How Architects Worked with the Administration on a Building and Special Designs

In a taped interview with Lew Place and Warren Moon, Lew was asked about capital appropriations made by the Arizona Legislature.

Place: The appropriation, as in the case of the university, was made in a lump sum for all capital investment each year. But certain amounts were assigned to certain buildings. The appropriation also included the architect's fee, which was set by state law at six percent of the cost of construction. Then, as I told you before, the architect would interview the people who were going to operate the building. Like the Dean of Fine Arts. Then he would bring in his people who were going to be the professors.

The architect would get all the possible information as to what the professors had to have and what we thought they could get with the available funds. Then we would start working on preliminary drawings of layout plans to see if we could get what they needed within the cost when the building was finished. Towards the end of the preliminary layout stage, the planning would also include the landscaping. That would be worked out in general with the Department of Physical Resources, or in earlier days with the Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds. The landscaping wasn't done by bid. It wasn't in the appropriation. The university did that for themselves. Then we would design the exterior, the elevations, and once we had completed the exterior and interior designs, we would present them to the president and the heads of all the departments concerned. They would say whether they liked it or not, or they would make changes.

Someone would speak up and say, "I can't do that because I don't operate that way." It may have been some place where we missed when we were trying to get his information. Or he didn't tell us. That preliminary planning stage would go on for anywhere from three to six months. Before we'd ever start on the working drawings. After everything had been agreed on by the university department heads and the administration, we'd finish our specifications, our working drawings, and when completed, the university would call for bids.

The Regents took a very definite and vital part of this procedure, too. For example, in Tucson there would always be a Regent and maybe two. They would make sure that what they wanted in a building got in the plans. They would tell the president of the university what they wanted.

They weren't able to get the appropriation from the Legislature, for example, for the South Stadium until a dormitory was provided for. That was the Regent's idea, the one from Tucson. He was a prominent attorney, Cleon Knapp. He demanded a dormitory and that was it. They wanted to enlarge the width of the track around the football field by two or three more lanes to make it in accordance with olympic specifications. In order to do that, because the South Stadium was designed to run right along the sidewalk on Sixth Street, our design for the stadium would put it on the track. So in order to get those additional lanes in there, we had to cantelever the stadium out over the track so that some of the runners in the outer lanes were running under the stadium seats as they went around the south turn.

Then another thing. Cleon Knapp had the opinion that the best place to watch a football game was through the goal posts, not on the fifty-yard line. He said you could see all the action being on the end, that half the football game was played at one end and half at the other end and from the fifty-yard line you couldn't see anything. So he told Roy that in the center section of that South Stadium, "I want the seats wider. I want the space where you walk, wider and I want backs on the benches."

So that's where Cleon Knapp and all his friends sat to watch the football games. They sat relatively high and they got what Cleon had demanded.

Interviewer, JFC: In general, you built buildings and additions to various buildings that were designed with a particular purpose in mind. (To Warren Moon) How did you and Lew get the expertise to design them? I'm talking about football stadiums, gymnasiums, a celestial observatory, chemistry, dormitories - where did you learn to be so flexible?

Moon: Of course, a dozen different places. Take McKale Center as an example. Lew Place, as I recall, went to at least eight or ten different university and college arenas of different sizes. Some were multi-purpose, some were solely for basketball. He visited Stanford. That arena is purely for basketball. He went back to Oklahoma and I don't recall all of the places. But wherever he went, he'd get a different idea and a briefing.

JFC: Would he get copies of the plans?

Moon: In a few places, not complete copies but schematic drawings showing the intent of the facility. You weren't looking for actual copies of the plans because you're never going to build a facility exactly like theirs. Really, what you want is the purpose and the traffic patterns and that sort of thing. Still thinking about McKale, we had problems here because of our temperatures that were different than back in Nebraska or Oklahoma or somewhere like that. So you have to make compensation for that and try to figure out air conditioning.

And then, of course, there's the input in the early stages that the proposed occupancy of the building provided. In a case like the chemistry building, that was absolutely true. They had to tell us; we couldn't tell them. Whether this laboratory was going to take care of ten students or fifty students or graduate students or freshman students. And then in the case of laboratory equipment, you have to be told by the occupant what he's going to do there. Then through the various scientific companies you find the equipment that provides for that purpose.

JFC: This, then, is a specialized kind of architecture.

Moon: Oh yes. Specialized engineering too, because as in the case of a chemistry building, all of the piping is special. All of the waste lines are non-corrosive, special iron alloys. In the case of the Chemistry Building at the UA we had to have glass waste lines. They are carrying waste away in glass because the chemicals would corrode metal.

JFC: Is this glass-lined pipe?

