It’s August 1939, and as Italy is invading Albania and the New York World’s Fair opens, horses attached to steel chains are pulling the Dearborn Observatory out of the ground. Northwestern is building something big; this means compromise. To make room, the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house is relocated north and the original Patten Gym, dedicated in 1910, is demolished. Horses drag the Dearborn Observatory 664 feet southeast. In place of these buildings, one of the largest academic structures in the world goes up. You may have heard of it: the Technological Institute.
Now time rolls back to 1914, and you’re standing outside of Deering Library. It’s burning down. But it’s not Deering Library — it’s Heck Hall, and no one can say with certainty what happened, except for whispers of “mice and matches.” The next year, Harris Hall is built and ground is broken on the Shakespeare Garden. Eighteen years later, Deering Library goes up — Orrington Lunt Library of 1894 becomes Lunt Hall — and everyone forgets about Heck Hall.
And time passes.
“And the rest is history”
On Thursday, Sept. 25, 2008, the university released a 50-year plan to structurally reorganize campus: reshape the lakefill, demolish dorms, fraternities and academic buildings, and move Lunt Hall. The Campus Framework Plan is being hailed by the university as “probably the biggest” long-term plan in its history, citing the need for a more coherent, homogeneous campus environment.
Kevin Leonard, the acting university archivist, has spent more than 28 years working in the Northwestern archives. He says that, while the Campus Framework Plan is “absolutely” the most ambitious campus reorganization project in Northwestern history, it’s certainly not the first. Structural change has been a part of campus since its inception, when Clark Hinman, as legend goes, first caught sight of the lake’s waves glimmering through the oak trees. “He said, ‘Goodness, this is special,’” Leonard says. “And eureka, they tossed their hats in the air and they found it, and the rest is history.”
Locations in the Loop and Jefferson Park were heavily considered, but Clark Hinman — Northwestern’s first president, who died before a single building was erected — felt strongly about moving into an area where the school had room to grow.
The first building was a very modest wooden structure that came to be known as Old College. Eventually, it would be struck by lightning during a summer storm in 1973 and when an ensuing investigation of the water damage would reveal dangerous rot, Old College would be unceremoniously torn down as a safety hazard. But right now it’s 1865, and Old College sits, unassuming, at the corner of Hinman and Davis.
“The campus grew incrementally as the university expanded its enrollment and secured its financial footing,” Leonard says. “When they were able to afford it, they built University Hall.”
University Hall was crafted out of hard stone, not soft wood, a sign that Leonard calls “a testament to the university’s endurance.” Old College’s timber frame was scuttled across Evanston to the location of present-day Fisk, then moved north to make way for the journalism building — so while physically moving Lunt in accordance with the Campus Framework Plan has made many scratch their heads, it’s not without precedent.
But campus kept growing: College Cottage in 1872, the women’s college in 1874, a gymnasium and a Life-Saving Station in 1876, and so on and so very forth. If you don’t recognize these names, don’t worry. They were torn down and built over long ago, or else reimagined and renamed. Buildings go up, and buildings go down.
“It would force people to bump into each other”
The Campus Framework Plan is built on the idea that our university is fragmented: a North-South divide prevents the physical campus from being harmonic, and thus from bringing that cohesion to students; the idea that Bobb-McCulloch Hall is not Shepard Residential College, and the Technological Institute is not the McCormick Tribune Center.
“That separation goes back to the 19th century, when there were zones of influence clearly defined,” Leonard says. “A lot of it relates to Willard Hall (now the Music Administration Building); that was the women’s college, which emphasized things like fine arts and music. The arts and humanities were concentrated in one zone because of women…and the North Campus with the hard sciences and engineering, there was time when it was essentially male.”
The physical divide stretched a mile across campus when the women’s quadrangle was dedicated in 1926. “There was a center of gravity there,” Leonard says, while central campus was reserved for general purpose buildings like the library and the student center.
- University Archivist Kevin Leonard
But if the university’s layout contributed to the fragmenting of campus, it’s changed its tune in recent years. It built the Block Museum to keep students who seek art in Chicago engaged in the Northwestern community, and started the residential college program to create pockets of common interest among students.
