An Illini Place
Building the University of Illinois Campus
Leading Men: Ten Central Figures in the Physical Development of the Campus
Even a casual observer of the Illini Place can see the basics: strong north-south axes, tidy grid of streets, big but mostly low-rise classroom buildings, farms and sports venues clustered south, engineering planted north, a neighborhood of restaurants and bars, high-rise retail and housing drawing students close to the campus, and Greek houses cheek-by-jowl with churches.
Most of the physical place of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is not accidental or haphazard. Many hands worked to plan, build, and plant the campus, too many to cite. But the genius or doggedness of two handfuls of planners, designers, and leaders is evident. Ten men can be credited with having a major influence on the campus . . . although the impact of many others would warrant their stories being told, too, such as President David Dodds Henry and architects/managers Robert Chamberlin and Ernest Stouffer. Lists by definition exclude.
Here is the rationale for inclusion. The list, first, tries to capture the breadth of important activities and positions necessary to build and develop a mega-campus, such as the U of I. And so the list has presidents, architects, planners, and bureaucrats. The list, second, attempts to capture the passage of time. While it is heavily front-loaded to the campus's earlier decades, it moves nearly to the present and is in chronological order. Third, with a couple of exceptions, the "ten who matter" had long relationships with the campus. Fourth, the tenth man is actually an ensemble, Sasaki Associates, founded by Hideo Sasaki, a U of I landscape architecture graduate whose firm had major planning assignments beginning in the mid-1980s
Edmund Janes James
It was an inauguration worthy of the man who would become the University of Illinois's greatest president.
For five days in October 1905 the university celebrated the selection of fifty-year-old Edmund Janes James as the school's fifth chief executive. A riot of arc lamps (including two positioned in Altgeld Hall's tower) and orange and blue banners greeted the hordes of VIPs who showed up for the event. The list of people who attended reads like a who's who of Progressive Era notables, including Illinois Governor Charles Deneen, U.S. Senator Albert J. Hopkins, U.S. Speaker of the House Joseph Cannon, Chicago architect Daniel H. Burnham, and University of Wisconsin President Charles Van Hise. Almost two hundred universities and colleges, from seven countries, sent delegates to the inauguration. Students, for whom classes were canceled, got into the act, holding a massive torchlight parade with two thousand participants and twenty floats.
The enormous turnout demonstrated the tremendous reputation that Edmund James already enjoyed in academic and political circles. That reputation would only grow during his years at the helm of the University of Illinois, so much so that in 1916 he was talked of as a possible gubernatorial and even presidential candidate. During those sixteen years he transformed the U of I from a humble cow college into one of America's great universities.
"His have been large and far reaching plans," David Kinley, a future U of I president, said of James. "He has seen the vision and has dreamed the dream."
James's ambitious nature was evident at an early age. The Jacksonville, Illinois, native, son of a Methodist minister, left both Northwestern and Harvard Universities after one year because he didn't like their course offerings. He found the kind of education he was looking for overseas, in Germany, at the University of Halle, and came away, at age twenty-two, with a PhD in political economy and a lifelong belief in the state as a force for economic and social justice. While at Halle, he also met the love of his life, Anna Margarethe Lange, the accomplished, well-educated daughter of a Lutheran clergyman. They married in 1879.
Following stints as a high school principal in Evanston and Bloomington, James landed a plum academic post at the University of Pennsylvania in 1883. Here, as the first director of the Wharton School of Finance and Economy, he made a name for himself in the academic world as a forceful advocate of the so-called German school of economics, which called for greater state involvement in the economy. An organizer as well as a thinker, James helped found the American Economic Association and the American Academy of Political and Social Science.
Running afoul of a conservative trustee, James left Pennsylvania in the fall of 1895 and landed at the University of Chicago, where he spent six years as a professor of public administration and director of University Extension. Then, in 1902, the rising academic made the giant leap from professor to university president.
Mired in mediocrity, Northwestern University wanted a dynamic new chief executive to revive its flagging fortunes. James seemed to fill the bill: as a bonus, he was a devout Methodist, and Northwestern was a Methodist university. James had grand plans for the school, but the financial support never materialized to make them a reality. When Illinois came calling, the Northwestern president was more than ready to jump.
"I sometimes feel that James's wide horizon and his eagerness to plan for the years ahead were, from a practical standpoint, a source of weakness," William Dyche, Northwestern's business manager, asserted. "Possibly if he had not had so many things in mind . . . he might have been better satisfied with his labors." For William Deering, president of Northwestern's board of trustees, the lesson of the James years was clear: "No more kite flyers."
Northwestern's loss was Illinois's gain. After years of less-than-inspired leadership, Illinois needed a president who was a visionary—"a kite flyer." "He lived largely in the future," Carl Stephens, the longtime Illinois alumni magazine editor, said of James. "His breadth of view, too, was panoramic rather than 4x5 or 5x7."
But James was a dreamer who got things done. Within six months of his arrival at the university, he had managed to secure from the Illinois Legislature an appropriation almost half a million dollars larger than the previous one. In ten years the university was receiving $5 million from the legislature—more in one biennium than the total amount the school had received from the state in the first thirty-six years of its existence.
All of this money was a means to an end, and that end, in James's view, was to create nothing less than "the greatest University of America." In pursuit of this goal, James reorganized the Graduate School, championed professional training, put the Library on a glide path to world-class status, and attracted top-notch professors. James's success drew attention. Former Harvard president Charles Eliot warned his successor that "the great competitors of Harvard in the future will not be Yale or Columbia or Princeton but these gigantic and progressive institutions called State Universities, and among them all none will give you more reason to look to your laurels than the University of Illinois."
A masterful promoter as well as administrator, James forced the university into the public consciousness. He was adept at mobilizing support for the school and could always count on the newspapers and the alumni for assistance. Good public relations helped radically change popular perception of the university. According to an Illinois legislator, before James, the school was usually referred to as "the Agricultural College of Illinois" and later as "the Champaign University," but "today it is spoken of as the University of Illinois."
James built the modern University of Illinois, and they came. During the sixteen years of the James era, enrollment (including the Chicago departments) jumped from 3,734 to 9,208. By 1920, thanks to the university's growing reputation, twenty-seven out of every one hundred students hailed from states other than Illinois, and five out of every one hundred were from other nations. An internationalist, James had encouraged foreign students to attend the university.
The university's physical plant had grown to meet this increasing enrollment. Some twenty-five major buildings were erected during the James era, and more than six hundred acres of land purchased. As detailed in chapter 2, James also ushered in a hectic period of planning that would bring order and beauty to a haphazard campus.
Appearing before a packed, student-only audience in October 1914, President James spoke optimistically of the university's future. "There is no limit to the growth of this institution as far as one may see," he declared. "I have been asked repeatedly by members of the legislature, `When are you going to cease asking for more funds?' First, when the people of Illinois cease sending up young people to the University to secure an education; second, when the human race ceases to develop science, and has no longer any interest in increasing its knowledge."
Only two weeks after James gave this speech, his beloved wife of thirty-five years died. He was devastated. "Peace came to her dear soul!" James wrote in his diary. "Help me, O God!" According to the Daily Illini, Mrs. James had been "the driving wheel of the President in many respects—the governor of the machine." After Anna's death, the machine broke down, and President James was never really the same again. In the spring of 1919 he suffered a stroke, and after being given a leave of absence from the university, retired the following year. Edmund Janes James died on June 17, 1925; he had just turned seventy.
"President James taught us to be discontented with the second rate," the U of I English professor Stuart Sherman once remarked. "He gave us a permanent bias toward excellence and distinction. He made us all feel that courage, serenity, wisdom, magnanimity, and creative imagination were at work in his administration, bringing us every year nearer to the University of his vision and ours."
James McLaren White
He was born in 1867, the same year the Illinois Industrial University was chartered, and the two would be bound for life. During forty-three years serving the university, first as professor and later as supervising architect, James McLaren White would have a significant influence on the Illini place.
"If you seek his monument look about you," reads the gravestone of John Milton Gregory, the university's first president. The stone rests in a small grove just south of Altgeld Hall, a building co-designed by James White. The same epitaph should mark the tomb of White, the campus masterbuilder, who designed or co-designed some fifty new or renovated campus buildings and a dozen faculty homes, and created seven campus plans in his long and productive career.
Jim White didn't like to talk about himself; he was as modest as he was productive. So most biographies of him tend to be sketchy, especially about his early life. He grew up when the myth of the self-made man was particularly strong; that could explain his reticence about his privileged boyhood. Or maybe the untimely death of his father, Samuel White, a dedicated educator, colored his youth.
In September 1868—nearly a year after his son James's birth in Chicago—Samuel H. White, an early graduate of the University of Michigan, moved his family to Peoria, where he was to be principal of the county's first normal school, as schools for the teaching of teachers were called. He won praise from his pupils not only for his excellence as a teacher but for "the example of the beautiful life he lived before them."
