildings, such as the low lying Fine Arts Center, where her office is, and the campus center. But she is also fond of the older buildings, in part because of the story they tell.

She would like to someday see a landscaping plan that ties together these many stories in a more coherent narrative. In the meantime she is all for saving older buildings where possible. That doesn’t mean trying to restore every building to approximate its original condition. Far from it: A catchphrase in the historical preservation movement is “adaptive reuse,” describing an approach to maintaining a landscape or cityscape—a campus falling somewhere in between—by safeguarding key attributes of a building’s exterior while transforming the inside for modern purposes.

“I’m a diehard modernist, I love seeing new things happen,” says Pollin, “but I think what makes it really rich for people using the campus is to see the combination of the old and the new working together.” She likens the array of styles to “a library of resources... a kind of collective memory.” She adds, “It’s important for communities to have a memory of what was there.”

Jim Wald, chair of the Amherst Historical Commission, applauds the campus’s administration for engaging a professional team to document and evaluate the historical significance of the buildings on campus. “We don’t have the right to destroy everything that came from the past, because if we do we’d live in a very impoverished world,” says Wald.

Another positive outcome of the College Barn debate is the development of a consultative relationship between the campus and historical preservationist groups. This will guide public discourses about buildings new and old as the campus balances the need to accommodate new modes of learning with appropriate spaces and structures, each destined to take its place in the mosaic of styles and architectural periods represented on the UMass Amherst campus.

The report Fixler’s team is preparing will include historic maps that trace the evolution of how the campus has developed over its 145-year history. Fixler says there are eight to 10 distinct periods of evolution. The maps, plus the narratives running to several pages on each building’s story, will be part of a presentation. The public can comment on, and even contribute to, the knowledge compiled in the report. The aim of this kind of work, he said, is “to remind people of what they have... [and to] think deeply about what buildings mean.”


Joining Together
A meeting place for students and ideas
Vince Cleary

With the strains of My Fair Lady’s memorable “I Could Have Danced All Night,” sung by the University Chorale to an audience of about 1,000, the Student Union was officially dedicated on February 1, 1957, by the then-university president Jean Paul Mather.

As part of the architectural review of campus buildings over 50 years old, one under scrutiny is the Student Union Building (SUB). Described as a “plush palace” when it first opened, the SUB replaced the much smaller Memorial Hall (1921) as the center of student activities.

Professor Louis S. Greenbaum, who joined the history faculty in 1955, described the new building with its large cafeteria, (the Hatch and Pipe, later shortened to the Hatch), Yahoo office, Student Senate office on the second floor, ping pong tables, bookstore, numerous RSO offices, galleries and large ballroom as “transforming student life here.” The SUB, at the physical center of the campus, became the hub, “the orienting focus of student life at UMass.”

The most intriguing part of the dedication ceremony had to be the presentation of a life-sized version of a ferocious-looking black bear, native to Japan’s northernmost island, hand-carved by the Ainu people of teak wood, and given as a dedication present from a grateful Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan. The gift marked the 80th anniversary of that university’s founding by Mass Aggie’s third president, noted horticulturalist William S. Clark. He based the Japanese school on the MAC model, in 1876. The gift was Hokkaido’s way of saying thank you.

A contest was held to name the bear, with the prize a munificent $5. More than 20 entries were received. One of the losing coinages was Tomodachi—“friend” in Japanese. “Hokumie” won out, and the prize money went to Tony Favello ’59 who coined this combination of Hokkaido and UMie.

But what to do with the gift? The bear was initially placed in the building’s foyer, just above the west entryway, for all to see as they entered or exited the building. It soon became the object of pranksters, however, and over the next 10 years often went missing in action.

Barely weeks after being bolted in place, it was removed by unknown hands and mysteriously turned up days later at the State House in Boston. In subsequent years it was found at frat parties around campus and once was reputed to have taken a train ride to Chicago. As one wag opined, “It probably attended more fraternity parties than any of us.”

In 1978, Hokumie was removed to the archives where he remained in custody for 10 years, gathering dust and unseen except by a privileged few. In 1988, to celebrate the university’s 125th anniversary, monies were raised through “Bear lair shares” at $4 each, to find a permanent home for Hok. Each certificate read in part: “The bear will be bared to the public in a permanent and barely bear-like place of hibernation.” It is signed by William B. Parent ’77, ’81, and Roger Smith ’51.

