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

Ohio University presidents: Their legacy and namesakes

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Seemingly, every building on campus is named after some man you’ve never heard of.  It turns out a good chunk of these men are former Ohio University presidents.   In the college’s 210 years, 20 men have been able to call themselves president of Ohio University and each contributed to the school that we enjoy today.  The following is a little bit of information about OU’s former presidents and the buildings that are their namesakes.

 

Jacob LindleyJacob Lindley (1809-1822)
Tenure: 1809-1822

Lindley was the first president of Ohio University and was the sole professor until 1814. The university at this time went by American Western University. Lindley Hall was built in 1917 for female residency and is currently closed for renovation.

 

 

 

Robert G WilsonRobert G. Wilson (1768-1851)
Tenure: 1824-1839

Wilson’s presidency saw the first African-American graduate for the university which was only the sixth instance of that happening in the country. He also had to deal with the schools first riot in 1835, which was over a pledge that required students to report on their disorderly peers. Wilson Hall was completed in 1837 and now houses the College of Arts and Sciences.

 

 

William Holmes McGuffeyWilliam Holmes McGuffey (1800-1873)
Tenure: 1839-1843

McGuffey is probably Ohio University’s most famous and internationally known school president. His primary school textbooks known as the “McGuffey Readers” were used throughout the United States and a minimum of 120 million copies were sold. He resigned after continued disagreements between him and the university’s community caused a considerable drop in staff and attendance. McGuffey Hall, a small building created in 1839 has had many purposes throughout the years including the housing of residents, student organizations and administrative offices.

 

 

Alfred RyorsAlfred Ryors (1812-1858)
Tenure: 1848-1852

During Ryors’ time at Ohio University, a student tried to set Cutler Hall on fire and he wasn’t expelled until the following year. Also, the university’s first scholarships were given out in order to recover from a temporary closure of the school that ended in 1845. Ryors Hall was finished in 1966 and is a residence hall on West Green.

 

 

Alston EllisAlston Ellis (1847-1920)
Tenure: 1901-1920

In addition to several academic advancements like the school’s first female African American student graduate, Ellis had squirrels introduced to the campus in 1908 – their posterity still thrives today. The Ellis Hall building was built in it’s entirety in 1908 and is one the university’s oldest and largest classroom buildings.

 

 

Elmer Burritt BryanElmer Burritt Bryan (1865-1934)
Tenure: 1921-1934

Bryan was tasked with increasing male attendance because women dominated the university’s biggest program – teacher preparation. A men’s gymnasium, a stadium, and Memorial Auditorium were built and Ohio University joined its first athletic conference. Bryan Hall, a residence hall on College Green was completed in 1948 and is a quiet study facility with a GPA requirement.

 

 

Herman Gerlach JamesHerman Gerlach James (1887-1959)
Tenure: 1935-1943

During James’ presidency, the graduate school was instituted, the ROTC program was established, and the newspaper’s name was changed to the Post. He also saw the mass exodus of men during WWII, a war in which he desired to participate in directly. This paired with illness caused him to resign. James Hall is a residence hall on West Green and was built in 1963.

 

 

Walter Sylvester GamertsfelderWalter Sylvester Gamertsfelder (1885-1967)
Tenure: 1943-1945

As interim president, Gamertsfelder led the University through the end of WWII and an average enrollment of just 200 men. After the war, a memorial service honored 221 alumni who had died overseas. Finished in 1956, Gamertsfelder Hall is the largest residence hall on East Green.

 

 

 

John Calhoun BakerJohn Calhoun Baker (1859-1999)
Tenure: 1945-1961)

Baker put extensive effort in strengthening and broadening international programs including the Nigerian educational program. He retired at age 65 due to a provision the he, himself initiated. More than one Baker Center has existed but the new one has meeting and dining rooms, theaters, as well as offices for several university organizations. It was built in 2006 and opened in the following winter.

 

 

 

Vernon Roger AldenVernon R. Alden (1923-)
Tenure: 1962-1969)

Under Alden’s presidency, student enrollment and the number of faculty doubled. There was also an increased commitment to research and volunteerism and expansion of international programs. Alden Library is among the 100 largest libraries in the U.S. and opened in 1969.

 

 

Claude R. Sowle,Claude R. Sowle (1928-1997)
Tenure: 1969-1974

Sowle’s administration was during the height and aftermath of the Vietnam War. Riots caused the closure of the university for extended periods of time. Enrollment and income declines did not stop the construction and renovation of several buildings and long-term leases for commercial development were authorized. Sowle Hall, called Southwest during its development, is a residence hall and was completed in 2015 along with three other halls near it.

 

 

Charles J. PingCharles J. Ping (1930-)
Tenure: 1975-1994

Ping entered as president during a time at the school where enrollment was down and a financial crisis loomed. Under his tenure, enrollment hit an all-time peak of 25,000 and the financial problems dissipated. The main campus more than doubled in size and the “Ridges” mental hospital was transferred to the university. The Ping Student Center is a recreational center and opened in 1996.

 

 

 

Robert GliddenRobert Glidden (1936-)
Tenure: 1994-2004

Glidden continued the work of his predecessor, Charles Ping.  An increase in scholarship funding and overall budget contributed to every corner of the school. Major renovations to Gordy Hall, Grover Center, and Memorial Auditorium were completed and he set the framework for the new Baker Student Center. The Music Building was renamed to the Robert Glidden Hall when he retired in 2004.