Archive for Saturday, August 17, 1991


August 17, 1991


When fire ravaged Kansas University's Hoch Auditorium in mid-June, the loss was of historic proportions.

No one understood that more than the members of the Historic Mount Oread Fund, a special branch of the Kansas University Endowment Association.

The group's goal is the preservation of campus buildings and points of historic significance, particularly along Jayhawk Boulevard.

Hoch was a landmark in the heart of campus.

Dennis Farney, the organization's president, said he and another fund member started calling KU officials while Hoch was still burning to stress the group's hope of saving at least the building's facade. They hand-delivered a letter to Chancellor Gene Budig, expressing that hope.

FARNEY, A KU GRAD and Wall Street Journal reporter based in Kansas City, said he was reassured by the response from KU administrators. "The encouraging thing is I don't think the letter was needed," he said. "Hoch, of course, is a crisis, but it also in a way presents an opportunity. What we hope to do now is do everything we can to see that the facade is preserved. We hope to work with the administration to have some input into what kind of building is ultimately built behind that facade. If done well, you can sometimes get a new building that's greater almost than the old one. If done badly, you'll have an uninspiring building behind an old facade."

KU's receptiveness to the renovation of Hoch is representative of changing attitudes toward historical preservation, Farney said. When Old Fraser Hall was razed in the late '60s, there was little organized opposition. Today, he said, people go to great efforts to save campus landmarks.

This is apparent in the fact that about 4,000 KU alumni and friends have joined the fund, and about 125 actively pursue preservation of the university's heritage. A number of projects and plans fill the agenda for fund members, Farney said.

IN APRIL, the group helped develop a park-like setting to mark the site of Old North College, the university's first building. Original stone steps from the building had been preserved and were returned to the site, north of the main campus and just south of Gertrude Sellards Pearson Residence Hall.

Also this year, the group marked 10 of KU's most historic buildings with bronze plaques stating the year each building was opened and the original architects. The buildings fitted with plaques are Spooner, Dyche, Lippincott, Bailey, Strong, Snow, Marvin and Stauffer-Flint halls, Watson Library and Hoch Auditorium.

The fund's next major project is publication of a coffee table book about university landmarks. Written by Sandra Wiechert and designed by Jeannot Seymour and Hal Sandy, the book contains "beautiful pictures of the sites," Farney said. The University Press hopes to make it available to the public by the fall of 1992. To help defray costs of publication and replenish the treasury's dwindling funds, the preservationists have launched a fund-raising campaign with a goal of $10,000.

Planning already is under way for 1994, the 100th birthday of Spooner Hall, which is the oldest surviving building on KU's campus. The building, originally a library, has housed the Museum of Anthropology since 1984.

FARNEY SAID the building is in need of exterior repairs and an updated environmental control unit.

Carol Shankel, chair of the 1994 Spooner Hall Centennial Committee, said the committee has a number of ideas for ways to celebrate the building's birthday, but plans to meet this fall for a brainstorming session.

"What we want to do is alert various parts of the university to the birthday celebration so that a lot more groups might participate," she said.

Ideas under consideration include arranging an exhibit from historical photographs of Spooner, financing a sculpture for the front of the building, and holding a social event.

Another dream of fund members is to secure financing for a "heritage garden." The garden would be located just west of Lippincott Hall and surrounded by a foot-high native stone retaining wall. "Incorporated into the wall would be artifacts from KU buildings that have been torn down in the past.

"We would incorporate some of the best remnants into the wall with brass plates describing each one," Farney said.

The group envisions a sculptural "centerpiece" of native limestone pillars, and the landscaped garden would contain native plants that are significant to KU, such as lilacs and redbuds.

"TO ME, that garden would be one of the really special places on campus," Farney said. "It would be a natural gathering place and you would feel in one place the whole weight of tradition at the university. That continues to be a top priority for us."

Finally, fund members will kick off a major membership drive this fall. "Sure we need money, but we also need members," Farney said. "The more members we have, the more authenticity we have and the more energy we have."

Farney said he's determined to attract students to the organization, which currently boasts only one student member. He hopes to work with the KU Student Alumni Association to encourage student involvement. "There's no need to wait until you graduate to do something like this," he said.

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