The transition of Baker University Center

Over the years Ohio University’s Baker Student Center has always been the place for most student-centered activities.  It was named after the school’s fourteenth president, John Calhoun Baker, who assumed the position in 1945.

When he became president, OU grew tremendously in reputation and size, therefore there was the need for a new student center to accommodate the growing Bobcat population to replace what they had, called the Student Union.  It was located at the current site of School of Communications.

A committee headed by a psychology lecturer was set up to start the preliminary preparations for the project. In fall of 1947, student leadership initiated a campaign to facilitate the process.  Petitions were circulated and about 4,000 students appended their signatures to pay an extra five dollars toward the new construction.  They collected over $160,000.

State Legislature and a host of other groups donated toward the Baker dream.  It was to be the school’s largest building at the time, with six floors.

By 1948, plans were advanced to put up the $1,357,795 “unique” OU center.  The aim was to “give a well-rounded experience in university life.”

Source: Ohio University Archives
The $1,357,795 “unique” OU Center Source:

Bellman, Gillette and Richards of Toledo designed the building, which was an example of Georgian architecture.  This was because the University wanted to “keep with the architectural scheme of buildings.”

Several buildings around the area, including O’Bleness cottages, Faculty Club, Veteran-housing units were razed to give way to the ultramodern student center, which was to have a frontage stretch of 138 feet along the East Union Street facing College Green.

After demolishing the old Baker Center (Student Union), work commenced on the new edifice.  By summer of 1953, the building was ready for the celebration of the university’s sesquicentennial on February 18, 1954.  It as a dream come true for both students and faculty as the school lacked a place for entertainment and recreational purposes.

The floors:

Basement:

This had the game room for the students.  It had eight bowling lanes, 15 billiard tables, 3 table tennis tables, cards and football. It was also the location for campus lost and found.

One of the lounges of old Baker Center
One of the lounges of old Baker Center

Ground floor:

This area housed a café called The Frontier Room.  The café was opened to all university personnel up to midnight and beyond.  They served snacks and meals all day and into the night, including beer.

The Frontier Room was for relaxation and a feel of the open fire.

 

 

First floor:

This area was dedicated to the University Information Center, 1804 Lounge, 1954 Lounge, the University Club and a place called A Sculpture for scholarship trophies.

In the University Club, the dress code was dining room coats and ties for men and skirts for women.

Second floor:

This floor had offices of the Director of Baker, Auditor, Duplicating Services and secretary in charge of reservations. It also had meeting rooms, TV lounge, large ballroom and an art gallery.

Some of the lounges in Old Baker Center.
Some of the lounges in Old Baker Center.

Third and fourth floors:

These floors had offices for student organizations including student government, dean of student activities, International student lounge, Directors of Sorority and Fraternity Affairs and the center program board.

The New Baker Center:

In 2000, the idea for a high-tech university center was presented by the student senate partly because the old Baker was far north of campus.  They wanted a building quite centered on the campus for easier access from all parts of campus.

By February 2004, the Ohio University Board of Trustees approved the 60 million dollar project. A groundbreaking ceremony was held in March of 2004.  In January 2007, the current Baker Center was opened.  With the same Georgian design, the facility has won awards including two Golden Trowel awards from the International Masonry Institute. In 2008 Baker University Center was awarded the grand prize with honors from Learning by Design and Best Project in Ohio for its terrazzo floor art.

Photo credit: Ohio University Archives

Bricks on Bricks: An Athens Tradition

Brick, brick, brick, brick.  -The mantra of one walking through Ohio University’s campus

Ohio University, with its brick-laden pathways and buildings, has a rich brick history. Athens is just one of hundreds of brick-faced college towns in the U.S., reflecting a bygone industry. Ohio University’s bricks have preserved this tradition.

According to Athens Ohio, The Village Years, a book written by Robert L. Daniel and found in the Athens Historical Society library, brick-building didn’t become a major industry in southeastern Ohio until the mid-1800s.

Before that time, brick-building served as a local business resource, where bricks were produced on site; it wasn’t considered a commercially viable product until the later part of the century.

That all changed when Robert Arscott built his own brickyard in the 1870s. Roughly 700,000 bricks were manufactured locally in 1850, but by 1893 that number had skyrocketed to 292 million bricks a year. These bricks were being shipped all around the world, according to a 1998 report issued by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) called The Paving Brick Industry in Ohio by Steven D. Blankenbeker.

“We don’t have seashells here in Ohio,” James Robinson, owner of Athens Block, was quoted as saying in a June 3, 2010, article from The Post. “This is almost like southeast Ohio’s version of a seashell because each brick is different.”

Southeastern Ohio became a prime location for the brick industry, based on the clay particles found underneath the hill-topped soils. In fact, the same earthen materials utilized by the coal industry – another significant trade found in Appalachia – were quite beneficial for brick production.  

Thousands of bricks were used to construct Cutler Hall, once known as College Edifice, while an estimated 8 million bricks were used to build the Ridges, home to the historic Athens Lunatic Asylum, during the 1860s-1870s.

Athens Brick Company once resided where the Athens post office sits today, on Stimson Avenue. The company churned out over 50,000 bricks a day at the height of the brick-building industry, and become a major economic force in Athens.

The first paving bricks in the state were actually produced in Malvern, Ohio, at the Canton & Malvern Fire Clay Paving Brick Company in Carroll County in 1855. These original “blocks” (short-hand for paving brick) measured only 2.5-by-4-by-8.5 inches; standard paving bricks were 9-by-4-by-4 inches, and weighed close to 10 pounds.

Unlike the 19th-century boom for bricks, brick-building isn’t considered a profitable industry in the modern era. It typically costs five-to-10 times more to pave a brick road than one with tar, according to an article published Sept. 11, 2012, in The Post.  Faced with a financial depression and the advent of asphalt roads in the late 1890s, regional brick-building facilities collapsed in the early 1900s.

Nonetheless, the brick industry remains a prominent part of southeastern Ohio history, especially in Athens County.

Ralph Bolls, known in neighboring Nelsonville as “the brick man,” takes his brick history seriously. In addition to buying, selling and trading locally manufactured bricks, Bolls is also the proprietor of the annual Nelsonville Brick Festival.

“The brick festival is largely about trading bricks and getting together with people who are interested in bricks and seeing them as not only history but a collective item,” Boll was quoted as saying in an article from AntiqueWeek.com, available at the Athens Historical Society.

The Nelsonville Brick Festival typically runs the last weekend of July, and this year was hosted on July 24 and July 25 in Nelsonville, Ohio.