Saturday, February 4, 2012

"The Miracle at Academy Square"

Today I am focusing on my favorite building in Provo, the Brigham Young Academy Building at Library Square, located on University Avenue between 500 and 600 North.  This building has an incredible history, and at one point was as close to demolition as any building could possibly be.  Currently it is the home of the Provo Library and really a treasure for the Provo community.

The best history of the Academy Building is found on the Provo Library's website.  Here is what it states:

"The Academy Building was the first building specifically built to house the Brigham Young Academy. Previously the Academy had been housed in the Lewis building which burned to the ground on January 27, 1884. It was decided to rebuild. 

"The following appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune when the site for the building had been determined:

"President Taylor and others were riding around the town to-day, looking up a suitable site for the erection of the new building of the Brigham Young Academy. It is understood that the location has been determined upon, it being the Lewis block, on J street, a few blocks north of the First National Bank. The excavation will begin this next week and the material be hauled for the foundation immediately. The brick of the old ruin will be used again in the new.

"This week appeals have been made to the young men of Utah county to contribute their labor and teams for the unskilled part of the work. The contribution list is adding up to quite an amount, and is expected soon to reach the requisite sum.

"In the meantime the Academy is flourishing in its present quarters, and the people are determined it shall not die out, but rise Phoenix-like out of the ashes and be a better and more commodious institution."

"The architect was Don Carlos Young, a son of Brigham Young. Young's design was based on designs by Karl G. Maeser. It was located on J Street (later dubbed "Academy Avenue" and then "University Avenue"). The building was dedicated January 4, 1892 and was at that time one of the largest of its kind in the Intermountain West. It was designed to accomodate 1,000 students.

"The building was constructed of brick and trimmed in Kayune stone. 168' deep, 188' wide, and 50' high. Over the entrance was the inscription "B. Y. Academy 1891" in gray sandstone. There were two floors, an attic and a basement. From the beginning the building had electric lights powered with electricity from A. O. Smoot's sawmill two blocks to the west; however, there were no inside toilets for the first 10 years. The building was heated in part from forced air over steam radiators and in part by coal stoves.

"A variety of classes were taught in building: chemistry, typewriting, geology, and art.  In 1898 the building was renamed the "High School Building.  In 1912 a bell was purchased and installed in the belfry. Until this time a triangle hanging in one of the main halls was struck to signal class periods.

In 1919, following the demolition of the old Tabernacle, the bell from the old Tabernacle was installed in the Academy/High School building. This bell was a much better bell, having been made of nickel and cast by the McShane Bell Foundry of Baltimore in 1887.  In 1922 the building was renamed again, this time as the "Education Building" (it retained this name until the building was closed in 1968).  Also in 1922 "Leadership Week" began (renamed "Education Week" in 1962). Leadership Week was held in the Academy/Education building until the Joseph Smith Building on the upper campus was completed in 1941.

"In 1968 BYU stopped using the building, closing the Brigham Young High School and the Elementary School."

From 1968 until the time that the building was restored into the Provo library, the building stood vacant.  Every summer I went on vacation to Utah and I remember one particular time driving past the site.  There were fences around it, it was boarded up, and it looked incredibly awful.

The best summary of the restoration is found on the Brigham Young High School's website.  It is a little long, but I wanted to include most of it, because it is an incredible story of the Provo community rallying to save the most historic building in the city.  It is quite incredible the feat that they were able to accomplish.  Here is what it says (as a heads up, there were originally three other buildings located on the property where the Academy currently is.  During the renovation, these were bulldozed.  Hopeful this will help you understand the article and when it talks about the four buildings, rather than just one):

"[Individuals in Provo] kept the dream alive for the 19-plus discouraging years after the sale of lower campus in 1975. The property would change hands nine times, plans for it coming into focus, then fading: retail shops, offices, restaurants, museums, theaters, a gymnasium, a movie studio, housing, and centers for research, rehabilitation, entrepreneurialism, service, and the arts.

"We grieved about it being sold. I wrote lots of letters," remembers Shirley Brockbank Paxman, '68. "And when the lawn and trees were dying, my husband, Monroe, repaired the sprinkling system and we paid the water bill. For 25 years I've worked with every mayor and developer."