Moon: Some of it is pure glass. Pipe that is not even lined. There is some glass-lined pipe there too. As you get away from the highly corrosive area, there is an alloyed iron that is used. Then you go down into the traps, grease traps, and various kinds of traps that collect the corrosive liquids and separate them from the normal waste.

JFC: Where do they flow then?

Moon: The normal wastes flow, eventually, into the city sewer system, but some of the corrosive stuff has to be pumped out. I suppose that the nuclear waste place, out at Page Ranch on Oracle Road is used for that.

JFC: The university connects to the city sewer system. Does the university have its own water system?

Moon: Yes. It has its own water, but it buys its electricity from Tucson Electric Power. The university has one big central plant that provides cooling and heating to the whole campus. There may be some exceptions. I think the hospital has its own, and I'm not sure about the Law Building. There's a computer center belonging to the UA on Speedway. Someone told me that because of the exotic equipment there, it has its own air conditioning.

JFC: Does the university build its own streets?

Moon: As far as I know, they do. The university patrols its own streets. As far as city police are concerned, the UA is autonomous. Of course the UA uses the Tucson Fire Department. On the buildings, we had a courtesy plan-check from the city, because the university doesn't have to go to the city to get approval of plans. But we had a mandatory approval of the plans by the city fire department, because the city has to know the fire lanes and the sprinkler connections and all of those things. We didn't pay for any sewer permits but we had a check by the city of the fixture counts, because the city needed to know what loads were being put into the sewers.

JFC: Did you put the sprinkling system in the buildings?

Moon: Yes, in the recent ones. I forget when the code started.

JFC: Did the university add sprinklers to the old buildings?

Moon: Place and Place did not do that, but I understand that is being done. I know that we put sprinklers in the recent original buildings - McKale, the Administration Building, the Women's Physical Education Building, and the Science Library.
JFC: In building, there are certain codes you have to follow?

Moon: Yes, the uniform building code. The university is not bound by it because the university is autonomous, but all state agencies within certain limits, abide by it. They have the right to avoid the building code, but the university in particular is in the public eye all the time and it pretty well sticks to the code.

JFC: (To Lew Place.) Back to the design, did you get help from the university's building and grounds personnel on building designs?

Place: We'd work together. For example, on the McKale Center, Dickie Houston was head of Physical Resources. I knew Dickie since high school. He and I went to several different campuses which had started construction or had just finished similar facilities. We talked to architects and builders there to find out what their problems had been. We also talked with the people who had the same job that Dickie had. That's the best way to find out where the mistakes are made.

JFC: That expense came out of your fee?

Place: Yes. The university didn't pay my expenses. They paid Houston's.

JFC: In the very specialized buildings, where did you go for expertise?

Place: We conferred with the people in each department. Then we would check out architectural magazines and books. Like a lawyer will read legal journals. There are a lot of sources on detailing and so forth, like handbooks that all architects use and pretty soon when you've been at it long enough those things come naturally.

JFC: Warren Moon and I have talked about the toxic wastes being carried out to Page Ranch on Oracle Road. Which is in the news now. People are complaining about the dumping.

Place: As far as I know that waste, when we built the Chemistry - Physics Building, was being dumped into the city sewer. That was entirely in the university's hands. We merely connected to the main line that they were using as the main sewer. They would show us the area in which they wanted the building built and we'd go from there. I remember one time in 1935 or 1936 when Sundt did a building. We had to run a sewer line to the center of the mall and they'd connect. There was a manhole there. Sundt had dug a ditch and kept getting deeper and deeper to carry the flow until it got to the main sewer line.

They dug the ditch and laid the cast iron sewer pipe from the building to the main. We put a standpipe at the lower end and would fill that part with water to see if there were any leaks or water went down into the standpipe. One day when I was inspecting it for Roy, my father - I was taking myself awfully serious at that time - I would stop at every joint connection and check it for a leak. One of the things I would do is run my hand underneath to see if there was any water coming out. I noticed as I was going down toward the main sewer a shadow on the top was following me. All the way until I got to the deep end. Then I crawled up a ladder to check the water on top of the standpipe and there was a little old man standing there. He said, "Son, what are you doing down there?"

I told him that I was inspecting the joints to see if there were any leaks. And he said, "I've been watching you and you keep sticking your hand behind every joint. I'm going to give you some advice. I don't think I'd do that if I were you. Some day you're going to get a big surprise, if you find something nasty underneath." From that day on I never did it again. It was John Sundt's father, M.M. Sundt, who gave me that advice.

Sundt built a lot of the buildings on campus because he was the low bidder. Anybody could bid on a job because it was public money, and the low bidder got the job whether he was the best bidder or not. Then the university depended on the architect to see that the builder did it the way it was called for. Then that got to be our problem. The contract with the architect calls for a general inspection by the architect once a week to check out the construction work. It was my father's experience, no matter what the job was, to put someone out there all the time on it. Sometimes there might be someone from the office or it might be somebody from outside. By doing that, we'd know if something wasn't going right. We'd even put a small mirror under the inside doors to see if the bottom of the door had been painted. Sometimes they weren't.

