Fall 2009 • Volume 15, Issue 4
A massive Gothic limestone building that sits in the heart of campus has had more roles than most century-old structures. Some know it as a stylish theater and gallery, while other alumni remember a gymnasium covered with grape ivy. For GIs who used it as their headquarters, it was a home away from home.
Shortly before her death in 1908, Lydia Moss Bradley provided funds for the third building on the young campus. Known simply as the Bradley gymnasium for 50 years, it was named Hewitt Hall in 1959. Its namesake, Cecil Hewitt, had a long run as track coach, starting in 1921. He became dean of the technical school, a mechanical engineering professor, and a Bradley vice president.
In 1978, when the College of Communications and Fine Arts became Bradley’s newest college, a performing arts facility was a pressing need. Vacant for several years, the still-sound building was renovated and repurposed as Hartmann Center for the Performing Arts. The $2 million construction project began in February, aided by a $500,000 naming gift from the late Mary and H.W. “Jack” Hartmann. Hartmann co-owned McDougal-Hartmann Co., which specialized in road construction.
Students and area theater-goers were dazzled by the Hartmann Center when it opened in September 1979. Man of La Mancha was the first of several hundred plays and musicals that have been staged since in the 280-seat Meyer Jacobs Theatre.
Over the decades, the gym’s basketball courts, bowling alleys, raised indoor running track, and pool saw heavy use. Students nicknamed the swimming pool “the tub.”
Social events, such as banquets (shown in 1911) and after-the-game dances, were set up on the basketball court. In the early ’50s, students had P.E. classes in the gymnasium, while courses like shorthand, typing, hygiene, and first aid were also scheduled there.
At a cost of less than $75,000, the gymnasium was the third largest in the nation when it opened in 1909, a year after the death of Lydia Moss Bradley. Up to 1,200 could watch basketball there until 1925 when games were moved to the Armory. Photo provided by Special Collections, Cullom-Davis Library.
The place to buy tickets … and books. In 1949, Bradley’s first university-run bookstore opened in the building’s annex, a Quonset hut that contrasted sharply with the Gothic architecture. During both World Wars, the gym was used as barracks and officer headquarters.
Hewitt Hall’s athletic facilities were used almost daily until the brand new Haussler Hall opened in 1975. With the nation in the grips of an energy crisis, Hewitt was shuttered for the next few years. The once-proud structure became something of an eyesore, accounting for the unflattering nickname, “Termite Tavern.”
Funding for the theater came from the late MEYER JACOBS ’39, a local bank president and Bradley Trustee. As a student athlete, Jacobs had been quite familiar with the building. Prior to the opening of the Meyer Jacobs Theatre, Bradley actors performed at the Carousel Playhouse, a converted storefront near Main and University. Pre-1970 performances were staged in Neumiller Chapel and the Field House.
Hartmann was further modernized in 2007 with the addition of fiber optics and Internet2, allowing Bradley to win a prestigious IDEA Wave of the Future award for its production of The Adding Machine. Photo by Scott Cavanah, MFA ’04.