The Fine Arts Complex

The Arts Building and Gallery - The Drama Building - The Music Building

Fine Arts Complex

The Arts Building and Gallery was the first of the three buildings in the Fine Arts Complex to be started. Place and Place were the designers and the Sundt Company was the contractor. Place and Place began the designs in 1953 and official completion date for the Arts Building and Gallery was 1956. In 1957, the university itself added to the structure and in 1964, a $36,536 underground storage vault for paintings was built. This was designed by Lew Place and George Codd was the builder. In 1968, more additions designed by Place were built at a cost of $843,547 by W. F. Conelly.

Fine Arts complex
The Fine Arts Complex

In 1984, some $100,000 was appropriated for roofing, ventilation, lighting and new storage areas. The Drama Building was completed in November, 1956. The Drama and Arts Building were a single-project with two different and separate buildings. Total cost for the original buildings was $775,624.

Music Building

The Music Building was completed in September, 1957, at a cost of $543,332. Place and Place was the architectural firm and Sundt was the builder. In 1963, J. A. Binns was contractor for a $135,648 addition designed by Place and Place. In 1968, W. F. Conelly built additions and alternates for $396,964. Lew Place, again, was the architect. The three-building Fine Arts Complex is located just south of Speedway on the west side of Olive Street with the Arts Building to the north, the Drama Building just south of Arts, and the Music Building the southernmost of the three.

Music Building

In recorded interviews with Lew Place, Peter Marroney (retired head of the Drama Department), Warren Moon, Evelyn Kirmse, Jack Binns and Delores Binns, the following conversations about the Fine Arts Complex resulted:

Place: The Arts Building and Gallery was originally designed for three stories. Two were built immediately with the third-story coming in later. We had placed a freight elevator at the rear of the building in order to get some of the larger paintings and things inside. In the addition, we forgot to put the door opening into the elevator shaft. Sam Redwine was the clerk-of-the-works for us there and one day he came back to the office and said, "We forgot the door." And I said, "You forgot the door."

Moon: I remember another thing about the Arts Gallery Building. There was a big hassle about the Monk's cloth covering for the walls of the gallery. The owner of the Kress collection (philanthropist Rush Kress, which hangs in the gallery) was very specific about it. There were long arguments about that special cloth. Finally, the material was put up but it took a tremendous amount of preparation that no one expected of this particular type of material.

Place: We also had trouble with the lighting. In the museum rooms in which the paintings were hung, we put a false ceiling. We planned for lights to be placed in the false ceiling so that the lights could be moved back and forth and up and down. No matter where you hung the pictures, you could adjust the lights so that no shadows came over the pictures from their extended frames.

But the building costs were going over the estimates and we had to take the false ceiling out of there to save some money. The lights were just hung and, sure enough, shadows were cast across the pictures. When the Kress collection was hung, they had an expert come from Austria, who had hung paintings in a museum there. After he had hung the paintings, he called me down to the Dean of Fine Arts office for a conference. He criticized the fact tht the lighting was throwing shadows on the pictures and said it shouldn't be that way. He drew a sketch of the museum in Vienna, in which the light came down from a skylight and came down to the pictures. I explained to him that that was exactly what we had done to the electric lights but we couldn't put it in because we couldn't afford it. And nothing happened. The lighting is still the same way it was. The pictures have shadows on them a short distance down from the top of the frames.

JFC: Comment, if you will, on the acoustics in the Drama Building.

Place: I commissioned the Chancellor of the University of the City of Los Angeles (UCLA) to do the acoustical design of the theater in the Drama Building. He made several trips to Tucson and I made several to California and we decided upon the proper acoustics. He had written two or three books on the subject and was known as the acoustical engineer in the country. When the building was finished, the seats in, and everything ready, he came over and checked it out very carefully with his instruments and found that the acoustics were perfect.

