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USU named most impressive historic campus — but is it?

December 6th, 2015 Posted in Opinion

By Brenna Kelly

When a website named Utah State University the most impressive historic college campus in the United States, the story caught the attention of USU students and began circulating on social media. But by the site’s own standards, Utah State may not actually be qualified for the honor.

College Values Online has compiled more than a dozen lists of colleges — lists like, “30 Best Value Agricultural Colleges 2015” and “Top 10 Cheapest Online Master’s Degrees 2015.” For “20 Most Impressive Historic College Campuses in the U.S.,” each school had to have at least three historic buildings, landmarks or historic districts on the National Register of Historic Places. This was in addition to other criteria, like climate, mountain views and architectural style.

While USU still has three buildings on the registry, one of them was demolished more than two years ago.

Lund Hall — or the women’s residence hall — was built in 1936-37 as part of the New Deal program in Utah. According to the statement of historical significance for Lund Hall, the three-story dormitory was built “in such a manner that sunshine is available in every girl’s room.” In 1985, it was added to the National Historic Registry, but it was demolished to make room for Huntsman Hall in 2013.

Paul Lusignan, a reviewer for the National Parks Service for 12 states including Utah, said not realizing Lund Hall had been demolished might have been an easy mistake for College Values Online to make.

“Until someone is notified here that the property needs to be removed, it still turns up in our database,” Lusignan said. “Three properties are still considered listed. No one started the full process to unlist the registered building.”

Currently, Lund Hall, Old Main and the Family Life building are registered. Lusignan said there’s no requirement for the university to remove properties from the registry, although it occasionally causes confusion.

Since federal funding did not go into renovating or updating the building, Lund Hall’s historic status could not prevent the university from demolishing it.

“The school is free to demolish it according to federal law, at least,” Lusignan said. “In almost no circumstance does it absolutely prevent demolition. In the end, if the agency decides to, then they can do that.”

Norman Jones, a professor who has worked with the university since 1979, thinks Utah State has an impressive architectural history regardless of the website’s apparent oversight.

“I think that we’ve got many eras of architecture,” Jones said. “With the registry, you kind of do that yourself. So I suspect with the amount of buildings we have, it could be on the list if they just looked around. Ray B. West should be there too — it’s the same era as Family Life.”

In order to be considered for the National Register of Historic Places, a building needs to be at least 50 years old, retain its architectural integrity, and be significant nationally, statewide or locally. Most of the buildings around the quad, including the David B. Haight Alumni House and the public relations office, were built at the same time as Old Main and still retain the style of that era.

“If you think about how campus grew, the historic core is there, and they haven’t messed it up. It still feels like it has a center, with the quad and student center,” Jones said. “It has a historic center. If you look at the famous historic campuses, they all have that.”

Utah State placed ahead of 19 other universities, including Yale and Princeton, on the list. Jones said there is pressure for old universities to lose their “center” as they grow. He referred to an incident in 1984 when Old Main caught fire and suffered water damage.

“They could’ve just knocked it down,” he said. “But instead they put the money into rebuilding it and maintaining it historically. As the needs of campus change, you have to make some decisions. We’ve made some good decisions.”

– mdl


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