The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.
Alumni Memorial Hall

The idea of an alumni memorial hall on the campus originated from a desire to honor those University men who had fallen in the Civil War. In 1864 a committee Page  1571of the Society of the Alumni of the University of Michigan (the organization which represented the graduates of the Literary College) was formed to co-operate with the faculty in raising funds for a suitable monument. In 1865 this organization voted to erect a memorial chapel, to cost about $25,000. Under the chairmanship of Thomas M. Cooley, subscriptions totaling about $10,000 were secured during the following years, but then the matter seems to have been dropped.

Not until June 17, 1903, was the subject revived, when William N. Brown proposed for discussion the building of a University alumni hall. A committee was appointed, consisting of William N. Brown, Andrew C. McLaughlin, and Dr. Victor C. Vaughan, with Professor M. L. D'Ooge as chairman. In 1904, however, Judge Claudius B. Grant appeared as the chairman, and under his direction the committee secured from the Regents the promise of a site at the southwest corner of the campus, and the assurance that the University would take over the maintenance of such a building, if erected. In addition, subscriptions in the amount of $18,000 were received. It was thereupon voted to undertake the project. The Alumni Association was then a well-organized, united body, representing the entire University, and its efforts culminated finally in the construction of Alumni Memorial Hall on the corner of South University Avenue and State Street.

Much difficulty was experienced in determining just what the function of such a building should be. As early as 1897 the University Librarian, Raymond C. Davis, had complained about the crowded condition of the Library Building, caused by the fact that the University's art collections were housed there. He suggested that the alumni provide a building, to be known as "Alumni Hall," which would furnish not only the necessary art gallery, but also quarters for the Graduate School.

The Alumni Memorial Committee of 1904, however, thought in terms of a memorial. The building was intended to provide a room containing "the names by classes of all who have served in the wars of their country, either in the naval or military departments, perpetuated in marble or bronze" (Mich. Alum., 1903-1904, p. 221). The building was also to serve as a meeting place for alumni and former students.

This committee, formed in January, 1904, consisted of Claudius B. Grant ('59), chairman, Hoyt Post ('61), Edward W. Pendleton ('72), George H. Hopkins ('71l), William N. Brown ('70l), Victor C. Vaughan ('78m), and Martin L. D'Ooge ('62). Clarence M. Burton ('73, hon. '05), Charles B. Warren ('91, hon. '16), and Franklin H. Walker ('73) became members later.

The question of the use of the building was complicated by the fact that, at about the same time, a committee was formed to conduct a campaign for the Michigan Union. The usefulness of this project and the obvious need for it made a strong appeal, and many argued that the Memorial Committee and the Union Committee should combine their objectives in a plan for one building. Those who were approached for contributions, scattered as they were over the length and breadth of the country, found the two campaigns confusing and suspected a duplication of effort.

The Michigan Alumnus undertook more than once to point out the distinction, and in December, 1904, published a statement by the Memorial Committee revealing an enlargement of the memorial idea and explaining the uses to which the building would be devoted. It was intended to commemorate not only those students and faculty who had participated Page  1572in past wars but also those who might serve in future wars. In addition, the building was to house the offices and assembly hall of the Alumni Association and to provide rooms for undergraduate and faculty social gatherings. Provided sufficient funds were obtained, it was also to contain a large auditorium on the ground floor for the general use of the University. The Memorial Committee even offered to provide rooms for the activities of the Michigan Union.

The students, in general, opposed the memorial idea, dubbing the proposed building "D'Ooge's Palace" and "The Mausoleum." As the campaigns proceeded it became evident, however, that the memorial project was the more popular among the alumni, for the funds grew rapidly. The Memorial Committee was greatly stimulated in January, 1904, by a gift of $10,000 from Ezra Rust, of New York, the largest single subscription of the campaign. Although the original goal had been $100,000, in 1905 the amount proposed was raised to $250,000.

In 1905 the Regents appointed a committee to co-operate with the Memorial Committee. Plans for a building "direct simple, and dignified," to cost unfurnished, about $175,000, were submitted by the architects, Donaldson and Meier, of Detroit. This plan, which made provision for use of the building as an art gallery, was accepted.

In June, 1907, the Regents appropriated the sum of $50,000 toward the project, with the understanding that the alumni would contribute $132,000. The building was to house the University's art collections, thus providing much needed relief for the Library.

The contract was given to Koch Brothers, of Ann Arbor, in September, 1907. The cornerstone was laid by Judge Grant in June, 1908. The building was completed in 1910 and dedicated with appropriate exercises held in University Hall on May 11. It was officially presented to the University by Judge Grant and was received for the University by Regent Walter H. Sawyer.

Alumni Memorial Hall is an impressive stone building marked by a flight of steps leading up to four great classical pillars at the front. Great bronze doors open directly into the main lobby and statuary hall. There are also two side entrances. The building is approximately 115 by 150 feet, with 41,025 square feet of floor space.

Much credit for the success of the enterprise must be given to Judge Grant, long a prominent figure in University affairs; later he became a Regent of the University and a justice of the state Supreme Court. All of the members of the Memorial Committee, however, had worked hard and contributed much personally toward the success of the project. As a result of their labors a sum of $128,135.64 was contributed by 1,500 subscribers, and the building was completed and furnished at a cost of $195,885.29.

Four of its rooms were named for the four largest donors, as follows: the large main gallery for Ezra Rust, the south upper gallery for Dexter M. Ferry, the north upper gallery for Simon T. Murphy, and the lower north front room for Arthur Hill. The south front room was called the Alumni Room.

Since there was still some discrepancy between the total cost and the money available, the committee continued its work until all but $3,999 of the obligation was paid. This last sum proved to be a thorn in the flesh. In 1912 the Memorial Committee asked to be released from its personal guaranty, and in 1915 the Alumni Association asked the Board of Regents to assume this debt, since they had no means of meeting it. They pointed out that to start another campaign Page  1573among the alumni for money would only interfere with the drive for funds being carried on by the Michigan Union. The Regents declined to act, and the indebtedness was not wiped out until all the obligations of the Alumni Association were paid, with the assistance of the University, in 1934.

A number of gifts were received for the new building. Three members of the Memorial Committee, Burton, Walker, and Hill, gave, respectively, furniture, rugs, and a life-size bronze bas-relief portrait of the first President, Henry Philip Tappan. Hill also gave $5,000 for a similar likeness of President Emeritus Angell. Both were the work of the distinguished sculptor, Karl Bitter.

The uses to which Alumni Memorial Hall has been put in succeeding years have followed in general the intentions of the Memorial Committee. It houses the headquarters of the Alumni Association and the Michigan Alumnus and contains the Museum of Art and the Alumni Catalog Office. Its social function was, in the course of time, reduced to the use of a large room in the basement for the University Club, a faculty organization which later moved to quarters in the Union.

The building's chief usefulness to the University has been as a center of art activities. It was opened officially upon the occasion of an art exhibit, sponsored by Charles L. Freer, which included many items from his famous collection of American and Oriental art, now in the Freer Gallery in Washington. From the time of its organization until 1949 the Department of Fine Arts held classes in this building. The department still maintains a study hall there. The Ann Arbor Art Association held annual exhibits in Alumni Memorial Hall for many years and scheduled some six or eight other exhibits each year. The Museum of Art was given quarters in the building in 1946, when it was separated from the Museum of Archaeology.