OLD MAIN, UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA
1200 E University Blvd
OLD MAIN: THEN
On October 27, 1887, Phoenix architect, James Miller Creighton began the construction of Old Main, the University of Arizona's first building on campus. After Creighton exhausted the small budget of $37,969, he sought out federal loans to complete the project. At the time, federal loans were only granted for agriculture buildings, so Creighton renamed the building from the "School of Mines" to the "School of Agriculture". After construction was complete, Old Main opened its doors for the University's first class on October 1, 1891. Because Old Main was the only building on campus at the time, it contained a library, offices, dorm rooms, and classrooms. Only six faculty taught thirty-two students in 1891. Students rode their cow ponies to class and tied them up to posts near Old Main. Old Main is one of the oldest surviving educational structures in the western United States; it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
In 1919, the Alexander Berger Memorial Fountain was built in front of Old Main. This project emerged to remember thirteen University of Arizona students who were killed in World War I, including Berger's nephew. On January 31, 1920, the Berger Memorial fountain was dedicated among students, faculty, military, and the Tucson community. This fountain remains one of the most exclusive elements of the University's campus.
DEMOLITION: A CLOSE CALL
Due to neglect by the University, Old Main began to deteriorate and was ultimately condemned by the City of Tucson in 1938. After it was declared unsafe, Old Main remained vacant for a period of time. There were several proposals and arguments for demolition, but it was decided that it would cost more to demolish it than to let it remain vacant. After the Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds, Billy Bray, decided to let the building remain vacant, the United States Navy took matters into their own hands. They repaired the building in 1942 to create a Naval Indoctrination Training School during World War II. In 1945, the Navy paid $20,000 to transform it back into a campus facility.
SAVING OLD MAIN
One hundred and twenty-two days after Old Main opened its doors to students, University of Arizona president, Ann Weaver Hart, and the University of Arizona's Foundation President, James H. Moore, put into motion a $13.5 million dollar fundraising campaign for a full renovation of the building; this campaign was named "Save Old Main". Hart and Moore launched this campaign to preserve the building for future generations. They argued that this building is a visual reminder of the University of Arizona's commitment to higher education, leading scholars, and high rankings both nationally and internationally. Plans for renovation addressed a damaged foundation and exterior veranda, general decay, moisture damage and cracked masonry columns, ventilation, heating, cooling and fire protection systems. Following the renovation, Hart and Moore wanted Old Main to be a place for past and present Wildcats to come together.
University of Arizona Old Main Renovation
OLD MAIN: "THE HEART OF CAMPUS"
In 2008, the first floor of old main was repaired and renovated for a costly $4.6 million. This building contained the University's Office of Admissions, the Center for Exploratory Students, and the Dean of Students Office. In January, 2013, Old Main experienced a full renovation including reframing of the porch, replacement of the roof, and a modernization of the building as a whole. Additionally, the Office of the President was relocated to Old Main. The patio and porch areas are popular places for socializing, enjoying lunch, and viewing mall activities. Old Main has become a symbol of history, traditions, legacy, and success. As Old Main has emerged as a fundamental symbol of success on the University's campus, several academic distinctions, homecoming events, and alumni gatherings have taken place on the steps of Old Main. Additionally, tours for prospective students place an emphasis on the history of the building. Almost every graduate of the University has taken a photo on the steps of Old Main as it symbolizes four years of success and higher education. The historic building has emerged as "the front porch of the University" and "the heart of campus" for students and faculty. When you are driving down University Boulevard you cannot miss this beautiful building. The building greets future wildcats, current students, alumni and anyone else who visits the campus and leaves a lasting impression on every individuals mind.
BUT WHAT'S INSIDE??
Old Main houses some of the most important offices on the University of Arizona. On the top floor of the building you will find the President’s office along with many important conference rooms, as well as different art and artifacts all throughout the building, giving it a museum like feel. Once you walk down the stairs and enter the bottom floor you are now at the Office of Admissions. This office is the headquarters for all things having to do with being an incoming Freshman. For many high school students this office can be extremely intimidating, as it decides weather or not a school is right for you. In this case, it should we recognized as a great place located in a beautiful building right at the heart of campus... Nothing to worry about here!! It can also be the building that is the meeting point at which they give tours and explain to high school students a little bit about what the University of Arizona is. As there are many colleges that students can choose from it is important for the U of A to make a great first impression and Old Main does just that!
WHAT OLD MAIN MEANS TO ME
As an incoming Freshman traveling from the opposite side of the country, I was nervous and uncertain of what the transition from high school to a college was going to be like. When I first came to tour the campus in 2014, Old Main was an iconic symbol that left an unforgettable image when thinking about the University of Arizona. When I began my Freshman year in the fall of 2017, I struggled to find my way on the first day of classes. As I tried to figure out which direction to go, I was able to use Old Main as a point of reference on which way to go. To many, this is just another building that stands in the heart of the campus, but to U of A students, like myself, it is much more than that. With Old Main being the oldest building on campus there is a lot of history that comes with it. As a student that currently attends U of A I am proud to say that I am a part of this history, and will continue to add to the buildings legacy. I recently participated in one of my sorority sister’s graduation pictures at Old Main. People choose to take their pictures at this particular spot not because it is pretty, but because it commemorates the hard work that got them there. When people look back on these photos, Old Main will be standing behind them along with the years of history that it brings along with it. Another tradition that Old Main brings involves the fountain that lays at the bottom of its grand staircase. After finishing your studies at the U of A and it is time to say goodbye, one of the last things that people do is jump into the fountain to get the last of what the school has to offer. This not only makes for some great pictures but creates great memories that Old Main will be in forever. I hope that one day I can take my children to the University of Arizona and I will be able to show them this building that means so much to me as well as this school that it is standing on!
OLD MAIN RESOURCES
Old Main on Facebook
Old Main on the University of Arizona's Website
Susie Bowers, First Floor Manager