|Preserving the Past
CLAS Deans receive the
Matheson Historic Preservation Award for their efforts to restore historic
By Doug Martin
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.
"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.
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."
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.