Marroney: Yes, he was Dr. Knudson. He was acoustician both for the Drama theater and for the music theater for Crowder Hall (in the Music Building). He was the greatest acoustician in the world, a remarkable man. In the rear of the stage of the drama theater, we used Philippine mahogany paneling. The panels were perforated and backed with acoustical material. It was decided to show our new theater off to the Tucson public, but I never had a more distressing evening in my life. Little did I know what they had planned as a program. It was planned by Dr. John Crowder. The permanent seats in the theater had not been installed. Folding chairs from the auditorium were brought in and they sat, low, on the theater floors and on the tiers. They had Jack Lee (Director of the UA marching band at the time) in to entertain. He came in with his German band and he was placed on stage, in front of some corrugated doors to the rear. The din that night was the worst I have ever heard anywhere. There has never been a full stadium with the noise that we witnessed in that theater that night. I went away that evening and said to Lew Place that he and I have perpetrated the worst thing on the taxpayers that has ever been done. Lew said not to worry, that when we are finished with this, I'd change my mind. That is where I learned my lesson. Lew knew that you should never criticize anything until it is completely finished. Once we got the velvet seats, the curtains on stage, and the cyclorama, there wasn't that reverberation on those corrugated doors on the back of our stage. The corrugated doors cut the workshop from the stage. There are three of them that are electrically operated, and that corrugation can be terribly noisy when you use it as any kind of a sound board.

Drama Building

Place: When Knudsen was here as a consultant, I asked him to check the acoustics in the old auditorium. He said they were fine, but when the public address system was put in on the sides and all the noise went back and forth, it ruined the acoustics.

Drama Building

Marroney: We never used a public address system in the Drama theater. The audience could hear perfectly. The same is true in Crowder Hall (in the Music Building). This is another reason for the stadium arrangement in seats. The actor who learns that he must have contact with his audience learns to hold his head up so that he is speaking upward, where in an auditorium which is a dish-shaped auditorium like the main auditorium on campus, the actors speak down to an audience that is below them. The acoustics also depend on the director and his actors.

Lew Place: The drama theater is one of the finest theaters in the west.

Marroney: You bet it is. The origination of the concept of the stadium-type theater came from a book that Birstmeyer and Cole developed on theater structures. We studied every aspect of it.

Place: The aisles are far wider than the average. People can get out of their seats and walk without anybody having to stand.

Marroney: The rows have maximum width, except for the very back row. All of the rows have the maximum width of 45 inches. No theater in New York can boast of this. Then there is the fluted wall in the rear; that is where Knudsen did acoustical magic.

Marroney came to the UA in September, 1939. The College of Fine Arts had been established in 1934. Before the Fine Arts Complex was built, the Drama Department was housed in Herring Hall, which had been the women's gymnasium. The Music Department was housed to the west, in the Home Economics Building. The Home Economics Building replaced Apache Hall, a men's dormitory. Yavapai Hall, which stands between Herring Hall and the Home Economics Building had not been constructed.

The Art Department was located in the Library. It originally was on the second floor of the West Stadium.

To continue the interview: 

Marroney: Nobody in drama, when we were in Herring Hall, could do a thing as long as the orchestra and band were playing in the Music Building. They finally had to schedule the orchestra and band to practice after four o'clock in the afternoon. The Music Building couldn't be insulated because of the windows and the music department needed the windows open because of the need for fresh air. So when the Fine Arts Complex was started, it was a relief to all.

JFC: What was the origination of the Fine Arts Complex?

Marroney: The Dean of Fine Arts, John B. Crowder, called us all together and told us that there was a possibility that we were going to get a Fine Arts Complex and that there were a number of people working on a budget to submit to the Board of Regents.

The origination of the Fine Arts Complex was both harrowing and exciting. Harrowing to the extent that we never knew exactly what the administration wanted, and exciting when you could get together with someone like Lew Place. I always knew that I had to shoot high, shoot for the moon, and I didn't get the full moon but I got half of it.

JFC: Do you remember specific incidents?

Marroney: The funniest thing that happened was in the preparation of the Drama Building for a theater, in the fall of 1955 we wanted members of the Legislature to inspect all the construction going on, on campus. They were building the Arts Gallery and the Drama Building at the time. Those were the first two that were sanctioned. How the Drama Building got ahead of the Music Building is another story, other than the humorous one. I had done a great deal of work with the Corral Theater (an off-campus theater that received much community support) and we were giving a lot of money to the university 'supporting workshops at the UA. Some people said, why are you all for Art and Music. Where is Drama? Eventually the word came down. Robert Nugent, university Vice President, called and he said drama is going to be second, art will be first. Music was going to be deferred for a couple of years.