At age fifty-two, Samuel White died of an unspecified lingering illness in March 1882, when James was a freshman at Peoria High School. "He was emphatically a worker—a toiler," a friend said of Samuel. "He was thoroughly in earnest, and all who struck hands with him felt the presence of a man that lived for a purpose." Hard work and purposefulness also would be hallmarks of his son's much larger and longer life.
James had met several Illinois Industrial University professors at his father's house, including Regent Selim Peabody (1880–1891)—who mounted a butterfly specimen for him—so it was natural that he would attend the Champaign-Urbana school, abandoning the study of agriculture for architecture. First young James hoped to be a farmer: he cultivated corn and raspberries near his semi-rural home. But architecture became his new passion when he helped put up buildings on his father's Iowa sheep ranch. "He found a new thrill in fitting joists and tenons, stiffening struts, and lapping joints," a 1918 biography relates, "but the joy of driving nails was really what won him over."
In 1886 White enrolled in the only architecture school west of the Atlantic seaboard, at the newly christened University of Illinois. Occupying the fourth floor of the northeast tower of University Hall (where the Illini Union is today), the Architecture Department was headed by the legendary Nathan Clifford Ricker, who taught all architecture classes White took his freshman year. The pair quickly became friends.
But White did not spend his undergrad years buried in his books and drafting table. He was too busy. A natural leader and a commanding presence, the tall, well-built, bass-voiced White earned the respect of his classmates, who elected him president of the sophomore class. White belonged to the Philomathean Literary Society and to Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, one of many Greek social organizations that secretly existed on campus despite a ban imposed by the board of trustees. What should have been a triumphant end to his undergraduate career was drowned out when his scheduled commencement oration, "Lotteries in the United States," was canceled because of the racket caused by rain pelting the tin roof of the Ricker-designed Drill Hall (now Kenney Gym Annex).
Fresh out of school, White was appointed an assistant in architecture on Ricker's recommendation, and within eleven years he was a full professor. In 1894–95, the young academic studied in Europe for a year and came away convinced that his mentor Ricker was correct and that the highly technical and practical German system of architectural education was superior to that of the French.
Back in Urbana-Champaign, White soon was given the opportunity to help design his first building. After the great Chicago architect and planner Daniel H. Burnham bowed out of a project to design a new university library, Ricker and White came to the rescue. In less than a month the pair whipped up four sketches and accompanying cost estimates, with their Romanesque plan winning out and even meeting the exacting expectations of Illinois governor John Peter Altgeld. Ricker later said White was an "equal partner" in the planning of the Library but U of I art historian Muriel Scheinman believes that the latter was involved merely with "the decorative aspects of the design." Whatever the case, White had a hand in the design of one of the university's most notable buildings—the future Altgeld Hall with its famous bell tower.
Shortly after their Library triumph, the relationship hit a rough patch when White began hobnobbing with certain local society women. A disapproving Ricker warned his protégé to refrain from such behavior. White did not take this suggestion "kindly," in Ricker's words. Ricker then appealed to a higher authority—President Andrew Draper (1894–1904)—to talk to White.
"I believe that Professor White should be cautioned in reference to certain society women in Champaign, especially Miss Niles and Miss Sherfy," the architecture dean wrote to Draper early in 1897. "He is too good a man to associate with such persons, and there is risk for an innocent man. . . . Moreover, I think he ought to devote more time to preparation for his University work and less to society. . . . He ought to marry and settle down." A little over two years later the thirty-one-year-old White did just that, marrying college classmate Edith Shattuck, daughter of a venerable mathematics professor.
In June 1907 White accepted the position he would hold for the next twenty-five years: university supervising architect. President Edmund James (1904–1920) created the post because he believed the growing campus needed "a competent architect" who would oversee and keep up to date "the buildings and permanent plant of the University." James White was not only competent as an architect but even more so a skilled administrator.
Early in his quarter-century as supervising architect, White did little in the way of building design, which primarily was the province of state architect W. C. Zimmerman. But when a change of administration in Springfield cost Zimmerman his job, White began designing university building after university building. In a remarkable fifteen-year run, he played a part in the design or renovation of some fifty structures: the Ceramics Building (1916); the Vivarium (1916); the Woman's Residence Hall (1918, now Busey Hall); Smith Memorial Music Hall (1920); and the Education Building (1920) among them.
White is credited as co-architect on some of the buildings Charles Platt designed, which were erected on the South Campus in the 1920s, a distinguished group of Georgian revival buildings, all red brick with limestone trim, steep green slate roofs, elegant entries, and broad chimneys. As Platt got older, he spent more time in New York and mailed his designs to the university, where White would both critique them, and, eventually, do more of the work himself.
White did private work as well, planning about a dozen residences for prominent faculty members such engineering professors Arthur Talbot, Ira O. Baker, and Lester P. Breckenridge. He is also the architect responsible for St. John's Catholic Church and Newman Center, which looks like a campus building, all red brick and limestone and punched windows.
White's design labors were not confined to the U of I environs. He planned the Illinois State Buildings for both the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York (with the aid of S. J. Temple), and the Lewis and Clark 1905 Exposition in Portland, Oregon. His portfolio also includes the U.S. Biological Laboratory in Fairport, Iowa, and the Douglas County Soldiers and Sailors Monument, this latter with Newton A. Wells, who fabulously decorated the interior of Altgeld Hall.
White was a planner as well as a designer, but his work in this area has been largely overshadowed by the efforts of Clarence Howard Blackall and Charles Adams Platt, creators of the 1906 and 1922 campus plans, respectively. White himself produced at least seven university campus plans, though none had the impact of the Blackall and Platt schemes. White's interesting 1919 plan, drawn up with the assistance of Leon Deming Tilton, features an Engineering Quad—some seventy years before Sasaki Associates made it a reality.
White's University of Illinois work gave him "a nation-wide reputation as a campus planner," according to his obituary, "and he was called in as a consultant by colleges and universities in all parts of the country." The University of Texas at Austin was one. White created two campus plans for Texas, but neither had much enduring influence. His controversial initial scheme called for the demolition of all but two of the buildings on the Texas campus. This idea is eerily similar to the 1910 suggestion of his mentor Nathan Ricker that every structure north of the Auditorium be razed.
Like his father, White was "emphatically a worker—a toiler." As if he weren't busy enough designing, planning, and overseeing the university's vast and ever-growing physical infrastructure, White in 1921 became the superintendent of business operations. He worked long hours and rarely went on vacation: his old green Packard could often be seen parked in front of the Administration Building on Saturdays and holidays. After developing a serious heart condition, he was forced to give up golf and tennis, his two great hobbies. All he had left was work.
Like his father, White was purposeful. In November 1932 he suffered a heart attack. Despite his weakened state, he still hoped to host a planned party for members of the Illini Union student group. "Even after he had been put to bed he was determined to have the party," his wife recalled. "He thought that he might be able to dress and go downstairs for a short time or that the boys could come to his room in small groups and visit with him. It was only Dr. Bennett's `no' that prevented his having the party and it was a great disappointment for him." Edith White explained: "He enjoyed such contacts with the fine young men who were trying to do worthwhile things."
Like his father, James McLaren White died too young. He seemed to rally late in November, and Trustee George Barr sent him a warm letter: "All of the other members of the Board feel that we should immediately lighten your load so as to have the benefit of your service without your continuing any longer to overwork." The rally continued, and, in late December, U of I President Harry Chase (1930–1933) wrote Jim White a short note that spoke volumes: "I miss you greatly and am delighted to know that you are going to begin to send me official letters again pretty soon." The sixty-five-year-old White was dead within six weeks.
In early 1940 friends and former colleagues began agitating to get the university to remember White with a suitable memorial, starting perhaps with a bronze tablet in the Engineering Building, where the supervising architect's office first was located. That didn't happen, but President Arthur Cutts Willard (1934–1946) promised to look into doing something. In 1941 Willard and Ernie Stouffer, who replaced White, said they would send to the board a recommendation to name the new men's residence complex for White.
That didn't happen either. Instead, the halls of the new complex on Fourth Street were named for Thomas Arkle Clark, Herbert Barton, Carl Lundgren, and William Noble. That's two members of the board of trustees, a dean of students, a professor of Latin, and a former baseball coach.
Seventy years later, there still isn't anything on the campus named for James McLaren White, masterbuilder.
Nathan Clifford Ricker
At midnight on Sunday, January 2, 1870, the bone-weary and cold traveler had just arrived in Champaign, a small town of some fifty-four hundred, having trekked almost 150 miles over several days. Unable to find a hotel room in the sleeping, gas-lit town, the bearded, distinguished-looking twenty-six-year-old man trudged on in the freezing temperatures, walking another half-mile east to his actual destination—the barren and windswept campus of the Illinois Industrial University with its single building. Here, in the ramshackle five-story "Elephant," he rustled up a place to sleep on the floor of a twelve-foot-square room, the only bed being occupied at the time by three dozing students.
