Site of NU sights

Jason B. Gumer

Deering Library once stood right against Lake Michigan.

The old Patten Gym, demolished in 1940 to make room for the planned Technological Institute, hosted the first NCAA basketball tournament on March 27, 1939, when the University of Oregon Ducks beat the Ohio State Buckeyes 46-33.

Most people may have forgotten these facts, but a new Web site launched by Northwestern University Archives recalls the rich architectural past of the university.

The Web site provides historical information and pictures that show how past and present buildings transformed both the Evanston and Chicago campuses.

“The project is part of our broader mandate to present the history of the university in all of its manifestations and to make it available to a broader audience,” University Archivist Patrick Quinn said.

According to Quinn, the archives in Deering Library have more than 26,000 cubic feet of records, 600,000 photographs and 10,000 audio and video recordings.

University Archives employees have been researching the project for more two years, but it is far from complete. The Web site currently has facts, history and photographs of 27 campus buildings out of a planned 125 that eventually will be featured on the site.

The University Library, dedicated in 1970, is among those buildings profiled. The building’s architect, Walter Netsch, also designed other buildings on campus, including the Hogan Building and Rebecca Crown Center.

“I was beginning to work on a method called field theory, and NU was a very early example of field theory,” Netsch said of his inspiration for the library. “I wasn’t interested in making square boxes; field theory is a way of working which is not based on right angles but has more elaborate geometry.”

Netsch led a committee to develop a campus plan in the early 1970s, determining that the north side of campus would house facilities dedicated to the sciences and the south would house the humanities and the arts. The plan also called for construction of a social sciences complex in the center of campus, but Quinn said this never materialized.

Netsch’s projects also include designing the University of Illinois at Chicago campus, several university libraries across the nation and perhaps his most famous work — the chapel at the Air Force Academy in Colorado, a recently designated national landmark.

But even among these accomplishments, Netsch, 85, considers his NU designs special.

“The Northwestern buildings have always been important to me because of the interest of the faculty in exploring new ideas,” he said. “Northwestern used to be considered stodgy but I never thought that to be so.”

Another building profiled on the Web site, University Hall, is the oldest on campus. Since its completion in 1869, the building has housed classrooms, a chapel, a library, a museum, the School of Engineering, administrative offices, a cafeteria and faculty offices.

Lunt Hall, originally built as the university’s library in 1893, also has been used for many different purposes. During World War II, it served as barracks for troops training at the Technological Institute, which was being used by the Navy.

The University Archives on NU architecture Web site can be found at:

Reach Jason B. Gumer at [email protected].