When the Legislators came on the campus in November, 1955, there was no roof on the Drama Building. There was a stage that you couldn't tell was a stage. There was nothing but the cement stadium-like arrangement where the seats are mounted now. Just at the time that I was explaining to this group of Legislators what the building was going to be like, this hod carrier from Sundt Construction came up to the back wall where there are now work rooms, sound and consultation rooms. The hod carrier said to me, "Senor, what is this going to be? A bool ring?" I looked around at everyone there and, of course, it looked just like the beginning of a bull ring, open to the skies.

JFC: Anything else?

Marroney: Another amusing thing. When the Drama Building was practically finished, I walked down the steps going into the basement and lo and behold right there - and I'm a short man, five foot three - right there at the head of the steps was this huge valve for water or for heat, I don't know what it was. I knew that I was going to get conked, run into this valve because it was in the position to hit me right on the forehead. I called Lew Place and asked him what the heck are you doing? He checked the plans and said, "Oh, my God. They misunderstood. They put it in the wrong place." So they had to take the whole thing apart and put it in a closet, a janitor's closet, where it is right now. That was the only mishap in the construction of the Drama Building.

JFC: Are there any other lasting impressions of the construction of the Drama Building?

Marroney: The one thing that I recall more than anything else was the time that we had to do away with some alternates. That was the saddest part. If you could see how different that building is from the original plans - it's vast. We supposedly only had to defer for ten years and we still don't have them. One of the things that I think is the very key to that building is the corridors that go around to the side. Any of the audience during intermission has to go outside in order to enter the lobby to use any of the facilities. It is still one of the very primitive things about the Fine Arts Complex.

The original plan was to have a covered walk that would have unified the complex, rather than to have three distinct buildings with no real tie between them.

There was also to have been some landscaping that would have unified. I remember when Guy Greene (Tucson landscape architect) had this marvelous idea of planting palms and steps and a regular corridor where audiences could unload and then the cars could be driven to their parking spaces. The covered walks were never built, but were designed. To look at that alternate that was discarded you would have seen what fine art the Fine Arts really were.

JFC: Do you recall conferences with Lew Place, or without him, which led up to the final drafting of the buildings?

Marroney: We had a lot of conferences that Lew had to finally straighten out. We had them without his presence with Dean Crowder and then there were so many divergent ideas that very few of them were truly valid, until Lew was brought in. Lew's explanations gave credence to the reasons things had to be the way they were designed. More than anything else is the fact that if you are to be involved in the construction of a new building where you hold a certain amount of responsibility, you might as well give up a whole year of your life because it is a constant push. And especially when you had someone who had gone through this with a building on another campus as Crowder had with the University of Montana. That's the reason that in the Drama Building we had all those glass bricks for windows. Because they had them in Montana. The studios where the brick was used got light, but you couldn't see anything. We have this beautiful view of the mountains that once in a while would be aesthetic for us. They finally had to get rid of the glass brick on the lower level. They're all gone.

Delorous Binns: I remember one thing about the Music Building , when Jack Binns (now, her husband) did the alterations in 1963. Howard Deming, Lew's inspector, came storming into Lew's office. He said, "Do you know what that Jack Binns did? When that job was completed he had one piece of plywood left over!"

Jack Binns: That was the difference between the profit and the loss. Mrs. Evelyn Kirmse, a member of the Board of Regents at the time the Fine Arts Complex was constructed, was asked if she had any special remembrances of the project.

Mrs. Kirmse: Yes. UA President Dr. Richard A. Harvill had to fight to get the money for the complex. You know how Legislatures are. There are always some members who don't think they should spend money for any frills. We said we were going to lose the Kress art collection if we didn't get a place to put it, where we could control the humidity and the temperature. And, of course, we needed the Art Building for more than the Kress collection. But that was the sword we used.

Warren Moon: I can remember one striking thing about the building of the complex. The olive trees along Olive Street had been planted by Dr. Robert H. Forbes (who was dean of the College of Agriculture when the Agriculture Building was built in 1915, 40 years before the Fine Arts Complex). During construction of the Fine Arts Complex, old Doc Forbes would walk that street every morning to watch and see that the contractor wasn't damaging those trees. Those beautiful old olive trees from Egypt.

Place: He wouldn't let anybody touch them. They were barricaded. He watched every day to see that some truck driver or anybody didn't damage a branch. And to think, today the planting of olive trees is against the law!

Part of which site