This was beginning of Nathan Clifford Ricker's career at the University of Illinois. He would remain at the university for more than a half-century and become a campus legend: the first architecture graduate in the nation, the builder of a top architecture school, and the designer of several iconic buildings.
Ricker was born in southern Maine in 1843. His childhood home stood on the slope of a hill in a rolling country "with forests full of flowers, summer berries and nuts, an ideal location for boys in growth," Ricker would remember in a 1922 memoir. From the top of the hill, some fifty feet above his house, he could glimpse on clear days the White Mountains sixty miles distant and easily see to the south the picturesque valley carved by the roaring Salmon Falls River—the valley that marks the border with New Hampshire.
It was a hard existence. Maine farmers, like Ricker's father, endured harsh conditions: long, brutal winters, short growing seasons, and poor, stony soils. "Hay, corn, and grain were the chief crops, together with boulders of all sizes," Ricker dryly noted.
When Ricker was thirteen, his father sold the farm and opened a mill in nearby Springvale, where the teenager worked long hours grinding the corn brought in by his neighbors, and in the winter he attended a high school that didn't even have a library. Still, he loved learning, and it showed. In 1861 Ricker was tapped to teach at a country school for several months; he enjoyed it. Plus, the additional income let Ricker buy textbooks on Latin, French, botany, and geology, which he used for a rigorous three-year course of self-study.
Though teaching would be his true calling, Ricker spent the next decade in random employment. During the Civil War he worked a winter in Washington, D.C., as a commissary agent "weighing and measuring rations issued to negroes and civilians in the District." Ricker claimed that his life in Washington was free of difficulties, except for the one time when, he says, he "barely escaped death by the carelessness of an Irishman." (Unfortunately, Ricker does not elaborate on this incident in his memoir.)
In 1864 Ricker started work at a piano-case factory owned by his aunt, and he soon became "versed in making a common wood appear to be more elegant by a covering of glue and rosewood veneer." After two and a half years of piano-case work, the restless young man moved out west, following an uncle to La Harpe, Illinois, near Macomb, where Ricker bought a half-interest in a blacksmith shop and became a wagon maker.
Ricker could have remained an obscure craftsman the rest of his life, if not for a chance meeting in late 1869 with a university student, home for Christmas vacation. The student described to Ricker the opportunities offered by his school, the newly opened Illinois Industrial University. The twenty-six-year-old wagon maker and frustrated scholar was won over, and he acted decisively.
"At once it was decided that such an opening for an education could not be neglected, for it had long been sought in vain," Ricker recalled. He sold his interest in the blacksmith shop, and with the considerable sum of $750 in his pocket—"the result of work and economy for five years since leaving home"—set off 147 miles across the state to the inconsequential towns of Urbana and Champaign.
When Ricker first arrived on campus, the university was home to 147 male students—women weren't admitted until the following autumn. Though age twenty-six, Ricker said he didn't feel out of place, since many of his fellow Illini were "of mature age, much older and more experienced than present students." A number of Illinois students had served in the Civil War, including two chums who had fought on opposite sides of the conflict.
Though interested in civil engineering, Ricker decided to study architecture at the university because of his experience in carpentry. In 1870 the Illinois Industrial University had established the second architecture school in the nation—MIT having founded the first only two years before. Ricker proved to be a natural at architecture, and he ended up overseeing his own education, even giving exams to himself! Receiving his certificate on March 12, 1873, Ricker became the first architecture graduate in the country, beating out MIT's first grads by two months.
University regent John Milton Gregory (1867–1880) recognized Ricker's talent and dispatched him to Berlin (and England, Belgium, and France) for the spring and summer of 1873 on condition that he would return in the fall and take over the architecture program. Ricker jumped at the offer. "This was an unusual case for a senior student to be entrusted with the care of a department, which is not likely to occur in modern times," he blandly but accurately noted in his memoir.
Back at Illinois, Ricker put together an architecture program heavy on math and engineering. Materials, chemistry, physics, and architectural history were also key parts of the program, with design taught only in the fourth year. This practical, nuts-and-bolts curriculum was modeled on the German Bauakademie system, which wowed Ricker when he visited Berlin, and not on the more popular French Ecole des Beaux-Arts system emphasizing aesthetics and design.
Ricker was a busy man. He not only headed the architecture department for thirty-seven years (ending in 1910); he also was dean of engineering from 1878 to 1905. Architecture was part of engineering until 1928, when it moved to the new College of Fine and Applied Arts. In the early 1890s he established the first university program of architectural engineering in the country, encouraged by the great Chicago architect Dankmar Adler, a pioneer skyscraper designer and partner of the brilliant Louis Sullivan. Working with Adler, Ricker promoted a state law to license architects. The law ultimately passed: Ricker was named to the first State Board of Examiners in 1897 and served as board president from 1899 to 1916.
Ricker also was the university's go-to person for building design in the first thirty years of the school's existence. He designed no fewer than five campus buildings: the chemistry building (now Harker Hall, where the Foundation operates); the drill hall (Kenney Gym Annex); the Natural History Building; the Metal Shop (later called "Aeronautical B"); and, last but certainly not least, the library, now Altgeld Hall, which he worked on with James M. White, a young architecture professor and future U of I supervising architect.
Ricker apparently didn't think much of the buildings he designed. Asked in 1910 to offer his views on campus development, he made the radical suggestion that the university build an entirely new campus south of the Auditorium consisting of four quadrangles, each one devoted to a different college: Literature and Arts; Science and Mathematics; Agriculture; and Engineering. "The new university can then be laid out on a noble original plan, in a harmonious style of architecture," he wrote. As for the old campus north of the Auditorium, he recommended that the structures there (including the ones he designed) should be removed eventually and be replaced by "a noble plaisance or boulevard approach to the university," artistically landscaped with lawns, sidewalks, shrubs, and trees.
Ricker's influence on campus architecture was the direct result of his role as teacher and mentor. Former students of his regularly returned to the campus as architects on other major buildings: George W. Bullard for Engineering Hall; Joseph C. Llewelyn for the agriculture building we know as Davenport Hall; Nelson S. Spencer for the chemistry building we call Noyes Hall; and Charles Blackall for the Auditorium. And then, of course, there was the ubiquitous James M. White, the Ricker student who stayed and who, as university supervising architect for twenty-five years, oversaw the construction of dozens of structures.
Shortly after Ricker's retirement in 1910, Mary, his wife of thirty-five years whom he had met when she was a student at the university, committed suicide by drinking carbolic acid. Ethel, the couple's only child, who had earned a university architecture degree in 1904, assumed control of the household at 612 West Green Street and became Ricker's constant companion.
Ricker spent his last years painstakingly translating classic French and German architectural texts into English. He had embarked upon this project in 1880, and by the time of his death he had translated nearly fifty works. Bound in red leather, the neatly typewritten volumes were shelved in the architectural library on the fourth floor of Engineering Hall. Named for Ricker in 1917, the library, with its fabulous collection of nineteenth-century material, occupies the second floor of the Charles Platt-designed Architecture Building.
Nathan Clifford Ricker died on March 19, 1924, at Burnham Hospital at age eighty following what was termed a "stroke of apoplexy" the day before at his home. U of I president Edmund James was once asked, "How did Illinois build up that great school of architecture on the banks of the stream called the Boneyard and which is known for reasons other than aesthetic?" James's answer was simple: "Professor Ricker."
Clarence Howard Blackall
Clarence Howard Blackall designed the Auditorium and created the university's first campus plan—the plan responsible for the Quad—and yet his achievements were largely unrecognized in his day. Even Carl Stephens, the longtime Alumni Association director and campus historian, remained largely unaware of Blackall's planning work until 1930, when he read the manuscript of Tilton and O'Donnell's forthcoming book on campus development. Blackall's name pops up throughout that book. Well it should.
Born in 1857 in Brooklyn, Blackall had a nomadic childhood. His mother Eliza died when he was ten, and his father, Rev. Christopher Ruby Blackall, sent him to live with an aunt in Concord, Massachusetts. He was a resident of Chicago when he enrolled at the Illinois Industrial University in the fall of 1873. That semester University Hall, just south of Green Street about where today's Illini Union is, opened its doors, and even then the sixteen-year-old nascent architect was aware of the building's shortcomings. "My class was the first to enter that building (University Hall)," Blackall wrote U of I President Arthur Willard (1934–1946) in 1938, "but it never was right and could have come down long ago without any architectural loss to anyone."
One of Nathan Clifford Ricker's first students, Blackall graduated from the university in 1877. He followed up Ricker's nuts-and-bolts curriculum with more study; he attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, with its emphasis on aesthetic design and orderly composition. After several years in Paris and stints in New York and Colorado Springs, he gravitated to Boston, where he began working for Peabody & Stearns. While employed by this architectural firm, he became the first winner of the Rotch Traveling Scholarship. Established in 1883 for "the advancement of education in architecture," this scholarship—the first of its kind—paid the fortunate recipient $2,000 for two years of study abroad. (Today the Rotch scholarship provides $35,000 or more to the winner.)
