Editor's note: This is a series of columns by John Malcolm on his "50 years at Fredonia." Retired, he is a professor emeritus at Fredonia State.
There were chemical, physical, and optical laboratories in the Old Main building. I have been told that Fredonia had the first, in this country, chemistry laboratory for the use of undergraduates. This was included in the first Normal building. I have been unable to document this.
It seems odd now that when I was a student there was no chemistry laboratory and a makeshift one was built after the arrival of President Dr. Oscar Lanford in the early 1960s. (We used to joke about taking a shower in the hall of Fenton.)
Maytum Hall was being constructed in the late 1960s on the Fredonia State campus.
There were classrooms for teacher training instruction including a large lecture hall. There was an immense kindergarten wing, large central foyer surrounded by friezes and framed by a three-story open staircase. The staircase provided a dramatic entrance for such things as an angel choir that came down the stairs with candles during Christmas celebrations. Since it was the Music Department's select choir it was most impressive.
At the bottom of the stairs was a statue of Lincoln and students rubbed his nose for good luck before an examination. When Old Main was sold, the statue seemed to have found its way to the Brocton American Legion where the white marble was painted.
The auditorium is probably the most remembered and most missed of all of Old Main's facilities. You entered it from entrances flanking the stage, a half circle, from the main lobby. Late arrivals always got attention.
Entering the auditorium you were surrounded by a magnificent space with stained glass windows, a pillared balcony and a vaulted wooden ceiling that produced excellent acoustic results. We have recordings from 1938 that document this.
The platform or stage was not designed to accommodate theatre or even opera. These entertainments were still suspect in this God-fearing community of 1903 and the Village already had an opera house. (The opera house is housed in the present Village Hall and was successfully renovated in the 1990s. The Village Hall itself stands on the ground of the original campus for the Academy that preceded the Normal School. See Ohles's history.)
The stage ceiling originally had a plaster dome supported by impressive pillars. There was a balcony in a half circle around the stage and in the back center a pipe organ. In the mid-'50s the dome was removed-crudely in my opinion and a limited fly gallery and lighting booth were constructed.
Until electrical work was done it was necessary to close the Old Main Library during a performance on stage. It might be interesting to note that the stage lighting board and the first phase of a new pipe organ were moved to King Concert Hall on the main campus.
Later in this series, I will discuss the politics of our opera performances. Opera directors have resigned over facilities.
John Malcolm is a Fredonia resident.