“In past years, campus has tried to cluster students. Now, it’s trying to build a community, more so,” Leonard says, pointing to the Kaplan Institute for the Humanities as an example of an effort to cut across academic disciplines, and even the very structure of Crowe Hall.
“Crowe was built to physically allow more interaction between members of departments,” Leonard says. “Crow Café wasn’t just a food thing. It was a very conscious recognition, that it would force people to bump into each other more often.”
The Campus Framework Plan hedges this priority: “crescents” of open space promise to blur the lines between campus zones, and several student-gathering places are outlined in the proposal, such as an area of steps by the lakefill. The plan politely would like you to picture yourself there.
“There will be a price to pay with the local community”
Physical change has always been at the forefront of Northwestern’s growth. It may not even be a matter of having enough beds for students, Leonard says: Campus expansion is driven by technological and scientific growth, which requires facilities.
“[Northwestern] is on par with major research institutions of the world, and there have been so many changes in research, particularly in life sciences and physical sciences, that buildings are needed,” Leonard says. “Take nanotechnology, for example. You have to keep up with trends and development in research. You need teaching and research space.”
Next week, the proposal will begin to circulate in both the Northwestern and Evanston communities for open discussion, and the the university committee hopes to take that feedback and finalize the plan this year. The most reasonable event in history to gauge the community’s reaction with would be the construction of the lakefill in the early 1960s, Leonard says.
“There was resistance in some quarters, because what they were doing was dredging out Burnham Harbor in Indiana and bringing fill up here. The issue was hashed out in the newspapers, but students were generally favorable, because they hadn’t developed that whole counter-cultural shtick where people of a certain age will almost automatically oppose the policy of an institution.”
Students have supported most campus expansion in the past, helping to fundraise for the women’s quadrangle and especially helping to garner support for the 1940 construction of Scott Hall, which served as the student center.
Back then, most opposition to expansion came from the community outside of Northwestern: a little shanty town called Evanston–population 76,000–and Leonard says to expect no differently this time around. “The plan incorporates elements that affect the west side of Sheridan Road, and the people most strident in their opposition to Northwestern’s development are those who live closest to it. There will be a price to pay with the local community.”
Which is why, according to Leonard, the petition’s whirlwind tour of Evanston is a good political move. “I would think you want to get as many people on board with a big proposal like this as you possibly can, so you make an effort to reach out to various constituencies,” Leonard says. “You’re going to face opposition, particularly in an institution like this, which is abutted by a residential community that has elements within the local community very much opposed to anything Northwestern does. You have to extend your hand to try to gain support where you can get it.”
It’s not clear whether or not the proposal can pass without Evanston’s explicit approval; but from a political standpoint, the university is smooth not to bite the hand that gives out the WildCARD discount.
Leonard predicts that the first building to go up under the plan will be for the Bienen School of Music, “or if not first, pretty quickly, because there is a demonstrated need for that. Fundraising is already underway.”
But the plan — like the ideas it puts forth — is also at the whim of change.
“It’s a very long-range plan which is useful to have,” University President Henry Bienen said in an e-mail. “I am sure time and opportunities will change a lot. None of this is written in stone.”
When the Campus Framework Plan was released, the general eye-widener was either: a) shock at the idea of one’s freshman dorm getting flattened or b) curiosity at how a building like Lunt gets “moved” across campus. But Bobb and McCulloch halls were built brick by brick in 1955, then joined in 1980, and one day the notorious party dorm will fall, too. And Lunt will drift across Sheridan like the very first building at Northwestern did.
In the next 50 years, the face of campus may change — like it always has changed, and always is changing. Every day that you walk up Sheridan Road, Old College has been struck by lightning, Fayerweather Hall has been torn down to make way for Kresge, and Heck Hall has burned to the ground. The future may see the continuation of change: the fall of Foster-Walker, a new shape to the lagoon. And all the while, the Dearborn Observatory is dragged, steadily, southeast, by horses.