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January 15, 1958 - Image 7

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Wednesday, January 15, 1958

THE MICHIGAN DAILY MAGAZINE

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IN MEMOIIAM, R.L.B.
The Walls Will Come Tumbling Down Next Month

By RONALD KOTULAK
Daily Staff Writer
WHEN THE Romance Language
Building 'comes t u m b l i n g
down, arched doorways, shivered
bricks, grotesque monsters, spired
tower and all, a few diehard cam-
plus aesthetes will sigh, then shrug
resignedly.
The gray brick building, should-
ered between Angell Hall and
Alumni Memorial Hall, is slated
to come down sometime in Feb-
ruary. Demolition of the French
Renaissance structure is in keep-
ing with the University's program
of remodeling the old Ann Arbor
High School - now the Frieze
Building - for classes.
Originally built in 1880 as a mu-
seum, the antique edifice has
earned a berth in the present Uni-
versity museum where a semi-cir-
cular relief of two fighting mon-
sters clinging to the tower will be
preserved for posterity.
The semi-circular reliefs -
called tympana - that adorn the
four-story building are grotesque
images of natural animals in Ro-
manesque style, which depict the
purpose of the one-time museum.
It was designed to house natural
history and anthropological col-
lections.
PERCHED atop the peaked tow-
er is an acroterion, known to
lesser-informed laymen as "the
gate to heaven."
Need for a museum arose in the
early history of the University
when bulging classroom cabinets
could no longer absorb the influx
of historical specimens. Officials
then considered five plans for a,
building but had to reject all of
them because of lack of funds.
Shortly after, Major William Le
Baron Jenney, at that time the
only professor of architecture, was
enlisted to draw up plans. When
his design was accepted by the Re-
gents, Jenney ironically had to be
relieved of. his position because the
University could not afford a pro-
fessor of architecture and a new
building at the same time.
Jenney later won fame as the
herald of the modern skyscraper.
He was the first architect to put
into practice the device of the
steel skeleton frame, which car-
ries the floors and masonry walls
story by story. However, this sys-
tem was not employed in the Ro-

mance Language Building.
When the structure finally took
shape it was girdled in red brick
and trimmed with stone. It com-
prises 25,275 square feet of floor
space and cost of construction
amounted to $46,041.
SOON after its memorable birth,
the building developed struc-
tural defects. Since it was built
without a basement, the ground
floor settled and a new one had
to be installed.
In 1894 the original roof proved
too heavy and was replaced by a
makeshift affair fastened togeth-
er with so curious a system of
trusses and bolts that classes from
the architecture department vis-
ited it,
'Even today an inquiring wan-
derer is tempted to see what would

happen if the bolts joining the
steel supporting rods were un-.
screwed. The story told to inves-
tigating freshmen says the walls
would fall outward.
Lean budgets continually
plagued the building. Looking into
the future, Jenney had designed
an elevator shaft in the structure,
but it has always remained aban-
doned. On the tower are two ob-
viously empty indented circles that
were intended for clock faces but
never filled.
BY 1923 the University was again
pitched into the dilemma of
cramped museum space. At least
75 per cent of its historical collec-
tions, valued at $2,000,000, were
kept in storage because of inade-
quate display areas.
See R. L. B., Page 18

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