JFC: And if something hadn't gone according to the plans?

Place: Take it out! Do it again!

JFC: Do you have anything more to say about architectural concepts. The only real departures from the pattern that your father established were on Pima Hall, the one that became the Slonaker Building, and McKale.

Place: We didn't vary too far with McKale. I didn't want a gymnasium with a dome on top of it. You would be able to see it for miles and it would be incongruous with the other buildings. Pima Hall fit in with the neighborhood. It was, in those days, in a residential district.

We designed McKale on the basis of flat trusses, and we put it half underground and half above so it wouldn't be too conspicuous. Also being half underground, it was a savings moneywise. All of that excavation work could be used for a fill on top. So we had a purpose in both ways. It's about half to a little over underground. It was my idea.

JFC: I like the copper roof. It sort of symbolizes Arizona.

Place: We put some material on that copper to turn it green. Copper, when it turns green, is a beautiful soft green. But that roof didn't turn out that way. When it was first built, you could see the shine coming off that copper, but it turned rather brownish. I don't remember what we specified to put on there but it didn't work the way I wanted it to.

JFC: There was a fellow in early Tucson that advocated, through a city ordinance, that all houses have copper roofing. I think he must have owned a copper mine.

Place: I do know that for a long time, way back in history, that houses were to be built of brick, because of fire hazard. Also, because the guy owned a brick yard. That was Albert Steinfeld (an early Tucson merchant).

JFC: That's a good story. A little bit of politics. I think. we. have talked about locally-made brick. that is what you and Roy used on the university buildings. Exactly, what was it?

Place: Local clay that was mixed up, churned, like you do with a mixer, get it all smooth and homogenous. And then run it through a shaper which has wire cutters. It comes out the other end as wet brick. Then they put it on pallets and stack it inside the kiln. The kiln was fired up until the brick was burned to the right consistency. Some of the brick that didn't get as much heat as the other would be a little lighter and that's where they get that variegated color. Which looks great. Sundt, by the way, owned his own brick yard, out on Houghton Road.

JFC: That might have given him a bidding advantage.

Place: It might have. I don't know anything about what they sold it for. I never asked.

JFC: In your building designs, didn't you also use a lot of white stone?

Place: That would be concrete.

JFC: The idea of building the UA campus buildings with the same general appearance is good. The College of Architecture says that Roy, and you, established the general appearance of the UA campus.

Place: Not all the UA buildings have the same general appearance, though most of them do. There is a building on campus, on the east side of Park Avenue, that's a white building. Varney did that and he didn't have any brick in that at all. He didn't buy the concept of trying to mold the general feeling of soft brick. And you mentioned the Slonaker Building and McKale. You would find in the older part of the UCLA campus - Italian Renaissance - would be the same as what Roy Place did on the early part of the UA campus.

JFC: When some other architect would get a campus job, would he consult with you?

Place: Only with the Superintendent of Buildings and

Grounds. Never with me.

JFC: The reason that I'm interested in design is that the concept of this report is that the general design of the campus - with some exceptions but not many - started with Roy Place and you continued what your father had started.

Place: Actually, I think it started with Bear Down gym. That was before those 1935 buildings. Using local material and they had reinforced steels, of course. But basically, I think that's where the idea started.

JFC: In the older buildings, are they steel structure inside?
Place: The brick, in the older buildings, are bearing walls. They hold up steel joists. They're all 13-inch walls, even the newer ones.

JFC: Are you hampered or controlled on your designs?

Place: No. But by budget all the time. That's where we lost some of the outside designs. On the old Administration Building that was built in 1937, is an example of costly work. It was two stories high with a basement. Take a look at the brickwork on the outside. It has corbels coming out and that is expensive. Only one man on the job would be allowed to lay them. I remember that man. He was Sundt's most valuable brick layer and had been with him for years.

(Corbels are bricks laid in contraposition to the main theme, that protrude in a decorative manner to the general surface.)

Warren Moon was asked about when he started with Place and Place and about remodelings and alterations on the campus in general.

Moon: I started about 1954 or 1955. In the late 1950's and early 1960's, we did a lot of upgrading on the old buildings at the UA. New floors and air conditioning; we were involved in a lot of them. This isn't original architecture, but remodeling. We were forever doing those things.

Place: We were almost like being on a retainer.

Moon: In some cases of remodeling or alteration we didn't even have general contractors. We had electrical contractors and mechanical contractors. We did the drawings and supervised the work. It was just one building after another in that period. Generally speaking, it was to bring the air conditioning up to date. In conjunction with that there would be certain remodeling. Of course, the old Administration Building was a major remodeling job. We completely redid that building.