For 20 years Hok has occupied the northeast corner of the Cape Cod Lounge, on display in a glass cabinet, not far from his original home. The inscription on the plaque reads simply: “In memory of the completion of the Student Center. Hokkaido University, Sapporo, Japan.”

The SUB houses WMUA, the student radio station, the Daily Collegian newspaper, and a number of student group offices, as well as People’s Market, the Student Union Art Gallery, and Earthfoods restaurant. As the hub of student life, it has also been the site of many protests and rallies over the years: Boston Racism, 1970; Rape and Battered Women, 1988; The Rodney King Verdict Aftermath, 1992.

Across America, 1968 proved a tumultuous year, one that some believe helped to define our country and change its political course. January saw the Tet offensive in Vietnam; the assassination of Martin Luther King in April and of Robert Kennedy in June; anti-war protests at the Democratic Convention in Chicago in August. Many Americans turned out to decry the country’s policies.

On the Amherst campus, on February 15, 1968, what began in Southwest as a relatively small protest against the Dow Chemical Company and the use of napalm in Southeast Asia, eventually found its way to the steps of the Union. There, speakers continued to make impassioned speeches against the chemical company.

Once the outdoor rally ended, the protesters proceeded into the Union where a Navy recruiting station had been set up. Words were exchanged and a shouting match ensued between students and the recruiter. About 75 students staged a sit-in against the war in the lobby. It lasted five hours, starting at 3 o’clock, with as many as 500 Umies either witnessing or joining their fellow protesters in this action.

As the war protest began to wind down, its tenor changed. The students now turned their voices against university policies, the war taking on a secondary importance.

Finally, a meeting was brokered between President Lederle and the students. The rally ended in relative calm, with no one hurt and without the use of force.

The following February, however, another protest against Dow resulted in the arrests of 33 students by 82 riot-equipped state police. The students had again staged a sit-in, this time in Whitmore where Dow was recruiting. The police wore helmets and shields, according to Dan Melly ’55, an eyewitness and at the time Director of Public Affairs. “Scary,” he recalls. The students were booked in Northampton, then eventually released. Once again, a potentially violent situation had been averted.

In May 1970, at Kent State University (I was at Ohio State, 120 miles away at the time) the famous protest led to violence when four students died at the hands of the Ohio National Guard. President Nixon’s earlier order to invade Cambodia triggered a National Student Strike, the only one in United States history, with more than 900 schools participating, including Ohio State and the UMass Amherst campus. On May 3, students commandeered the second floor of the SUB and used it as strike headquarters. The Student Senate voted 66-1 to strike, and was supported by the administration. The unprecedented strike lasted until the end of the semester.

Looking back, the Dow Chemical protests of 1968--69 and the Student Strike in 1970 prefigured later events. What the student movement here and elsewhere had begun eventually led, along with other protests, to our country’s withdrawal from Vietnam.

In part because of these protests, our nation changed direction and a tragic war which saw more than 55,000 Americans killed, came to an end. Student protesters showed their power in the face of the nation’s older leaders, though perhaps few of them realized it at the time.

Not all confrontations end badly or have such mortal implications. As a new faculty member in the classics department in early October of 1971, I witnessed in the SUB ballroom a potentially volatile situation. Newly-appointed UMass President, Robert C. Wood, gave a talk followed by questions and answers.

Oswald Tippo, ’32, ’54, the University’s first Chancellor, a week earlier had tendered his resignation. The faculty and many students apparently decided that Wood, with his newly opened “central systems office” in “pricey” downtown Boston, was draining money from the Amherst campus, in effect, they thought, forcing Tippo to resign. Wood was in Amherst that day to explain himself. The audience was clearly hostile; as Wood later described it, he faced “an uproar.” He estimated the crowd size to be between 3,000 and 4,000, but I would venture that it was closer to 900 or 1,000 people. I can understand why he thought it was the larger number. It must have felt that way. Regardless, the room was packed—standing room only.

My training in classics had taught me that rhetoric was “the art of verbal persuasion,” but I had never seen it in action the way I did that Tuesday afternoon.

In what The Daily Collegian the next day termed his “quiet, low-keyed delivery,” Wood, a political scientist by training, gave his address, then took questions from the now somewhat-subdued crowd.

