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The mysterious Jones Hall is now undergoing a renovation. Beginning in fall 2005, it will greet students as the new front door to the University's Twin Cities campus.
Polishing a gem on Pleasant Street
By Gayla Marty
Published on July 21, 2004
Jones Hall is familiar as a bus stop--but not much more these days--to anyone on the Twin Cities campus. But when renovation began this year, the pretty, apricot-colored architectural jewel turned out to be something of a mystery.
Compared to other buildings that make up the Old Campus Historic District on the east bank, the historical record of Jones Hall is nearly blank. Even worse, the blueprints are missing.
"This is the only building we've ever encountered that had virtually no documentation," says architect Bill Beyer, whose firm has designed many campus renovations. "What's still odder is that, at University Archives, even the photography of the building seems to be missing. The University has the best documentation of its buildings in terms of plans and original drawings that I've ever seen--it takes good care of its old documents--and there was virtually nothing for Jones."
Some speculate that during renovation on the roof in mid-century, the blueprints were taken from Archives and never returned.
"The [renovation] architect had to go through and verify and field-measure everything," says Jones Hall project manager Paul Oelze. "Some of the load-bearing, brick walls that hold this thing up are 17 and 21 inches thick."
Jones was built in an Italian Renaissance style with a high-quality brick exterior designed to look like stone. Its elaborate terra cotta window sills and exterior decorative elements rival those of nearby Folwell Hall, according to the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. Original pipes still protruded from the ceiling, marking the points where gas light fixtures used to hang. The central hall contained a white and gray-veined marble floor and a cast-iron staircase. The top floor was covered by a massive skylight.
Solving the mysteries
Jones is known to be the original physics building on campus, named after a physics professor and dean of the College of Engineering. But physics moved to the mall when the Tate Laboratory was built in the late 1920s, and information about departments in Jones between that time and recent years is scant.
Calling faculty and alumni!
Did you teach or take classes in Jones Hall on the Twin Cities campus? Photographs and stories are needed to replenish the depleted historical record for this Pleasant Street beauty. Please contact Jenny Mealey at the Office of Admissions at firstname.lastname@example.org or 612-626-7623; or contact University Archives at 612-624-0562 or email@example.com.
One faculty member who can fill in some of the gaps is art professor emeritus Karl Bethke, who taught at Jones from 1959 until the department moved to the West Bank in 1966.
Bethke taught printmaking on the top floor of Jones under the skylight. Photography, drawing, and painting studios were on the ground floor; the first floor was home to art history and the art library.
Bethke remembers a situation with the drawing classes' menagerie of animal models and an acid leak from a second-floor cabinet.
"Hydrochloric acid went through the floor and dribbled on the stacks of the art library," he says. "It ruined the relationship [between the library and the artists]. Still, Hazel [from the library] came up to feed the rabbit with lettuce every day--we had a rabbit running around--a white one, and two spider monkeys, a host of guinea pigs, and plenty of white mice. Harvey the rabbit would crawl behind the stacks of oil paintings.... It wasn't the cleanest or the neatest place, but we produced quite decent art, despite the conditions."
Creating a front door to the U
When the current project is done in fall 2005, the grandeur and charm of the gem on Pleasant Street will be restored. The building will have its first elevator and connect by tunnel to Williamson Hall. Many handicap doors will be installed to allow easy wheelchair access through the thick, brick walls.
Space in Jones will be shared by the College of Liberal Arts (CLA) and the Office of Admissions. The first two floors will house CLA's Language Center, convenient to Folwell Hall, where many language classes are taught. Students will access resources primarily from the walk-in lab and offices on the first floor.
The second floor, under the restored skylight, will house an admissions reception center.
"To prospective students, it's going to be the University's front door," says Oelze. "Right now, they go into a concrete tunnel (to Williamson). When Jones is done, they'll arrive at a 1900 building, right on the historic knoll, which is extremely easy to find."
It's an environment that will showcase the University's academic history and tradition.
"We are thrilled," says associate director of admissions Rachelle Hernandez. "Prospective students and their families will experience the vibrancy and excitement of our campus through every window in Jones Hall."