JFC: (To Lew Place) What were the most difficult people you had to work with? I don't mean the UA, unless they were.

Place: That's easy. The U.S. Corps of Engineers. Roy and I had done lots of work for the Corp of Engineers. During World War II, we did a lot of work at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base here in Tucson and at other bases. Roy did the work while I was in the service. Afterwards, after the war, I began to get involved.

The Corps of Engineers kept getting pickier and pickier all the time. I would take my mechanical engineer along if I was going to have a meeting with them on heating and ventilating. We'd get on the train in Tucson in the evening and ride all night to Los Angeles to get there at 7:30 in the morning.

We'd go up to the Corps of Engineers' office downtown and there would be ten or eleven Corps of Engineers' men around the table. We were going to go over all the drawings and specifications with them. In about ten minutes, one fellow would say he had forgotten something, that he'd go get it. He'd get up and walk out. This would keep going on until there wouldn't be anyone in the room except my engineer and me. I finally quit dealing with the Corps of Engineers.

As far as how architects worked with the administration of the University of Arizona was concerned, there seemed to be a honeymoon situation between Roy Place and Lew Place and the presidents for 50 years, from 1920 until 1970.

At about the time of the latter date, the Legislature began appropriating money for the McKale Memorial Center, planned as a multiple-event stadium for basketball and any other events from drama to rodeos.

UA President Dr. Richard A. Harvill made his annual appearance before the Legislature and presented the budget for the UA, as prepared by the Board of Regents. About $2 million was earmarked for McKale. Lew Place, owner of the architectural firm of Place and Place was contracted as the designer.

According to Lew Place, he and his firm started on the plans, but money from the university was not forthcoming. "The university invested the money in bonds in order to collect the interest," Place says. "It takes money to run any business."

Time went by, and another appropriation was made by the Legislature. The building was estimated to cost upwards of $4 million.

Time went by. Building costs zoomed. Place quit work on the McKale plans. Harvill retired from the presidency and was made President Emeritus of the university. Apparently, under the new President, John Schaefer, money for Place was made available and the architectural work on McKale was resumed.

But more money from the Legislature was needed - the cost was now estimated at $8 million, or in that neighborhood. President Emeritus Harvill was sent back to Phoenix to ask the Legislature for more money.

In 1985, this report by this author was begun. Unknowing of any differences at all between Harvill and Place, this author decided that a foreword by Harvill, or at least a letter from Harvill, had a proper place in the report.

Because of Dr. Harvill's health, this author was advised that any communication should be made through Harvill's wife, Mrs. George Harvill. George Harvill was contacted by telephone. She was asked if Dr. Harvill would write a letter to be included in this book on his appreciation of the Places and their contribution to the architecture of the UA. She said that she would speak to her husband.

A second telephone call to her revealed that Dr. Harvill would not contribute to the report. Mrs. Harvill said that Dr. Harvill had been deeply embarrassed over the appropriations for the building. Harvill was forced, she said, to go back before the lawmakers and ask for additional funds. She said that this-hurt him deeply, embarrassed him, and. she indicated that he would have nothing more to do with Lew Place as an architect.

The McKale Center was the last building designed by Place and Place for the University of Arizona.

Lew Place was asked about the controversy. He said, "I have always had the greatest respect for Dr. Harvill."

Another aspect of Place and Place was told to this author by Mrs. Evelyn Kirmse, former UA Dean of Women and former Regent. Mrs. Kirmse said:

"Of the Places, I can say this. They were just wonderful people to work with, from my point of view. Just wonderful. They called the shots as they saw them and they were very receptive to the ideas of others. If my ideas were not workable, they told me why in a very nice way. Theirs was a gentlemanly, logical, friendly approach.

"As far as the UA buildings were concerned, I always believed that beauty should have some consideration, not merely utility. The Places believed in beauty. Roy used a lot of tile and he was influenced by some of the Mexican colors in his decorations. The Place organization said the trouble with people around here is that they're afraid of color. But the Place outfit was not afraid of color; they wanted to use it.

"We should have had some city ordinances to control people who were in charge during the 1950's and beyond. The city leaders started chasing the 'big buck' with the developers and if they hadn't we would have a beautiful city."

She said that the old Pima County Courthouse was one of the most beautiful public buildings anywhere and that the Benedictine Convent on Country Club Boulevard was equally beautiful.

As far as the "new" downtown with its new skyscraper plans is concerned, Mrs. Kirmse said: "These developers! Don't they realize that what people go to Europe to see are the modern skyscrapers but the buildings and antiquities which have been there for hundreds of years?

When people used to come to this town, one of the first things they did after they had seen the San Xavier mission, was to go down to the Meyer street area and see the Mexican color!"

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