Starting in 1949, the Knox College Bookstore called the basement of Alumni Hall home. It was housed in the lowest level of the east wing next to the Hearth, later called the Gizmo, until the mid-1960’s. This shop for students was one of the many uses of the versatile basement space through the years.
A worker from general contractor PJ Hoerr checks drawings during the installation of temporary steel scaffolding, visible in the background in the central section of Alumni Hall. A low-res composite panorama of this area is available on photosynth.net
While current students find their mail in the lower level of Seymour Union, it wasn’t always that way. The mail room used to call the basement of Alumni Hall home, just like the Gizmo.
We love hearing from alumni who remember Alumni Hall during its years of use as we explore its past. Dorothy Wharton ’55 has been an active commenter on the blog, sharing her memories with us, and this little bit she recalled inspired us to dig up this photo from the Archives: “We got our mail, in little cubbies, down there too, so there it was quite a mob scene at times.” Looks like the photographer caught the basement mail room in a calmer period here. Thanks for your comment, Dorothy!
If you are an alumnus with a story about Alumni Hall, check out our Share Your Memories page. We would love to hear from you!
Stay tuned for more on the many uses of the basement through the years: Alumni Hall’s lower level was home to much more than just the Gizmo and mail room.
For those who did not experience Alumni Hall, it’s hard to imagine what a typical classroom looked like when the sides of the building used as classrooms currently look like this. This photo dates near the end of Alumni Hall’s tenure as an academic building, the 1970s. At this time, the foreign language department, the art department, the philosophy department, and a few other humanities classes had called these classroom spaces home.
Recent photos posted on this blog have been showing the dismantling of the balcony and ceiling in Alumni Hall — both essential parts of the building during its time as Knox’s theatre.
The same central part between the two literary society buildings that once served as a library was also the College’s theatre from 1928, when the library collection was moved to Seymour Library, until 1965, when the Ford Center for Fine Arts opened.
The photo above is of a play put on in 1930 called Tommy.
Once the books were removed, the seats were restored to the theatre. The floor had a capacity of 625 people, and the balcony held 225 people. The quiet library changed to a resonant theatre with the help of some new paint and acoustic tiles. A 1929 issue of The Knox Student reported on the space’s new “harmonious yellow tint” and “side lights of attractive decorative nature.”
Future renovations, mostly safety-based, took place later. The theatre was prone to fires, and there was a rewiring in 1948 and a major overhaul in 1963. A memo from 1962 reports a careless student lit some drapes on fire. And the memo writer was not pleased: “May I point out this is our second experience with a fire that could’ve been dangerous. The third time, we may not be so lucky.”
The 1963 renovation added a state-of-the-art light board, four dressing rooms, a sewing room, extra closet areas for costumes, a light room, and a makeup room, as well as fire-safety measures.
When the Center for Fine Arts was constructed, Harbach Theatre became the main stage for the College’s productions, although the stage and seating in Alumni Hall continued to be used as a general-purpose meeting area and alternate theatre.
The stars of the Alumni Hall stage were immortalized by the graffiti that each cast member left after a show along the inside walls of the theatre and on the ceiling above the catwalk. Graffiti left over the years can be seen in this video.
A worker cuts out a water-damaged beam that will be replaced during the Alumni Hall renovation.