Returning to Boston after the European sojourn made possible by "the Rotch," the architect in 1889 organized his own firm, Blackall, Clapp and Whittemore. This firm, which Blackall would be connected with for the rest of his long career, specialized in the design of theaters, including such Boston landmarks as the Colonial, Wilbur, Modern, and Metropolitan. The Tremont Temple, longtime headquarters of the Baptist Church in Boston, is considered to be one of Blackall's outstanding works. It's notable that in the early 1890s, the progressive-minded Blackall used steel skeleton construction—that revolutionary innovation of Chicago architects—in his design of the nine-story Carter Winthrop Building. Now a national landmark, this building was the first steel-frame skyscraper in Boston.
Blackall loved his alma mater. In 1903, apparently on his own initiative, he began drawing up tentative plans for "a more dignified treatment" of Green Street as a gateway to the university campus. The Boston architect, however, quickly abandoned the effort, telling President Andrew Sloan Draper (1894–1904) that "it would be of questionable value to attempt a solution of that part of the problem without reference to the broader scheme of the whole grounds."
Blackall boldly suggested that the university hire the renowned landscape architect John C. Olmsted, the nephew and later adopted son of Frederick Law Olmsted of Central Park fame, to develop a comprehensive campus plan. Reportedly believing that the university wasn't destined to grow much, Draper didn't take the bait, and it would be years before such a plan was done.
But Blackall persisted, and in 1905, as the newly elected president of the U of I Alumni Association, he persuaded the group to go on record in favor of "a systematic laying out of the grounds of the University." Fortunately for Blackall, the university had a dynamic new president in the diminutive form of Edmund Janes James who was far more likely to respond favorably to the architect's radical notions than the conservative Draper.
Blackall's grand opportunity to shape the campus arrived in June 1905 when he was tapped both to design the Auditorium and to help locate it. President James proved to be a dreamer of big dreams for the university and one of his earliest was to build an Auditorium—"a noble monument" dedicated to music. "I am interested in having this the greatest hall of the kind in the Mississippi Valley," James told Blackall.
The commission charged with locating the Auditorium contained an astonishing cast of characters, including the following alumni: Chicago sculptor Lorado Taft, class of 1879, who later would design the Alma Mater grouping; prolific and pioneering architect Nathan C. Ricker, class of 1873; future University Supervising Architect James McLaren White, class of 1890, who served the campus and profession for more than four decades; and finally, Blackall himself, class of 1877.
Blackall used his position on the commission to forcefully argue that a general campus plan was needed before the Auditorium could be sited. On January 30, 1906—a signal day in the history of campus development—the Boston architect presented to the Board of Trustees what Leon Deming Tilton and Thomas Edward O'Donnell call "the first true campus plan" of the University of Illinois.
"I know that the suggested treatment of grounds is radical," Blackall had told President James a few weeks before, "but the effects are radical also and I feel that a campus such as I have suggested, which would be far ahead of that possessed by any university I know of, is worth some pretty radical treatment."
Blackall did not exaggerate. Under his "treatment," the Auditorium, situated on a slight natural rise, formed the southern terminus of a vast grassy quadrangle sweeping north to Green Street. Two avenues flanked the quadrangle on the east and west, providing a dual gateway to the campus. University Hall and the Law Building (Harker Hall) interfered with the symmetry of Blackall's plan, and the architect called for their eventual removal. He dismissed both buildings, one of which had been designed by his old professor Nathan Ricker, as not being of "special worth."
Blackall's wild scheme made an impression, and the Trustees appropriated $250 for additional planning help in the person of John C. Olmsted, the famous landscape architect. Visiting the campus in March 1906, Olmsted helped fix the exact location of the Auditorium. It is clear that the key placement of the Auditorium defined a vital space that continues to be what the American Society of Landscape Architects calls "places of the heart."
It is equally clear that the Auditorium, which should have cost more than twice what the legislature appropriated, was about half the size Blackall originally envisioned; its dome was clad in sheet metal instead of copper, its backstage was truncated, and its acoustics were awful.
According to his daughter Marian, Blackall expressed "great, great, great disappointment with the acoustics." She continued: "He visited every kind of hall that had ever had any good acoustics or bad to study them both and find out what it was and what had gone wrong. If he had been a girl, he would have cried. He felt terribly, terribly about it." A physics professor, Floyd Rowe Watson, would spend six years both fixing the acoustics and developing the field and discipline.
Even with the improved acoustics, Blackall remained unhappy with the building he designed. "I came just too soon on the auditorium," the architect lamented to James White in 1923. "My best wish for that building would be to have it go up in smoke some night and somebody would have a chance to rebuild it right."
Blackall's work for the university did not end with his design of the Auditorium. In April 1909 he was appointed to a campus plan commission along with the world-famous Chicago architect Daniel H. Burnham and W. C. Zimmerman, the state architect. During his three years on the commission, Blackall drew up four plans and helped determine where the Armory, the Stock Pavilion, and the Horticultural Greenhouses would be built.
Blackall enjoyed a long, productive life; he died at age eighty-five in 1942. "He loved the University and he looked back with the greatest of pleasure to his life there and the people he knew," his daughter Marian Blackall Miller recalled in 1983. When the renovated Auditorium was rededicated two years later, the ninety-seven-year-old Mrs. Miller sent a telegram of congratulations. On that day—April 26, 1985—Blackall's original vision for the Auditorium was finally realized, thanks to the generosity of Helene Foellinger and the architectural skill of Walker Johnson.
Charles Adams Platt
It is ironic that the man who helped profoundly shape the campus of the University of Illinois—the quintessential midwestern university—was an eastern aristocrat, Charles Adams Platt.
The French-speaking, croquet-playing, bewhiskered Platt was born in the first year of the Civil War, but the effects of that terrible conflict were barely felt in the privileged New York City enclave where he grew up. Platt's father, John, a pioneering corporate lawyer, and his mother, Mary, the scion of a socially prominent silk-mill-owning family, provided their family of four with "an environment of intellectual and artistic sophistication." Famous figures, like the newspaper publisher Horace Greeley and the poet William Cullen Bryant, often visited the family's imposing residence at 90 Lexington Avenue, then as now an uptown address.
He showed an early interest in art; in 1878 the precocious sixteen-year-old Platt enrolled in the Antique School of the prestigious National Academy of Design. The next year he met the painter Stephen Parrish (father of Maxfield) and under the latter's influence took up etching. Though he enjoyed success as the "boy etcher," Platt soon focused his considerable talents on landscape painting.
In 1882 he moved to Paris, where he lived for five years, honed his artistic skills, and also found a wife, Annie Corbin Hoe, the daughter of a wealthy printing-press manufacturer. The match was marked by tragedy. Not long after their wedding in April 1886, both their fathers died. The following March, after less than a year of marriage, Annie died giving birth to twin daughters, both of whom also died.
Platt took years to recover. In 1889 he returned to the United States and that summer joined an artists' colony in Cornish, New Hampshire. Here, in the picturesque Connecticut River valley town, Platt hobnobbed with such notable artists as the sculptors Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Chester French and the painters Thomas Wilmer Dewing and Maxfield Parrish. Platt's Cornish friends soon began asking him to design their gardens. Just like that, Platt had moved to the next stage in his career. With help from his friends, he had become a landscape architect, and Cornish would be the lifelong hothouse for his novel experiments in design.
In 1892 Platt and his brother William traveled to Italy to study Renaissance-era gardens. Platt introduced his brother, who was an apprentice of the renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, to formal landscape design. Unfortunately, William drowned just one month after returning home. Charles, however, had also learned a lot in Italy and these ideas would undergird his illustrious career as an architect.
He laid out these ideas in his Italian Gardens, published in 1894 by Harper Brothers. In this small book with an outsized influence, Platt introduced the modern American reader to the Renaissance-era garden and philosophy behind it.
"The evident harmony of arrangement between the house and the surrounding landscape," he wrote, "is what first strikes one in Italian landscape architecture—the design as a whole, including the gardens, terraces, grove, and their necessary surroundings and embellishments, it being clear that no one of these component parts was ever considered independently, the architect of the house being the architect of the garden and the rest of the villa." This, in a nutshell, became Platt's guiding philosophy: The house and the garden must be designed as a harmonious unit.
Platt soon became a recognized authority on Italian gardens; commissions began rolling in. He started designing houses as well as gardens; his favorite architectural styles were Italian, Georgian, and colonial revival. Signaling his new status, in 1898 he changed his occupation listing in the New York City directory from "Artist" to "Architect."
Platt's client list reads like the Social Register—populated as it is by Rockefellers, McCormicks, and Roosevelts. In 1907 Sara Delano Roosevelt, the formidable mother of Franklin, hired Platt to design a new home for her on East 65th Street in New York City. Eleanor Roosevelt later described Platt as "an architect of great taste" and the six-story, colonial revival residence he designed as "a very remarkable piece of work."
