Preserving the Past  

CLAS Deans receive the Matheson Historic Preservation Award for their efforts to restore historic campus buildings.  

Historic Leigh Hall
The cornerstone of Leigh Hall was laid in 1926, when the building was dedicated as the Chemistry-Pharmacy Building.  A  $10 million renovation was completed in 1994.  Photo by John Moran. 


By Doug Martin   
Reprinted with permission from the Gainesville Sun  

     Derelict campus buildings, boarded up and empty, shocked Will Harrison when he visited the University of Florida in 1988. Harrison, UF dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences, was coming from the University of Virginia, built by Thomas Jefferson, where taking care of history is the highest priority.  "I came to (the) University of Florida with the idea of going after these old buildings," Harrison said. Go after them he has--in a 10-year renovation crusade that will total $50 million when finished around 2000.  

     On June 23, the Matheson Historical Center honored Harrison with the Matheson Award in recognition of that crusade.  The Center also honored Chuck Frazier, Harrison's associate dean for administrative affairs.  "(Frazier) knows these buildings backwards and forwards," Harrison said.  
 Frazier,  a criminologist at UF since 1972, has become a veritable hard hat while overseeing the college's renovation boom.  Dr. Mark Barrow president of the Matheson Center, presented the deans with the award in the Ruth McQuown Room on the second floor of Dauer Hall.  

     "I think the University of Florida is one of the most beautiful campuses around," Harrison said. "It wasn't 10 years ago."  In fact, not so long ago, historic buildings at UF almost were history themselves in the post-World War II push toward modernism that culminated in the "urban renewal" movement in the 1970s.  During that period, the state required colleges to demolish older structures to make way for newer ones.  "If you built new buildings, you tore down old buildings," remembers Murray Laurie, historic preservationist and co-author of Guide to the University of Florida and Gainesville.  

      Charles Frazier, Blair Reeves, Roy Hunt, Willard Harrison, Sam Proctor, Mark Barrow and Margaret Johnson (left to right) have all been key players in the historic preservation of UF's northeast quadrant. 

The first step back from the wrecking ball was getting nine buildings listed on the National Historic Register in 1979.  It wasn't until 1983, however, that the university decided it ought to preserve and reuse its historic buildings as a matter of policy.  The policy, however, did nothing toward restoring the buildings to their former glory. That's where Harrison entered.  Harrison sought contributors who wanted to make a lasting impact by preserving some of their memories.  It wasn't a tough sell, the deans say.  "If you let them run down and deteriorate, what does that say to people?" Frazier asks. "It's a matter of pride."  

     The first major donor was citrus magnate Ben Hill Griffin, who restored the building where he learned agriculture: Floyd Hall, now called Griffin-Floyd Hall. Harrison also convinced the university administration to dedicate scarce Public Education Capital Outlay dollars to fixing old buildings.  His argument was simple: They occupy prime real estate.  "This is where the great majority of the classrooms are," Frazier says. "In any scenario under consideration, UF grows. We need this just to catch up with the growth we've already had."  

     Downstairs in Dauer Hall from the McQuown Room, named for a former dean who left her estate to the college, is Frazier's current project: a banquet hall, built in the 1930s as the Florida Union, that will become a faculty lounge when completed this fall.  
     Harrison convinced a retired insurance executive, Kenneth Keene and his wife, Janet, to give $3 million toward renovating Flint Hall, which will become Keene Flint Hall. Built in 1910, Flint Hall was one of the campus's saddest stories, sitting empty on University Avenue for the past 20 years after the state condemned it.  Moreover, university workers stripped the building of its gargoyles and other architectural details.  "They just ripped that stuff off and threw it away," says Laurie.  Contractors will use old photos and original plans to bring Flint Hall back to its former state.  "These buildings will be the crown jewels of campus," Harrison said. We're restoring these buildings not as museums but as living, working space."