Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Discarded and Forgotten: RIT's Downtown Campus Vol. 3

The campus map distributed to incoming freshmen in the fall of 1956 contained one very notable addition. The Ritter-Clark Memorial Building at Spring Street and Livingston Park had been operational since December of the previous year. Named for Frank Ritter, a founder of The Institute, and George H. Clark, a 43-year trustee, the building represented the first tangible structure resultant from an ambitious capital campaign, the 125th Anniversary Fund. Billed as a panacea to student apathy, the gynasium hosted an undefeated basketball team in its inaugural season, the first RIT team to be called 'Tigers.'

Although demolition and site preparation had been going on for months, plans for the sporting complex were not unveiled unil January of 1955. The centerpieces of the facility were the 60ft. by 90 ft. basketball court, convertible into two cross courts for intramural play, and the first indoor artificial ice skating rink in Rochester. The lower level would incorporate a practice room for the wrestling team, a large recreation room for fencing and ping-pong, a women's exercise room, a physical therapy room, locker rooms, and coaches' offices. Six tennis courts would adorn the grounds immediately adjacent to the building.

The laying of the cornerstone ceremony concluded the activites of 'Registration Day' on September 9th, 1955. At 4:00PM, F. Ritter Shumway, Brackett H. Clark, and Mark Ellingson placed a large metal box containing names of alumni who contributed to the fund into the hollow stone at what would become the northeast corner of the edifice.

"The cornerstone was laid with the original trowel used by George Eastman in 1900 on the Eastman Building and again in 1946 by the late George Clark on the building named in his honor."

-RIT Reporter, September 26, 1955

Announced as early as the previous March, a 'Carnival of Sports' was to have opened the new gym on December 9 and 10, 1955. The 'grapplers' would oppose Case Institute of Technology and Colgate University, the 'cagers' (basketball) would battle Potsdam State Teachers College, and the swordsmen would duel St. Lawrence University. This grand plan was not to be, but for good reason. While ultimately blamed on delivery delays of backboards, bleachers, and hardwood flooring, a noble one-month delay early in the demolition phases would force the basketball team to Jefferson High one final time.

Mark Ellingson himself was responsible for a partnership between The Institute and the Rochester Historical Society that would deconstruct, rather than destroy, the historic 1825 Livingston Park Seminary. Ellingson ordered a stop to work while the Society for the Preservation of Landmarks in Western New York could raise $30,000. This money allowed for the storage of doors, windows, moldings, trim, a circular staircase, original fireplaces, columns, and stonework pending reconstruction at a later date. The Gospel Tabernacle Mission was the tenant immediately preceding purchase by RIT. I am unable to find any record of the reconstruction (If anyone reading this has more information, please comment!).

The long-awaited gynasium finally opened to little fanfare on December 16 as an RIT vs. Roberts Wesleyan basketball game was the opening event. More pomp accompanied the proceedings on January 20, 1956, the official dedication. An open house to the general public, a tribute to donors, and a presentation of keys by John D. Pike of the Pike Company preceeded an 98-49 walloping of Ontario Agricultural College. Simultaneously the first ice rink of its kind in Rochester opened its doors to students, faculty, and staff for free noon-time skating sessions. The use of speed skates was expressly prohibited.

While the bulk of The Institute dreamed of enhanced physical education instruction, Ellingson was targeting a major expansion of men's dormitory facilities to house the ballooning numbers of freshmen reporting to campus. Exceedingly short of funds for the $1.5 million undertaking, the Anniversary Fund was unknowingly about to be boosted tremendously by a Rochester legend.

Ritter-Clark Memorial Building Construction Photos

More to come...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice info on the RIT downtown campus. I was a freshman in 1963, graduated in 1968, the last class to graduate from the downtown campus....