One year later, Platt wrested away from Frank Lloyd Wright a hefty commission for the design of Villa Turicum—a mansion for Harold and Edith Rockefeller McCormick, heirs to two of the nation's largest fortunes. Soon after, Wright abandoned his family and his Chicago practice and went off to Europe with the wife of a client. Some historians have speculated that Wright's strange behavior was triggered by his crushing failure to win the Villa Turicum commission. Whatever the truth of this theory, Wright certainly was no fan of Platt and his classical design philosophy. "Charles Platt is a very dangerous man—he does the wrong thing so well," Wright reportedly once remarked.
Platt also designed commercial and apartment buildings and a few public buildings, but most of his commissions were residences. Beginning in the 1910s, however, the architect received more and more opportunities to apply his talents in different ways. In 1913 he designed a museum to house the Asian and American art of the Detroit industrialist Charles Lang Freer: the Freer Gallery of Art finally opened in 1923 on the Mall in Washington, D.C. While a member of the United States National Commission of Fine Arts, a body responsible for the development of public architecture in Washington, D.C., Platt fashioned the Arlington National Cemetery headstones used to honor the World War I dead. And in 1919 he obtained his first academic commission, becoming the planning consultant for the Homewood Campus of Johns Hopkins University. Other academic commissions followed, at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and at the University of Illinois.
On December 13, 1921, the University of Illinois Board of Trustees appointed Charles Adams Platt to a dual role: as the architect of the new Agriculture Building (Mumford Hall) and as a consultant on the U of I campus plan. Platt was the first choice of a trustee-appointed committee headed by Martin Roche, of the renowned Chicago architectural firm Holabird & Roche. "Mr. Platt is an artist, an architect, and a landscape gardener, but he is also at bottom a practical man," Roche said in his letter of recommendation.
Platt made his first of what would be many visits to the U of I campus on December 19, 1921, a dreary and raw day. Escorted by President David Kinley (1920–1930) and Dean of Agriculture Eugene Davenport, the architect viewed the campus from ground level and from the top of an unspecified building, probably University Hall. He also watched "A Day at Illinois"—a recently filmed motion picture depicting the campus.
The Daily Illini reported that Platt expressed pleasure "at the extensive layout of our campus, as compared with campuses of eastern universities. In the east, older universities like Harvard and Yale have had their campuses hemmed in and dwarfed by the growth of cities about them." While careful to praise the "beauties in the existing layout," the architect indicated that he saw "splendid advantages and opportunities for the future campus plan."
"I have received a maze of impressions that will not be unraveled and clarified until I have time to think them over in my office," Platt told a reporter when asked about that future campus plan.
Illness confined him to a Chicago hospital early in 1922, but Platt worked quickly on the designs for the new Agriculture Building and by April had already finished the preliminary plans. Dedicated in 1924, the new Agriculture Building would set the standard for future building design on campus. Built in a Georgian revival style, new Agriculture was a three-story (plus attic) red-brick, horizontal mass trimmed in limestone with enormous chimneys and a steeply slanted, green slate roof. Platt's other campus buildings—David Kinley Hall (1925), Evans Hall (1925), Huff Hall (1925), McKinley Hospital (1925), the Library (1926–29), the Armory Additions (1927), Architecture (1928), the President's House (1930), the Agricultural Bioprocesses Lab (1931), and Freer Hall (1931)—would share many of these basic forms and features.
Having established Georgian revival as the university's dominant building style, Platt also set the course of future U of I development with his important 1922 campus plan, which was revised in 1927. The architect accepted the basic outlines of previous campus plans, including the main north-south axis established in the 1906 plan and the east-west mall proposed by Holabird & Roche in 1920, though shifted somewhat north. More radically, Platt grouped his buildings in clusters, with each structure being connected to the other via ornamental gateways. While outlining the main quad areas, the building clusters also enclosed inner courtyards: this scheme allowed, in the words of architects Karen Sullivan and Kenneth Itle, "a monumental plan of grand axes to exist simultaneously with a more human scale plan of enclosed greenspaces."
Charles Adams Platt died on September 12, 1933, at age seventy-two. "It is regrettable that . . . rarely a university can be the work of one man," he once lamented. Though certainly not the work of a single person, much of the campus of the University of Illinois reflects the purposeful planning and style of Charles Platt.
The Italian-born Ferruccio Vitale was a renegade in the eyes of many of his fellow landscape architects, thanks to his ferociously original design philosophies. With a mild-mannered countenance often framed in horn-rimmed glasses, the tall and thin Vitale hardly looked the part of a rebel. Yet Vitale's landscaping plan would dramatically transform the University of Illinois grounds, providing a rational and rigorous recipe for campus planting whose influences are felt even today.
Charles Platt, designer of the far-reaching 1922 campus plan, suggested that the university hire Vitale, a frequent collaborator. Platt well knew that the university had serious landscaping issues. ("The chief problem in our academic campus is that of the plantings around the buildings," U of I Supervising Architect James White told President David Kinley.) Though he was an expert landscape architect himself, the sickly Platt did not like having to travel at night. So in an April 1926 letter to White, the New Yorker put in a plug for Vitale, suggesting that the university consult the landscape designer, since he was a man "thoroughly conversant with our views."
Platt helpfully indicated that Vitale could swing down to Urbana on one of his western trips. The latter had recently established a Foundation for Architecture and Landscape Architecture in Lake Forest, where he had many clients and where he worked with students from the foundation on designing wonderful gardens that frame the great mansions lining the lake.
Money, as always, was a problem, however, and university officials weren't certain they could afford the renowned Vitale, who in 1927 was appointed by President Calvin Coolidge to the National Fine Arts Commission. His reputation as a fee chaser preceded him. A onetime employee remembered Vitale demanding that he change a design for a new client: "Make it bigger, Norman. Make it bigger!"
James White initially hoped to secure Vitale's services for a song by having him come to the university to deliver a series of lectures on landscape gardening while also acting as a consultant on campus planting: the idea was that Vitale would be paid as a teacher and not as a high-priced landscape architect.
That scheme failed, and in June 1928, after delays occasioned by cost concerns, the board of trustees finally appointed Vitale to draw up a campus landscaping plan. The trustees perhaps reluctantly agreed to fork over to him $100 per day for a preliminary visit to the campus (plus $50 per day traveling time) and $3,500 for the preparation of the general campus plan. Vitale claimed that he had based these fees "on a minimum schedule compatible with thorough study as we realize the public spirited nature of the work involved."
The following September Vitale arrived on campus for the first time. He visited again in October and November. He found the campus to be quite impressive. "It is a great achievement and one to be proud of," he told a Daily Illini reporter. During his November visit Vitale spoke at the dedication of the Charles Platt-designed Architecture Building, which he called "one of the finest things done in this country."
Vitale worked on the landscape plan with Alfred Geiffert Jr. and James White, and in May 1929 he was back on the Urbana campus to present the scheme to the board of trustees. "This plan," he declared at the beginning of his report, "brings into organic relationship the old Campus with the new, and endeavors to establish a sound method of physical expansion maintaining order, balance, unity, and, therefore, beauty." He said that the goal of his planting scheme was to enhance the grandeur and maintain the "dignity, unity, and effectiveness" of Charles Platt's monumental 1922 campus plan.
The landscaping plan was typical Vitale: rational, simple, specific, right down to the genus and species of planting material to be used. Major features of the scheme for the South Campus included double rows of trees lining the big linear spaces, paved-in turf, hedges anchoring the buildings, and flowering dwarf trees, primarily crab apples. Courtyards were to be filled with flowering dwarf trees, massed evergreens, and seating.
In his report, Vitale argued that the university's malls and avenues should be lined with a diversity of native trees, in part "to insure protection in case of an attack by disease upon a species." Yet he didn't follow his own advice and instead recommended only nine plants for the entire campus: four tall and structured trees (American elm, sycamore, red pine, and American hornbeam); four that were small and human in scale (Washington hawthorn, Japanese flowering crab apple, Arnold crab apple, and common crab apple) and only a single hedge, the Japanese yew. Within a year of the arrival of Dutch elm disease on campus in the 1950s, ninety percent of the central campus's elms were wiped out.
Vitale did not like the idea of vines clinging to the Charles Platt-designed buildings because they obscured the beautiful architecture, though he was willing to tolerate some ivy around doorways and windows. A 1930 Daily Illini editorial actually protested against the removal of the ivy. "Mr. Ferucio [sic] Vitale . . . may know his ivy and architecture," the paper asserted, "but we daresay more Illinois citizens visiting the campus have admired the green ivy-clad walls than all our `architectural features' put together."
Who was Ferruccio Vitale, this Italian-born ivy hater? Like his great collaborator Platt, Vitale had a privileged background, but more so: his father, Lazzaro, was a distinguished architect, and his mother, Giuseppina, a countess, the descendant of a famous Renaissance Venetian family. Born in 1875 in an Italy that had only recently been reunified under Garibaldi, Vitale enjoyed a rarified existence as a child, growing up in the center of Florence in a sprawling fifteenth-century mansion that originally had been built for the Medicis.
