University History

George M. Modlin Fine Arts Building

George M. Modlin Fine Arts Building

Site: South side of campus, on Keller Hall green, facing South Court
Groundbreaking: August 17, 1966
Opened: Fall, 1968
Dedication: November 2, 1968
Architect: Carneal and Johnston
Size: 50,708 square feet
Cost: Approximately $1 million

In the fall of 1937 the University created a new department of Fine Arts. While courses in the arts had been taught for many years this was the beginning of an organized field of study. At this time talk of the need for a new fine arts building began. In 1937 it was estimated this building would cost between $100,000 and $150,000.

In the 1950s, while the law school building and the library building projects were underway, the next priorities were identified as a business school building, a men’s dormitory, and a fine arts building. In late 1964 the University launched a $1.5 million fund drive to raise money for a fine arts building, a new men’s dormitory, and additional facilities for University College. By April 1965 the campaign had raised all but $170,000 of its goal and had earmarked $650,000 of the proceeds for the fine arts building. Planning for the new building was delayed slightly in November 1965 while the architects took time to address the complicated acoustical issues that the needs of different types of performances presented.

The fine arts building project was authorized by the Board of Trustees in June 1966. Construction began with a groundbreaking on August 17, 1966. The Bass Construction Company was selected as the contractor. The building would initially house the departments of art and art history, drama, music, and speech which at the time were scattered around campus. Dirt excavated from the site was used to enlarge the Keller Hall parking lot that would serve the new building. While digging the site the construction crews hit granite which necessitated the use of dynamite to break it up.

A 746-person theater with near perfect acoustics, soundproof rehearsal rooms, classrooms, faculty offices, library facilities, studios, and an art gallery were part of the plan. The building was completed in the fall of 1968. At 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, November 2, 1968 the university dedicated the Fine Arts building with a public address entitled “The Theater of Commitment” delivered by Eric Bentley, professor of drama at Columbia University and well known critic. A Fine Arts Festival was held that week-end in conjunction with alumni week-end and the dedication. Oliver was the first production that the University Players performed in the new Camp Theater opening on November 1, 1968. Lowell Nesbitt was the Boatwright scholar-in-residence and his paintings were on display in the Fine Arts Building. The theater was named in honor of J. L. Camp, former Trustee whose family donated funds for the facility.

On Alumni Day, May 15, 1971 the building (affectionately call the “FAB” by students) was named in honor of George M. Modlin, retiring president. Dr. Robert T. Marsh, Jr. rector of the Board said “It is a symbol which recognizes in part his great contribution to the University, particularly as a builder.” In a February 1973 Collegian article, Professor William H. Lockey, Jr. of the speech and drama department was quoted as saying, “One of the joys of the building is being with the other departments. When you are in the arts, you’re interested in all the arts.”

As the university grew so did all of the departments housed in the Modlin Fine Arts Building In November 1974 Dr. Barbara McMurtry, chairman of the music department, was interviewed by the Collegian about the space problems. Provost Glassick was working with the departments to identify short term solutions until a new student center was completed which would free up space in Keller Hall.

Sources:

UR website
University Facilities
VBHS building file
Collegian 1937 – 1996
Rosenbaum, Claire Millhiser. A Gem of a College: The History of Westhampton College, 1914-1989