Historic Jones Hall reopens; Nicholson to follow
by Gayla Marty
From Brief, September 7, 2005
When Jones Hall reopened its doors September 6 on the Twin Cities campus, decades of dust and makeovers had been peeled back to reveal more than a century of student life and Minnesota history. You might say the University's original home of physics has become an ode to quantum physics--a place where moving forward takes you back in time. Eclectic elements, like its 1901 Italian Renaissance architecture and new public art inspired by the Mississippi River, will join together to create "the University's front door," the perfect place to serve as the new admissions freshman welcome center.
The ribbon was cut just past noon on the first day of classes after a welcome in seven languages, from Chinese to Wolof. Holding scissors were College of Liberal Arts dean Steven Rosenstone; admissions director Wayne Sigler; professor and Language Center director Jenise Rowekamp; architect Bill Beyer, Stageberg Beyer Sachs; and senior vice president and provost Tom Sullivan.
Five-thousand board feet of 105-year-old Douglas fir were salvaged and remilled to use throughout Jones as chair rails, windowsills, and other trim. Original seven-panel white oak doors, stained and painted repeatedly over 100 years, were stripped and refinished.
"Thanks to the people of Minnesota and the legislature for this building," Rowekamp said, emphasizing the power of capital bonding. "And thanks to the students who asked for this!"
As the University's steel drum band played, enthusiastic students, faculty, and staff members ate cake and crowded in the front door to explore the three floors of old space made new.
A great building--then and now
What made a great building in 1901 included strong supporting walls, detailed exterior brickwork, and lots of natural light. In Jones Hall, some of the load-bearing walls were up to two feet thick, and fir timbers framed the roof around a skylight on the top floor. Jones also featured an early example of fireproof floor and ceiling construction, using arched clay tiles between steel beams, covered by concrete and plaster. Heat-retaining soapstone was used for windowsills above huge radiators--heating was important but cooling was not, since the campus virtually closed for the summer.
Beyer, chief architect for the rehabilitation, remembers being intrigued by Jones Hall as a first-year architecture student, 37 years ago.
"The elegance of the brickwork and the warmth of the color made Jones a building that always engaged the eye," says Beyer, referring to its ironspot face brick and terra cotta elements.
In 2005, beauty and light remain essential to a great building. But the campus is busy year-round, and construction techniques such as fireproofing have undergone a revolution. Safety exits, wheelchair access, economical heating and cooling, and updated electrical and other systems are new elements that had to be added to Jones--all without altering its appearance because of the building's historic status.
The enormous skylight on the top floor was restored. The original timber roof structure was replaced by steel to meet fire codes, and 5,000 board feet of 105-year-old Douglas fir were salvaged and remilled to use throughout the building as chair rails, windowsills, and other trim. Elaborate cast-iron balusters and newel posts for the main stairway were adapted. Original seven-panel white oak doors, stained and painted repeatedly over 100 years, were stripped and refinished. The exterior brick and terra cotta masonry was preserved, restored, and selectively replaced to prolong its life.
After deconstructing a failing window arch, Beyer says, the team discovered that the thousands of wedge-shaped bricks in the arches had been laboriously chipped to shape by hand, rather than sawn.
"For a small building," says Beyer, "Jones has been full of surprises."
An emerging humanities district
In winter 2006, nearby Nicholson Hall will join Jones in an emerging humanities district east of the historic knoll.
Just across Pillsbury Drive from Jones Hall, Nicholson is an even older historic building nearing the end of its own daunting rehabilitation. Built in the massive style of Henry Hobson Richardson's American Romanesque, Nicholson Hall opened as the University's first chemistry building in 1890. Two wings were added in 1925 to the three-story rectangle with its stone-arched windows, and in 1946, an auditorium was squeezed between the wings.
Last summer, the collapsing auditorium was demolished, then one of the wings, then the roof and much of the interior. Removing the east wing allowed Nicholson's distinctive turret to be reconstructed from salvaged Lake Superior sandstone. The foundation, floors and roof were reframed, windows replaced, all new systems installed, the elevator moved to the high-traffic wing, and the art deco vestibule, stairwell and fireplace room restored to the period when Nicholson served as the student union.
Soon, Nicholson will contain technology-rich classrooms and space for two College of Liberal Arts student services offices, the honors program and the writing center, and two departments, cultural studies and comparative literature as well as classical and Near Eastern studies.
"Nicholson and Jones are just the beginning," says CLA dean Steven Rosenstone. "When our vision is fully realized, we'll have a vital, historic humanities district that will be the culmination of literally decades of planning and dreaming. I like to think that fifty years or a century from now, students who walk the halls of these venerable buildings will thank this generation of Minnesotans for their commitment to preserving the University's heritage."
Adapted from an article to be published in the fall 2005 issue of M, the quarterly publication for University alumni, friends, and employees.