November 03, 2003

Alumni Hall

Knox's Alumni Hall was built in 1890. At the time, it was three buildings sharing walls---in the middle was the Alumni Building proper, mostly housing a huge auditorium, and on each end a building for the debating societies, Adelphi on the west end and Gnothii on the east. As time passed, the societies' areas passed into general college control, walls were knocked through, and the whole building was used as offices and classrooms. Areas got repurposed, and as other buildings were built and departments moved out, the areas got repurposed again. Walls were put up and knocked down, and in that black period in the mid-20th century when things "modern" were all the rage nearly all of the original building got boarded over---even the big auditorium was subdivided into various rooms.

Eventually, parts of the building fell into disrepair, and were abandoned. By the early 1990s, only one corner of the basement was still in use, with the rest closed off except for yearly tours for the seniors. Finally, security and HR moved out to a new building on Prairie Street, and the building was completely empty. For years, it sat. It couldn't be used without renovation, and in order to renovate it they'd need to bring it up to code, a monster of a task. Some alumni wanted a total restoration to the way it was; but what good is an auditorium that seats 1000 on benches? With a stage having terrible acoustics so that even clear speakers would be hard to hear? Not to mention, a full restoration wouldn't be even remotely accessible for the disabled.

A few years ago, a compromise was struck. The exterior would be fully restored. The interior would get a reconstruction with detailing similar to the original, but with somewhat different layout and space usage. One of the areas (most of the old Gnothii society) would be a Visitor Center, for the college itself and for Galesburg as a whole, housing Knox memorabilia as well as displays of the Lincoln Society and a small Underground Railroad museum. That wing would also house an art gallery and the Lincoln Society itself; together, all these things let us get a big chunk of funding from the city, state, and fed for the restoration.

On the other side of the building will be the alumni affairs office (in Alumni Hall---nice, huh?) and a big meeting/conference room, where the Board will meet (and, likely, the faculty and other large groups). In the basement, the bookstore, the mailroom, and a little coffee bar that opens onto a sunken patio on the quad. These last free up a whole bunch of space in Seymour Union for student organisation offices, something we badly need.

Anyway, the reason all this comes up is that they ran a presentation about it today for faculty and staff, and then they let people wander through Alumni Hall to check it out. We're incredibly lucky: during the Dark Times, the modernisation happened largely by putting walls up in front of the original woodwork, or floors over the old floors, covering up the original structures rather than removing them entirely. I got about forty pictures of various parts of the old building, and you can see practically every decade of its existence in them. Some original things; some classrooms out of the 30s; a fireplace that could only have been constructed in about 1960; and everywhere in between. (No remnants that I could see of the original Computer Center, housed in the Alumni Hall basement from its establishment in the mid-60s until SMC was built in 1974.)

Anyway, it was really cool. And unlike various major projects started while I was at Quincy or at Brown, I'll be here to see this one through.

"The thing about obviousness is that it's rarely shared between two people." --Shriram Krishnamurthi

Posted by blahedo at 11:51pm on 3 Nov 2003
Will you be posting photos? It's kind of strange that I've been here three years and my only ideas about the interior of alumni hall come from two black and white photos printed in TKS a couple of years ago. Posted by Chris at 3:56pm on 4 Nov 2003
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