Saturday, March 27, 2010

Discarded and Forgotten: RIT's Downtown Campus Vol. 1

Institute's Gynasium Plans Revealed blares the headline at the top of the January 31, 1955 edition of the RIT Reporter. Inconceivably, in less than ten years, the former Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute would begin work on a new campus in the swamps of Henrietta, abandoning the city entirely.

This is a story of tangible loss. It marks the end of the urban campus dynamic for the City of Rochester. Like so many other stories of U.S.A. urban cannibalization, this one is 'driven' by the familiar refrain of perceived parking hardship and interstate highway money. It is a story that RIT certainly does not grandstand about nor even mention. And it is a story that could not be further from the consciousness of an 18 year-old prospective student from Scranton, Pennsylvania, marveling at and reveling in The Institute's seemingly 'modern' environs 11 years ago.

The RIT Reporter, which today takes the form of an alternative weekly magazine, began its run as the bi-weekly student newspaper of The Institute in late February, 1951. Through tremendous foresight, Reporters published from 1951-1970 can be viewed in PDF format at RIT's Digital Media Library. These periodicals open a tremendous window to the world of 50's campus life. They are high quality and in color to boot. RIT was and is after all, a leading printing/imaging school.

The production of this issue of the RIT REPORTER has been accomplished under the direction of the Department of Publishing and Printing. Composition was accomplished utilizing Linotype and Intertype equipment, Ludlow, Monotype, and foundry type. The paper was printed on the ATF Webendorfer periodical press (offset). The eight-page issue was run off at the rate of 12,500 impressions per hour. Conventional process linseed ink has been used on St. Regis white standard 40-Ib. paper. Plates used were surface zinc—Pitman U. V. albumen.

-RIT Reporter April 6, 1951

Mark W. Ellingson had already been President of RIT for 15 years at the inception of the Reporter and his reign would last another 18 years. Under his shepherding, The Institute would add departments, balloon the endowment, rename itself, develop a downtown campus, build from scratch an entire suburban campus, and add the National Technical Institute for the Deaf into the fold. He was so revered that the largest building on the new campus, Ellingson Hall, bears his name. Those familiar with RIT will find that in many ways, Ellingsonian Policy is still de facto Institute Policy as carried out by his successors.

Beginning in 1946 when the George H. Clark building (Printing, Photographic, and Mechanical Departments) was dedicated and The Institute given its current appellation, the core of the campus was one exceedingly dense city block (pictured, left) bounded by Broad, Washington, Spring, and Plymouth. The Bevier Building (Department of Art and Design) was a gift of the art patron Susan Bevier and opened in 1911. Art reference libraries and exhibition room were amongst the Bevier's supporting functions to decades of art student, establishing RIT's still significant reputation in graphic arts. Clark Union (Student Center, Men's Dormitory), formerly the Jenkinson Apartments, was located at 102 Spring St. on the site of Jonathan Child's (first mayor of Rochester) 1829 home and featured the Carnegie Room, a place for students to listen to an extensive institute vinyl collection.

The possibly satirical E-shaped Eastman Building housed the lion's share of institute departments and ancillaries. On the first day of classes of the 1953-1954 school year, it was home to the administrative offices, library, assembly hall, bookstore, cafeteria, Hospital and Foods Administration, Retailing, Social Sciences, Chemical, Electrical, and Evening School departmental offices. The 'hole' in the doughnut was filled by the Eastman Annex, a long narrow building fronting on Broad Street that housed the Commerce Department (acquired in an recent merger) and meager practice facilities for the three varsity athletic programs, Basketball, Wrestling, and Fencing. Other buildings not on the main block, but still within another block of the center were Kate Gleason Hall, the former Fontanec Apartments converted for use as the women's dormitory in 1940, the school for the American Craftsmen, and assorted 'Barracks' buildings for additional men's housing.

Campus life at RIT in the mid-50's was characterized by an intensely urban dynamic. The integration with and reliance on community business was ubiquitous as the most popular recurring advertisements in student publications were for diners on Exchange, Plymouth, and Main, laundry services on Spring, the Hotel Rochester Barber Shop, Rowe Photo at Main and Broad, and an optician on Gibbs Street. Landmark downtown hotels such as the Powers and the Seneca were utilized frequently for formal occasions. Jazz Legend Count Basie and his orchestra played Spring Weekend '51 at the Knights of Columbus Civic Center, now the Montage Music Hall on Chestnut Street. This was true urban living, just as vibrant at its scale as that seen in the cores of today's megalopolises.

The first inkling that major changes were in store for The Institute were reported in the Reporter on November 16, 1951. James E. Gleason, member of the Board of Trustees for whom today's Engineering building is named, announced a $30 million expansion and modernization program to take place over the following ten years. Under the fundraising theme of the 125th Anniversary Fund, this blustery announcement included lavish bankrolling of $12 million to build, equip, and endow a new Graphic Arts Center across Washington Street from the Clark Building. A new Student Union, Men's Dorm, additions to the Clark Building, and a compartively paltry $850,000 gymnasium were also part of the ten-year plan. The optimism was tempered however by what can be inferred today to be the Korean War. "It is hoped that by 1954 the critical international situation will have eased, making possible the actual erection of some of the buildings," read the column by Al Booth.

Just one and a half years later, at an Alumni Banquet, Ellingson formally declared a desire to petition for the ability to confer a Bachelor of Science degree. This action would transform a "glorified trade school," as denominated by student Paul Holzwarth in the May 8th, 1953 edition of the Reporter, into an institute of increased prestige and enrollment.

More to come...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

During my freshman year I lived on the 10th floor of the men's dorm...the old hotel....can't say I missed those elevators when I moved out....