He handled barbed questions with aplomb. In the course of a little more than an hour, not only did he convince faculty and students that “non-state” funds were used for the new offices, but won over the formerly negative audience to the utter reasonableness of the necessity, as he saw it, of the president’s office being located in Boston. At the end he had them eating out of his hand.

A Collegian editorial praised Wood’s performance as “A Bit of Magic.” I can only agree. It was that and more.

Six years later Robert C. Wood resigned his position as President, this time locking horns with then-governor Michael Dukakis, Brookline resident and noted MBTA-rider, a leader not overly disposed to what he saw as the waste in public higher education. The governor replaced the University Trustees with nominees more favorable to his point of view, and Wood was gone. You win some, you lose some, but that day in the Student Union ballroom was a victory like none I had ever witnessed.

Before he greeted the cantankerous crowd, Wood told Dan Melley, the Public Affairs Director who accompanied him, “I’m going to dazzle them with my footwork,” Melly recalls, still as surprised as I was at the turnaround. “And he did.”

Wood’s presentation stays with me still, some 36 years later. The Student Union ballroom, the sight of numerous presentations by luminaries such as Robert Frost and Eleanor Roosevelt, that day bore witness to an amazing performance.


Preserving the Future
Max Page

I used to believe that I became interested in architecture by walking up a ramp from the dank underbelly of the stadium and out into the surreal light and primal roar of that emerald jewel, Fenway Park.

But I realize now that I first began to think about architecture from watching this brave new campus rise from a collection of 19th century structures of an agricultural college.

I am part of a very small alumni category: UMass Amherst faculty who are children of former UMass Amherst faculty. My father, Alex Page, taught in the English Department for 30 years. He told my brother and me stories about when he first arrived at the university—or, more precisely, what had only recently been called Massachusetts Agricultural College —in the 1950s, as it was about to explode into a major research university. His department—English—shared the Old Chapel with the math and music departments. The football stadium, well, “field,” stood where the Whitmore Administration Building now squats.

I didn’t go to UMass Amherst, although I did take my first college classes here. But I felt like I was immersed in the campus’s life from the start of my life, spending my first year on Fearing Street, across fields where cows once grazed, and Southwest would eventually stand. Growing up in the late 1960s and early 70s, I was awed by the sheer weight of the new buildings, especially Southwest, the Fine Arts Center and the Du Bois library—the tallest in the world when first built, as we proudly bragged everywhere we went. As a young boy, inseparable from his bike, I spun around these buildings, down the ramps, coasting from Whitmore all the way down the avenue to the library, appreciating (without having words for it) their sculptural quality and the sense that here was something new, something so different from what I saw when I went sledding down Memorial Hill at Amherst College.

What I wish to suggest is that the architecture of this campus, far from being impersonal, cold, drab architecture that some see today was in fact a heroic statement of the value of a public university. As the college became a university in the second half of the 20th Century with aspirations to turn Massachusetts citizens into national leaders, it chose not to mimic the colleges nearby—brick Amherst College, Gothic Mount Holyoke, Victorian Smith. No, campus leaders decided that this national public research university would stake its claim as something modern through its architecture. This university would be elite but not elitist, it would be open and accessible, and it would pursue research in the public interest. There was to be nothing quaint or precious about this new university. It would unshakably place itself as herald of the future.

Our new Chancellor has set a goal of having UMass Amherst take a step long delayed, of joining the ranks of the finest public research universities. It will be important, as we pursue that goal, to not sever ties to what has defined us in the past. Our uniqueness is symbolized in our architecture—the early buildings of this significant agricultural college that are our roots, and the thrilling, weighty buildings of concrete that marked UMass Amherst in the last century. To paraphrase what Alain de Botton has written in his recent book, The Architecture of Happiness, we should be sure, as we embark on this 10-year building process, that what we build is worthy of the founders of the agricultural college in the 19th century, and the visionary leaders who remade it in the 20th.

Max Page is associate professor of Architecture and History and graduate program director of the Architecture + Design Program. He is a 2003 Guggenheim Fellow and author of The City’s End: Two Centuries of Fantasies, Fears, and Premonitions of New York’s Destruction, (Yale University Press, 2008).

 

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