The concept for the Alumni Memorial Building began in 1945 during conversations between Berea College alumni and President Francis S. Hutchins on how to commemorate Berea College’s first 100 years. In addition, the idea that the building would serve as a World War II memorial also surfaced.
The cost of the 52,000-square foot building was to be shared by alumni and other benefactors. The Kresge Foundation of Detroit offered $50,000 to the College on a matching basis. Other major donors included the James Foundation of New York City, the Louis D. Beaumont Foundation of Cleveland, The Courier-Journal and Louisville Times Foundation, the Chrysler and Koppin Company of Detroit and the Kroger Company of Louisville. Construction funds continued to be donated during the 1950s; ultimately 6,000 alumni contributed about $375,000.
The total cost of the Alumni Memorial Building (which also included removal of Gilbert Cottage, Contrast House, the Customer Service Building and renovation of the Fairchild basement) was $1.2 million.
Plans and specifications were approved on April 11, 1958, and in November 1958 the Board of Trustees voted to start construction. On July 25, 1959, during Summer Reunion, the site was dedicated, and a groundbreaking event was held in September 1959. However, initial construction bids were rejected in April 1960, and construction did not begin until that summer. The building’s cornerstone was laid during Homecoming on November 26, 1960.
Inside the cornerstone were placed the following: the Alumni Association Constitution; a list of contributors to the building fund; a copy of “Berea Beloved”; baccalaureate addresses by President Hutchins; a copy of the Alumni Magazine; a copy of the November 22, 1960 Pinnacle; a copy of Berea’s First Century; and a copy of Bereaway.
The building was constructed of steel and concrete with exterior curtain walls of red bricks laid in running bond. The flat roof used wide overhanging soffits and the main floor continued beyond the glass curtain walls to form cantilevered porches on the south and west sides. Perpendicular diaphragm walls were incorporated along the north and east walls to break up the wide surface planes and to help support the plastic flow of long broad walls.
The Alumni Memorial Building opened on February 11, 1961, and was dedicated to “the improved quality of students’ lives.” Trustees Earl Robbins, Russell Todd and W.D. Weatherford spoke at the dedication ceremonies. Weatherford said, “We have been feeding our students for 90 years in basements; it’s time we moved them out” into the sunshine.
The main floor housed the Alumni Offices, Office of Coordinator of Social Activities, the Snack Bar, Recreation Room and the main lobby. The ground level was devoted to food service personnel, storage, mechanical and dining rooms. Separate and individual rooms were given and dedicated to honor Berea College friends: the Anna Murch Hutchins Dining Room (named in honor of the wife of William J. Hutchins) and given by the Charles Seabury family; the Mary Cocks Welsh Dining Room (named in honor of a 1917 alumna who served as Superintendent of Boarding Halls from 1920-1955); the Dr. William E. and Esther T. Barton Memorial Room, which was used by the YMCA, YWCA and other religious groups (Barton was a College Trustee from 1895-1930; Oberlin Theological Seminary graduate; clergyman; author-biographer of Abraham Lincoln; and donor of West Pinnacle – Barton Pinnacle – to the College);
the H.E. Taylor Conference Room (named for the College’s Business Manager and organist from 1906-34); the William Jesse Baird Student Lounge (named for a 1915 graduate who was Director of the Farm in the Vocational School from 1924-32, Dean of the Foundation School from 1925-44, Director of Teacher Training from 1939-44, President of Martha Berry Schools and President of Morehead State College from 1946-51); the Raymond B. Drukker Dining Room (named for a faculty member and Executive Assistant to the President from 1944 until his death in 1960); and the Richard Noah Mitchell Dining Room.
At the opening of the upper floor and snack bar on February 11, 1961, President Hutchins and Dean Louis Smith sang a duet of “Good Berea.” Food services and the dining halls opened for student use on March 30, 1961, making the whole building fully operational.
The dedication of the Alumni Memorial building occurred 55 years ago, on April 15, 1961.
Information for this article was excerpted from Building A College – An Architectural History of Berea College by Robert Piper Boyce, Ph.D.