"Wallace A. Raynor, '57, also spent those years safeguarding Academy Square, advertising its potential, working to establish a trust fund toward purchase, taking up his flashlight and patrolling against vandals. Once when demolition threatened, he vowed to stop the bulldozers by chaining himself to the fence.

"Betty F. Harrison, '59, pulled nearly $80,000 out of her retirement funds to finance a community service center, and her partners, Mary Gay Hatch, '56, Valerie Kelson, and Dan Losee, also spent thousands. Their creativity in recruiting volunteers was remarkable, but the historic easement to protect the four buildings' exteriors prevented them -- like all the others before them -- from developing an affordable venture.

"Still, no truer champions could have protected BYU's birthplace. Because of them the venerable buildings were still standing when Provo City bought Academy Square in March 1994.

"Within weeks, believing that the square's dilapidation and liability now superseded its historic easement, the city announced that Georgetown Development was preparing to replace the old buildings with condominiums.

"To block demolition, that July the Utah Heritage Foundation (UHF) sued Provo City. Provo contested the suit. In November, responding to police and firemen's concerns about asbestos, hantavirus, and structural hazards, Provo's board of appeals ruled that the buildings were dangerous and ordered city officials to improve security.

"The time had arrived for another name to make Academy Square history. Early in the year of 1995 Dr. L. Douglas Smoot, BYU '57, answered the call to lead the preservation efforts of the Brigham Young Academy Foundation (BYAF). The great-grandson of premier BYA benefactor Abraham O. Smoot, Doug had the experience, the fund-raising contacts, and the vision. As former dean of BYU's College of Engineering and Technology, he could be believed when he said the neglected buildings were still sound.

"Smoot and his colleagues first worked with the Provo Library Board and the city council to approve a $70,000 feasibility study, paid for by the BYAF and conducted by Max J. Smith Associates. The time was right. Library board chair Paul K. Sybrowsky, '68, and director Julie Farnsworth were looking for a new library site, and there began to be talk of relocating to Academy Square.

"In July 1995 Suzy Calder Liechty, BYH '57 and BYU '60, spearheaded a 2,200-signature ad in Provo's Daily Herald asking the mayor and city council to do "everything in their power to preserve the Academy." It was the closest thing to a public mandate so far. Not long afterward the court ruled that the UHF easement was indeed valid.

"As BYU Homecoming approached, Mayor George O. Stewart offered Academy Square tours to the alumni and public. Portions of floor and roof were collapsing. Brickwork was crumbling. Pigeons and bats shared space with transients and vandals. In one room someone had painted a pentagram on the floor. The old buildings were considered such a hazard that the fire department said it would let them burn rather than endanger firefighters.

"Bulldozers were in place and ready to roll when BYAF member V. Maurine Jones Brimhall, '35, went to Mayor Stewart's office unannounced and persuaded him to consider preservation if sufficient money could be raised against a near-term deadline. Wally Raynor wouldn't have to chain himself to the fence after all.

"That winter a project that for years had not had a "snowball's chance" began to snowball. When the Utah legislature convened in January 1996, the foundations were laid for a major gift from the state. By April fund-raising was gathering momentum, spurred on by major financial help pledged by the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [no tithing funds were used]. August found the BYAF and the city agreeing that only the Academy Building would be renovated -- paid for by privately raised funds -- with a bond funding an architecturally compatible addition behind it and underground parking around it. In late November the city council approved a $16.8 million bond election for February 1997, and UHF's Lisbeth L. Henning said it would cease its legal battle to save all four buildings.

"It was a defining moment. Voters would decide if a library that included what Henning called the "most significant unrestored building west of the Mississippi" was worth a property tax increase of $3 – 4 per month.

"The next five months were rife with controversy. The Daily Herald supported the bond via its front page and editorials while opposing sides fought it out in letters to the editor. Some feared the cost would exceed estimates. Some thought it selfish -- why waste money on an old building instead of helping the poor? Some feared BYU students would monopolize the library. Some thought BYU students should not even be allowed to vote on the issue.