After completing an education steeped in the classics, Vitale did the unexpected: rather than embark upon a career in the arts, he instead enrolled in a military academy. Graduating in 1893, he became a military engineer and an officer in the Italian army. Five years later, Vitale was appointed a military attaché of the Italian embassy in Washington, D.C. He arrived in the United States in the very month that war was declared against Spain.
Chosen to be an impartial observer of the Spanish-American War, the young Italian officer soon found himself on a troop transport steaming from San Francisco to the Philippines. He landed in time to witness the tail end of Commodore George Dewey's legendary three-and-a-half-month blockade of Manila Harbor as well as the battle of Malate—the first land fight in the Philippines war. Thanks to his wartime service, Vitale was named a Chevalier of the Order of the Crown of Italy and an honorary member of the Philippine army.
In 1900 Vitale returned to Italy and spent several years there working in his father's architectural office. Moving back to the United States in 1904, he began working in New York City as an apprentice to George F. Pentecost Jr., a landscape architect who had designed the National Mall between the U.S. Capitol and the Washington Monument. Before long, Vitale had become a partner of Pentecost's, and his career as a landscape architect was launched. In 1921 he was naturalized as a U.S. citizen.
A restless and ambitious man, Vitale would have several partners over time. His clients came almost exclusively from the ranks of the über-rich, including such notable names as Alfred DuPont, Isaac Guggenheim, Andrew Mellon, Percy Rockefeller, the paint manufacturer Benjamin Moore, and the publisher Conde Nast.
Vitale had little use for the naturalistic design philosophies of Frederick Law Olmsted and his many disciples. Instead, he, in common with Platt, championed formal and rational landscape plans like those found in the Italian Renaissance garden. An ideological war erupted between the two camps of landscape architects, one centered in Boston and the other in New York. The Bostonians, adherents of Olmsted, dismissed the work of the "renegade" Vitale because, they said, "he didn't design `naturally.'"
Despite this criticism, Vitale's practice flourished, and by the 1920s he was one of the recognized design deities in "the valley of the gods"—landscape architecture historian Norman Newton's admiring term for New York City.
Vitale died of pneumonia in 1933 at age fifty-eight while a member of the Architectural Commission of Chicago's Century of Progress Exposition. His U of I landscaping plan lives on, however, continuing to influence campus design. Hired in 1965 to develop a new master landscape plan for the university, Hideo Sasaki discovered that Vitale's ideas were still relevant. "It is interesting to note," Sasaki wrote, "that the statements made by the Landscape Consultant, Mr. Ferruccio Vitale, in 1929, are still valid, and the main points of the design principles he set forth in his report are the soundest advice for today."
As it happens, there were less than six degrees of separation between Hideo Sasaki and Ferruccio Vitale. As a University of Illinois student, Sasaki had been taught by Stanley White, and White had been an apprentice of Vitale's. More than that, White had helped Vitale draw up the very 1929 landscaping plan that so impressed Sasaki.
Charles S. Havens
Chuck Havens took a part-time job as a messenger and stores clerk at the University of Illinois on June 18, 1919; he was just fourteen years old and a student at Urbana High School. His father, a steamfitter foreman at the U of I power plant, died that same year in the great flu pandemic; the dad's buddies looked after young Chuck. His mother had severe rheumatoid arthritis and couldn't work. Chuck earned twenty cents an hour that year—thirty cents in 1920—en route to a career at the center of major developments in the place of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Chicago.
Charles S. Havens, like James M. White, was embedded in the campus his entire working life, but as a manager/bureaucrat/administrator, not an architect. When White died in 1932, Havens replaced him on an acting basis immediately and in 1934 was named director of the physical plant. He had earned a bachelor's degree from the College of Commerce in 1927 and joined the Physical Plant Department full time that year; he earned a master's in 1931.
Contemporaries—and his own children—knew him as a perfectionist, a habitual list maker, a pragmatic, disciplined, consistent, short-statured, soft-spoken man who seldom took on a task he couldn't master.
His son, Charles Stewart (called Stew), said his father kept his work and personal life separate. "He was very private about the business, his job," the son said during a 2011 visit to the family's weekend cottage at the Pollywogs near Danville that was built in 1932 and bought by the Havens family in 1952.
Havens's hobbies consumed him: making split-bamboo fishing rods for fly fishing and a boat in the basement, golf (an 8 handicap), classical guitar, bridge, snare drum, fancy stereo equipment, photography, house parties with friends, and Jack Daniels Black Label with a splash before a traditional dinner at home served by his wife, Mildred "Mid" Havens, whom he met at the university, where she earned a master's degree in education and later taught in a country school.
"He tried to keep family and his work separate," said daughter Dorothy. "He found the job stressful. He was extremely modest and very polite to people. He would never get into an argument with anyone."
The university's physical plant evolved and was organized and reorganized several times during Havens's tenure at the top and, again, when he stepped down; his service overlapped the terms of seven presidents: David Kinley, Harry Woodburn Chase, Arthur Hills Daniels, Arthur Cutts Willard, George Dinsmore Stoddard, Lloyd Morey, and David Dodds Henry.
It wasn't until 1967 that the three campuses (Chicago Circle, Medical Center, and Urbana-Champaign) were reconfigured administratively so each was quasi-independent and was led by a chancellor who reported directly to the president. Until then Havens was the director of the Physical Plant Department, which included planning, construction, and oversight of new construction and additions, as well as landscape and site development and land acquisition. It was a huge portfolio that events expanded wildly.
First came the immense surge in student enrollment after World War II and the ensuing historic building boom at the downstate campus; second, there was the drive to create a full-service campus in Chicago to replace the postwar Navy Pier undergraduate division. Havens, by job description, value, skill, and nature, was in the middle of it all.
Charles Flynn, who started at the U of I in sports information and eventually was a presidential aide for Henry and his successor, John Corbally, was a colleague from 1937 and a longtime friend. "During the '60s we spent about as much time on the Panama Limited going to and from Chicago and the Circle construction site as we did at home," Flynn recalled in a News-Gazette column when he was the paper's publisher. "Chuck always said he should have received a degree from Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the architectural firm, because he lived more than four years in that office or on the site with people like the campus designer Walter Netsch."
Havens was a key player in Chicago and not just as the über-manager of the Chicago Circle development; he clearly was President Henry's go-to man on the project. "Havens' role was most important in the actual physical selection of the site," wrote George Rosen in a 1980 book on the genesis of the new campus. "In addition, he had wide and discreet contacts among a variety of Chicago's political and business leaders concerning this matter, so that his insights into local viewpoints and interests were indispensable to the president and the Board of Trustees."
The challenges were great: the site selection for this brand-new campus was highly disputed and, at times, contentious, involving suburban interests and at least three firm inner-city locations. Plus, the university had to drum up legislative support for money and popular support for a big bond issue to pay for the new campus.
And while Havens will forever be associated with Chicago Circle, he kept a firm grip on Urbana-Champaign from his earliest years. No detail was too small. In 1942, for example, he wrote to President Willard about saving $720 in the salary line vacated by the "release" of an employee, while increasing other salaries in a newly reorganized physical plant and still staying inside the department's budget. "As these all represent recurring expenditures, in view of the financial limitations for the next biennium, I am willing to make these increases within the present Operation and Maintenance appropriation," he wrote.
But his judgment was not flawless—although in this case it certainly represents the time. The "Halfway House" was an open structure, four legs and a roof, originally used as a shelter on Green Street for campus passengers waiting for the local streetcars dating back to the 1880s or 1890s; that service ended in 1908. The structure was used as a bus shelter on Green Street until 1961, when the street was widened and the shelter disappeared. The late movie critic Roger Ebert, then the editor of the Daily Illini, and others discovered the bus shelter in pieces propped against a chicken coop on the South Farm and successfully lobbied for its return, this time to Matthews Avenue south of the Natural History Building.
But in 1941, a year before Ebert was even born, Havens supported junking the structure in a February 10 letter to President Willard. "The completion of the Illini Union Building raises the question in my mind as to the justification of maintaining what we have for many years called the `Halfway House.' I think it serves no functional purpose and merely exists as a landmark. I presume there would be many objections raised to its removal, but I believe the retention of the structure is no credit to the campus, particularly on Green Street where many visitors cross the campus and perhaps have their only view of the University buildings."
Willard's response was both short—one sentence—and swift—within two days: "Director Havens: I would leave this alone. A.C.W."
But an archive of correspondence and other written matter shows Havens a man of prodigious work at Urbana-Champaign, including managing complex projects such as the Illini Union, the Assembly Hall, and Krannert Center for the Preforming Arts, which required a square block of land occupied by houses. He also had to manage labor issues, some with racial overtones.
