Editor's note: This is a series of columns by John Malcolm on his "50 years at Fredonia." Retired, he is a professor emeritus at Fredonia State.
By JOHN MALCOLM
Since Old Main was newer than other SUNY campus main buildings it was last in obtaining a replacement. Perhaps "old" happened when then "Principal" Leslie Gregory was quoted in the Jan. 28, 1939 Fredonia Censor as saying, to obtain construction funds for a new campus: "Sons and daughters want to go to a college that looks like a college."
The center of the Fredonia State campus, in 1958, which is now home to the Reed Library.
Even more graphic is a report that some toilets were unvented which state inspectors "would not allow in a jail." World War II slowed Old Main's replacement and it remained in active use until the late '60s.
In December 1974, Old Main was sold at auction. Activities would now be on the "New Campus" purchased in 1933 by former Principal Hermann Cooper. (Cooper, as did so many other Fredonia leaders went on to positions in State offices. Cooper himself became head of the State Education Department. Dr. Harry Porter became Provost of SUNY. Dr. Oscar Lanford headed the SUNY Construction Fund and Dr. Dallas Beal was an acting Vice Chancellor and then head of the Connecticut State System.)
The New Old Main opened in April 1903, according to the Buffalo Courier. It was described as having three stories in the main section and two two-story wings with a beautiful chapel. It cost $200,000 to build and $50,000 to equip. (Compare this to the bid estimate of $27 million for the I.M. Pei construction of the '60s.)
There was competitive discussion before the construction. The Jamestown Journal of Dec. 18, 1900, editorialized: "Why not move the Normal to Jamestown?" The paper reported: ... "smoldering ruins and one building, the gymnasium, a structure of small cost." Apparently the rebuilding of the Normal School in Fredonia was not a given.
Fredonia prevailed. Plans by the State architect G.L. Heins were approved and money allocated for construction. The floor plan seems to have been largely dictated by the old Normal School foundation that was recycled into the current building. The blueprints and specifications can be found in a folder on Old Main in the College archives.
I have searched in vain for a scale model that was constructed by faculty and students to be sent to the World's Fair in St. Louis. (There is a picture of the model in the archives.) The model was placed in the New York state exhibition and was given credit for earning a gold medal for the building and silver for "complete and modern equipment."
In the plan for Old Main is an outside fountain basin in later years used as a garden. On Mayday, female students dressed in white danced around the fountain as a part of a ceremony. This activity died out long before I was a student.
John Malcolm is a Fredonia resident.