"The pace picked up through January 1997. Janelle Brimhall Lysenko, BYH '55 and BYU '59, set up a table in BYU's Lee Library to help returning students register to vote, urging them to vote yes. L. Lee Bartlett, '56, who later became president of the BYAF, created the campaign slogan "Vote once. Win twice." Fervent groups on both sides took out full-page newspaper ads. BYU's first lady, its legendary football coach, and a Provo city librarian smiled from smaller ads. The night before the election, a family set up a honk-and-wave rally on University Avenue.

"On election day, Feb. 4, 1997, an unprecedented number of voters cast their ballots -- 6,583 for and 4,731 against. It was a giant victory -- one 22 years coming.

"There remained the matter of raising the rest of the $6.5 million before the June 30 deadline. "One more miracle to go!" cried the faithful.

"That same month the public phase of the fund-raising campaign kicked off, headed by Smoot. Stephen R. Covey, '76, and LaVell Edwards, '78, served as honorary cochairs. Individuals, foundations, and corporations donated generously, and the BY Academy Alumni Club was organized to inform potential donors, many from out-of-state.

"In April Julie Roper enlisted several businesses to craft an aquarium, where library patrons, especially children, could donate cash. The BYAF sold pictures, T-shirts, and stationery. At Provo's Community Church, artists performed a benefit concert of Crawford Gates' works with the noted composer in attendance. Janie Thompson, '43, and family and Ruth W. Melville, '60, also gave benefits.

"In May Janita Anderson got Robert Redford to sponsor a dinner and silent auction at Sundance hosted by Kurt R. Bestor, '93. The Historic Families Program solicited contributions from families whose ancestors figured prominently in Provo and Academy history. A women's club donated several hundred dollars. A widow sold a rare book and gave the proceeds. Roper and Michael D. Ross, '86, organized an annual 5K race.

"With two weeks left, corrected project costs lowered BYAF's required donation to $5.4 million. Also, the city council announced it would allow no-limit letters of credit, thereby enabling more people to contribute. Some had met the earlier $100,000 minimum by using their homes as collateral.

"One week before the deadline, a celebration featuring six bands, food, games, and prizes benefitted the academy.

"Six days before, a family offered to match last-minute donations up to $125,000. Statewide, businesses set up a Web page, radio ads, and toll-free numbers to receive donations. B.Y. High alums conducted a telephone campaign.

"Four days before, supporters marched from the Center Street library to Academy Square, imitating the march from downtown more than 100 years earlier to dedicate the Academy. A child collected money door to door.

"Three days before the deadline, retired judge J. Robert Bullock arranged to sell at a bargain some property the city had long wanted -- if Provo acted in time for him to donate $75,000 of the sale to the BYAF. A part-time resident wrote a $150,000 check over lunch.

"Last of all, a California foundation sent a letter of credit for $1 million that put the project over the top. It arrived via Federal Express the afternoon of June 30.

"In all, more than 2,000 donated.

"Four years later, Jacobsen Construction and 65 subcontractors have nearly completed their work.""

To bring this back to my last post on the BYU Normal School, I just found out today reading a plaque near the Academy Building that the Normal School was one of the buildings that was demolished.  All together, the College Hall Building (1898), the Training School Building (1902), and the Missionary Preparatory Building (1904) were the three that were demolished.  I don't know which of the two is behind the Training School Building in the pictures on the previous post.

Here are a couple of incredible shots of when the Academy was be restored, what it looked like in 1898 and today:

Courtesy of the Provo City Libray Historical Photographs Archive

Courtesy of the Lee Library, Brigham Young University

It is an incredible building, and if you haven't gone in it, I would encourage you to just go and walk around.  In fact, there is a brochure put out by the library that you can use to give yourself a self guided tour (you can download it here).  Even if you don't go on a tour, I would recommend at least looking at the brochure because there are some really interesting historical photos in it.

1 comment:

  1. Amazing building with an amazing history. Would have loved to walk through it with the mayor in the 90s. Just found your blog and have really enjoyed reading it. Keep it up