Charles S. Havens was given the Alumni Association's Loyalty Award in 1969 and, when he retired in 1971, the board of trustees acknowledged his "rare statesmanship." He died in 1999 at age ninety-four in Green Valley, Arizona, where he and "Midgie" retired. She died two years later.
Ambrose Madison Richardson
It was 1951, and architect Ambrose Madison Richardson couldn't take it anymore.
His tyrannical boss, Nathaniel Owings—who co-founded Skidmore, Owings & Merrill—was on his case, demanding seemingly every hour of his day. Adding to his frustrations and anxiety, Richardson often spent more time at the Tavern Club plying his clients and prospective clients with martinis than in his office at the drawing board, where he wanted to be. This Mad Men lifestyle had produced an ulcer, and he self-assessed that he was "a raving wreck."
So when the University of Illinois offered a job, Richardson jumped out of Chicago to what he believed would be a simpler life in Champaign-Urbana. And U of I architecture would never be the same.
Though born in the south, Richardson thought of himself as a Chicagoan, where he had lived since he was twelve years old. His father went broke in the Depression and relocated the Richardson family to the Windy City. Encouraged by his grandfather to become an architect, young Ambrose entered the Armour Institute of Technology (now Illinois Institute of Technology) in 1935 after a year at the University of Chicago. At the time, Richardson was very much an architectural traditionalist, like his grandfather.
"I mean, as far as he was concerned, architecture reached its absolute zenith with the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893," Richardson said of his grandfather in an oral history for the Art Institute, "and he ingrained that in me."
Richardson's comfortable outlook shattered in 1938 when, as a college senior, he fell under the spell of the pioneering modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. "Less is more," Mies preached, and his philosophy of austere, modular design soon revolutionized architecture. The postwar urban skyline, with its forest of "aloof, anonymous glass boxes," would be one of Mies's major legacies.
A "great bear of a man" with a "rugged face," Mies swept into the Armour Institute as the head of the Architecture Department, bringing with him radical new ideas. At first the tradition-minded Richardson found it difficult to adjust to Mies's architecture and teaching methods. A fast learner, Richardson, however, eventually caught on, and Mies rewarded him with an A at semester's end. Pleasantly surprised, the student wanted to know how he earned such a high grade. "Because you were so bad to begin with and you learned so much and you came so far," Mies told Richardson.
Still in college, Richardson worked in the Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill—an up-and-coming architectural firm that later would become world famous for its modernist skyscrapers, including the John Hancock Center and the Sears Tower (now Willis Tower). Starting in 1937 as a $10-a-week office boy, he rose up in the ranks and within a decade was the firm's chief designer—a martini-drinking man in a gray flannel suit making $9,500 a year. Perhaps not surprisingly—considering his educational background—Richardson's building designs demonstrated a strong Miesian influence, as did many other postwar architects.
"He [Mies] had shown us a way that we thought was the sensible and logical way to design," Richardson later explained. "You do it on a modular, sensible, structural system. No nonsense. This is a good way to do it, and so everything became boxes."
In 1951 Richardson escaped the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill pressure cooker for the University of Illinois ivory tower. Hired to teach graduate architectural design, the thirty-three-year-old was brought in at full professor and given tenure—an extraordinary appointment that didn't sit too well with many of his colleagues in the Architecture Department, who had labored long and hard to gain tenure.
"There were political pressures of this faculty, who were really resentful of this young guy . . . coming down getting a full professorship with tenure," Richardson recalled. "At that time, I was one of the highest-paid professors on campus."
Richardson seems to have genuinely enjoyed teaching, and he was good at it. César Pelli, one of his students, called him "the perfect guide to American practice and the American vision of architecture." But when University Architect Ernest Stouffer asked Richardson to design the new Law Building, he couldn't. Following the success of his Mies-inspired Law Building at the edge of campus, the young architect's "stock went up really high," as he later put it, and soon Stouffer and his boss Charles Havens—director of the Physical Plant Department—began assigning him building project after building project, beginning with the Gregory Drive Residence Halls. Before long, Richardson supplanted Stouffer, becoming Havens's "right-hand consultant on everything" architecturally related. He was, in effect, the university architect in all but name.
When the university refused to reduce his appointment to half time to cut his teaching load—and give him more time to design—Richardson resigned from the Architecture Department in 1956 and formed his own firm.
"I took a gamble," Richardson would say of his resignation. He was given a guarantee (made by Havens) of a year's worth of architectural work from the university. That year eventually turned into fifteen years of continuous U of I work: along the way, A. M. Richardson and Associates grew ever larger and added partners, becoming Richardson, Severns, Scheeler and Associates by the late-1950s. John Severns—"primarily an engineer"—and James Scheeler—"a very marvelous delineator and a good designer"—were old students of Richardson's.
During that watershed fifteen-year period, Richardson and his partners designed some twenty-six university buildings and produced a landmark campus plan. This trio of architects was responsible for almost all of the dormitories built in this era, both low rise—the Gregory Avenue Residence Halls, the Peabody Drive Residence Halls, the Pennsylvania Avenue Residence Halls—and high rise—the Illinois Street Residence Halls, the Florida Avenue Residence Halls, and Sherman Hall. Richardson's firm also designed the Undergraduate Library, the Krannert Art Museum, the Art and Design Building, and the Newmark Civil Engineering Building, among many others, all of which were very modern and Miesian.
Richardson considered the Undergraduate Library the most successful building he ever did. "It [the Undergrad] was a real breakthrough," he said. "Although there had been other underground structures, ideas and so on, it really kind of set a pattern for some of the academic . . . underground buildings throughout the country."
Havens's guarantee of university work had endured a full fifteen years, but, by the early 1970s, the U of I construction boom had collapsed, and Richardson was forced to look for employment elsewhere. He ended up at Notre Dame University where he headed the Architecture Department for six years and taught for several more before retiring in 1985. Richardson died ten years later at age seventy-eight.
Looking back on his career in 1990, Richardson expressed no regret at having abandoned Skidmore, Owings & Merrill just as that firm was poised to reach new heights. Rather than designing a John Hancock Center or a Sears Tower, he had reshaped the look of a major American campus, recasting it into a modernist mold. For better or for worse, Ambrose Madison Richardson had dragged University of Illinois architecture into the space age—the age of Mad Men.
Stanley O. Ikenberry
Stanley Oliver Ikenberry, son of a small-college president in West Virginia, left an indelible mark on the University of Illinois as its fourteenth and seventeenth president. The youngest chief executive when he joined the U of I at age forty-four in 1979, Ikenberry had a long and successful sixteen-year term. When he retired in 1995, he was tied for length of service with the legendary Edmund Janes James (1904–1920) and David Dodds Henry (1955–1971), who championed and built a full-service campus for Chicago.
Fourteen years after he left the presidency, the board of trustees lured Ikenberry back for a nine-month tour of duty as stabilizer-in-chief after an admissions scandal rocked the Urbana-Champaign campus in 2009, forcing out both a president and a chancellor.
In his first term, 1979–1995, he and a series of six successive Urbana-Champaign chancellors reignited campus planning after a long lull; added more than six million gross square feet in fifty new or extensively remodeled buildings (value $830 million) at the Urbana and Chicago campuses, the equivalent of two Willis Towers. At Urbana-Champaign, more than 3.3 million square feet of new or remodeled space, valued at $444 million, came on line.
Magnetic and widely viewed as both a natural charmer and a strategic lobbyist in dealings with state legislators, Ikenberry helped raise fully a billion dollars of private money, which, in turn, leveraged millions more in state and federal support. The late Judy Barr Topinka, a state senator at the time he left the presidency, was an admirer. "He's a very charming man and more adept at lobbying than anybody else in academia," she said. "His presence alone often has given the university a free pass in the Legislature on tough issues."
With a mostly compliant elected board of trustees, Ikenberry staked out two big ideas for his early presidency: stage-managing the consolidation of the Medical Center and Chicago Circle campuses—which occurred in 1982—and after confronting three cost overrun and aesthetic issues on buildings already underway at Chicago and Urbana-Champaign, he was prompted to look more broadly at "architectural issues."
"I suppose people will remember me more for the amount of concrete I helped pour and ribbons I helped cut than any other single factor," he said in 1994 as he announced his planned 1995 retirement. "I never had as my priority pouring concrete. But I have had as a priority trying to meet the needs of key academic areas of faculty members and students who didn't have the tools that they needed to do the job."
Those tools came at a price. In 1979, Ikenberry's inaugural year, U.S. inflation was 11.3 percent, rising to 13.5 percent the following year before starting a general downward trend that was, however, marked by up-and-down shifts year to year. Construction inflation for both material and labor was as high or higher, and new buildings got squeezed; the time horizon for planning, siting, designing, constructing, and furnishing major buildings is measured in multiple years. "I'm thinking, we can't let this happen again," he said in a 2008 interview.
