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.
In my first visit to the Old Main auditorium, in 1956, the original wooden seats on the lower level had been replaced with upholstered theater seats. The original organ was a wreck and had been replaced by an electric model on the stage level.
The space under the seats, formerly the coal bins, was now used for storage. (It must have been interesting to have coal shoveled under the stage by the very vocal live-in custodian Mike Mahoney. Mike's spacious three-bedroom apartment was under the Northwest wing.) The stage represented quite a challenge for theatrical performances since there were no wings and the stage itself was only fifteen feet deep. Scenery was built in the basement and jackknifed up a narrow staircase.
The auditorium of the Old Main school is pictured above.
Being a speech major, I was most interested in joining the Mummers as the theater group was then called. It was a co-curricular activity of the Speech Department. Co-curricular meant that every student was required to participate in at least two activities. More on this later.
Our first activity at Old Main was to scrub the paint off the scenery on the lawn of Old Main. This was supervised by Roy Kuck another "old" Navy man. I was a bit taken back by how primitive everything was. During my high school years I had worked in Little Theatre and helped out at professional performances. I had worked with some really skilled professionals from New York City.
It was a shock to see wood cut with handsaws and flats covered by using pins. Our scene shop was a low-ceilinged room in the basement of Old Main. I soon discovered that there was an elaborate woodworking shop next door.
Unfortunately it was locked because of the death the year before of Mr. Herbert Mackie who taught Industrial Arts in the Campus School. Mr. Mackie had quite an operation and turned out some impressive work, even furniture. The College Lodge is named for him.
After taking a door off its hinges I soon put the shop back in use. Later, in the '60s, the shop would be used by the Art Department. Two of the occupants were Bill Dailey (whose work can be found on the front of Cranston Hall and the soon to be completed concert hall) and Dennis Dorogi.
As a student teacher, (there were grades from kindergarten to ninth grade), anything was possible.
Classrooms were spacious - nay enormous - and even had preparation/office space. You could have independent study areas and have a number of activities going at one time. They were a marvelous area for peripatetic teachers like the talented artist Larry Urbscheit.
Larry had a puckish sense of humor. He would imitate the principal, John Bouchard, when he gave his stentorian announcements.
In a formal portrait of faculty and administration he inserted his neighbor, Chuck Hegman. Chuck owned one of the local liquor stores. (It is called the Gauntlet and at this writing it is on the staircase in Reed Library.)
The building also accommodated items never dreamed of in 1903. WCVF was born, as WFSC, in 1949 and its studios were on the third floor on the southwest corner. This space was later utilized for audio-visual services.
John Malcolm is a Fredonia resident.