Similarly, inflation and politics had severely throttled down the university's opportunities to generate additional revenue through tuition. For six full years beginning in the 1972–73 school year, tuition was stuck at $496, gradually moving to $634 in 1979–80, Ikenberry's first year. Against the backdrop, he worked the legislature for direct appropriations, an increase in state student financial aid, and the capacity to raise tuition. In his last full year, Ikenberry sent to Springfield tuition increases from 5 percent to 11 percent, larger than any other Illinois public university. "Ikenberry sent us an across-the-board tuition increase that was quite substantial, yet it went unnoticed through the budget process," said Sen. John Maitland, R-Bloomington. "That's a sign of very sophisticated leadership."
In between, he led a higher-education coalition of presidents, chancellors, corporate leaders, labor, and well-placed alumni in a three-year effort to raise and then make permanent a state income increase with significant new revenue directed to both K-12 and higher education. In the topsy-turvy world of Illinois politics, downstate Republican Jim Edgar, the popular secretary of state, beat Democrat machine-politician and former lieutenant governor Neil Hartigan; Edgar pledged to make the income tax increase permanent, and the Illinois General Assembly did so, giving the U of I a budget windfall. That eventually petered out.
Ikenberry's legacy in terms of master planning and building certainly matches that of Edmund Janes James from the early part of the twentieth century. Both instigated waves of planning and building, James on an underdeveloped rural campus, Ikenberry to reorganize a mature campus beginning with the north, or engineering campus, which was incoherent and unattractive, and to substantially augment existing research facilities.
A key element differentiates 1904–1920 from 1979–1994: the role of private money secured from individuals, corporations, and foundations to be applied to renovations, additions, and new buildings. Gifts made possible ten projects at Urbana-Champaign from 1981 to 1994, starting with the modest $1.3 million Beckwith Living Center and ending with the $13.8 million Temple Hoyne Buell Hall.
The centerpiece Beckman Institute for Advanced and Technology cemented Ikenberry's reputation as a fundraiser when Arnold and Mabel Beckman said they would provide the Urbana-Champaign campus with $40 million if the state would match that with another $10 million. Ikenberry called on the Four Tops—the majority and minority leaders of the Illinois House and Senate—and quickly pried $2.5 million out of each of them.
But he hit a low point mid-term in a struggle over the University Hospital in Chicago. He announced the intention to affiliate the College of Medicine with Michael Reese, a local private hospital, and then lease the U of I Hospital to Cook County. The effort divided the community, the trustees, and the state legislature, and the plan was withdrawn; the legislature raised the subsidy to the hospital by about $25 million.
Ikenberry earned his bachelor's degree at Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, in 1956, where his father, Oliver Ikenberry, was named president at age thirty-nine and served twenty-one years, ending in 1968. Stan Ikenberry earned master's and doctoral degrees from Michigan State in 1957 and 1960. He taught at MSU, moved on to the University of West Virginia, and then to Pennsylvania State University, where, by age thirty-five, he was a senior vice president. A national higher-education magazine put him on its list of young leaders to watch. Then it was on to Illinois.
In one way he modeled himself on David Dodds Henry: he chaired every important national higher-education organization, extending his influence far beyond Illinois. He also chaired the Big Ten Council of Presidents when it brought Penn State into the Big Ten. And, after stepping back as U of I president, he led the American Council on Education in Washington, D.C., from 1996 to 2001, when he and his wife, Judy, returned full-time to the house they built in Urbana; he worked in the College of Education and the all-campus Institute of Government and Public Affairs. They moved back to Pennsylvania in 2010.
The massive Stanley O. Ikenberry Commons is under construction on the campus's west side in a fourteen-year project to knock down and replace, one by one, the "Six Pack" student housing; the Ikenberry Dining Hall, in his and Judy's honor, is operating. Students call it "The Ike."
A local restaurateur endowed the Ikenberry Chair in the College of Education, and the Ikenberrys themselves are major donors through the U of I Foundation to establish an arts program at the Ikenberry Commons through the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.
Chap 7.10 Sasaki and Associates
Sasaki and Associates
The tenth of the Ten Who Matter is an ensemble, Sasaki Associates, a full-service interdisciplinary planning and design firm based in Watertown, Massachusetts, in a wonderfully converted mill on the Charles River.
Among the associates germane to the Illini Place are founder Hideo Sasaki, M. Perry Chapman, Stewart O. Dawson, Joseph A. Hibbard, Martha Lampkin, and Dennis Swinford; only Lampkin (now Welborne) and Chapman are not U of I graduates.
There were few campus plans from World War II to 1986, although campus enrollment was booming and hundreds of thousands of square feet of space, student and married housing included, shot up out of the ground.
So when the $40 million Beckman gift was announced in the fall of 1985, the campus and the president seized the opportunity to take a fresh look at planning. The result over a few years was the North Campus Plan, the South Campus Plan, and the Central Campus Plan, all by Sasaki, followed by the South Farms plan and, in 2007, an omnibus plan that pulled (and modified) these district plans together. It was a long engagement.
Joe Hibbard, a tall, redheaded graduate of the U of I, literally aged into his career and profession doing plans for the U of I between 1986 and 2007.
Hibbard joined Sasaki Associates in 1979, about a year before Hideo Sasaki himself retired. Hibbard's first assignment was a complex waterfront project in Toledo, followed by several Rockefeller projects.
Sasaki Associates is shaped by its founder and guiding light, Hideo Sasaki—who escaped World War II American internment in Poston, Arizona, by working in a sugar-beet field in Colorado. He founded the firm, which has had several names and offices over time, in 1958.
Its large practice pulls together landscape architects, architects, planners, urban designers, engineers, interior designers, and graphic designers in collaboration. At Sasaki, context is critical; plans are steeped in culture, history, geography, environment, and social and economic considerations. (In a 2009 oral history, Dawson said the influence of "Hid" was profound in how he looked at his work. "But Hideo has always been on my shoulder, even when he was active [in the practice] here," Dawson said. "Whenever I was somewhere else, Hideo was really on my shoulder.")
Sasaki was born near Fresno, California, attended junior college, and then enrolled at UCLA before moving to Berkeley, where planning was offered in the Landscape Architecture Department. That ended in 1941.
After the war, Sasaki and his older brother headed to Chicago, Hideo then to Champaign-Urbana. He graduated from the U of I in 1946 with a BFA in landscape architecture. A scholarship lured him to Harvard, and he graduated from there in 1948.
He returned to the U of I as an assistant professor in 1952–53 after a short stint with S-O-M in New York; he said in a company history that he was repelled by the "pure McCarthyism" on the U of I campus, and he left to return to Harvard, this time to teach and eventually head up the landscape department, and set up his practice.
Fast forward to 1960. The elms that once arched over the walkways on the U of I Quad were long dead. The university hired Sasaki and Associates to devise a new landscape master plan. Stuart Dawson, by then a founding principal with his name on the door at Sasaki, was the lead.
Dawson and Sasaki bonded over their shared experience of attending the U of I and living in Champaign-Urbana; Dawson was a local but had "fallen in love" with Cambridge, Boston, New York, and the Atlantic Ocean. "I was beginning to pooh-pooh Illinois, especially Urbana," he said decades later. "I said, `You know, God, Hid, that's kind of an awful place to grow up. I mean, it's just corn fields and, you know, funny little houses. The university wasn't bad, you know, jeez, you get tired of corn after awhile.'" Sasaki saw it differently: "I've traveled in all of North America, and I think Urbana and the Corn Belt is one of the most beautiful parts of our country. I feel the energy coming from that land that helps keep us alive. I love the long corridors, defined usually either by corn or wheat, and the occasional silo, which is like sculpture on the plain."
Besides the landscape master plan, Sasaki and Associates designed smaller landscapes, such as around the massive Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.
But it was the "plan after plan" period launched in 1985 with the Beckman gift that brought Sasaki's engagement with this campus to full flower.
The last Sasaki work was the March 2007 omnibus plan that pulled together and updated the directional plans: north campus, south campus, central campus, and the arboretum, which were Sasaki plans, with ancillary or limited-focus plans, such as athletics heritage plan, parking, research park, and retail.
And although many elements of the 1980s–2000s Sasaki plans weren't realized, that kind of intensive planning has left the campus better positioned to manage itself. The building boom seems over for now; the state of Illinois is in poor condition to contribute to capital projects.
But the Sasaki plans, which are elegant, thoughtful, and well rendered, have brought the campus two new quads on the engineering campus, design guidelines, a reinforced central axis, and much more.
Harvard awarded Sasaki its Centennial Medal for his impact on the discipline and practice of landscape architecture at the Harvard Design School. He was the first to receive the American Society of Landscape Architects Medal and then, two years later, the Allied Professional Medal from the American Institute of Architects. He served ten years on the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts.
Today the Sasaki firm has 270 professionals, and young Joe Hibbard is a principal there as a landscape architect in the firm's campus planning and design area. His clients include colleges and universities here and in Japan and the Caribbean. Specialties include research arboretums, botanical gardens, and university ag research land and research parks.
Sasaki designed the campus Arboretum west and south of the President's House in Urbana.
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