McEwen was state’s doing

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.


Before the construction of Houghton it was possible to have two-way traffic in a gentle curve leading to the central campus. I think it was architect I.M. Pei’s idea to limit automobile traffic. (It is now two way after a massive retaining wall was constructed.)

Pei’s master plan laid out a unified core with modern buildings linked by a spine. (Only one leg of the spine – between McEwen and the Williams Center – was constructed. If you look at the original plan a spine was planned from McEwen to Rockefeller Arts Center terminating in a band shell.)

It looks good from the outside but the outside walls created many operational problems. Let’s start with McEwen Hall.

This building was my professional home for over 20 years so you will have to forgive the detail not given to other buildings.

McEwen was a state mandated building containing mainly, in terms of space, lecture halls. Every campus was to get one – whether they wanted it or not. As we will see when we move to Thompson Hall, faculty want small seminar rooms-economic or not. The building was also to contain studios for the creation of instructional materials.

These included television, and even radio. (Fredonia was the only campus to ask for a radio studio). There was also provision for photographic studios and darkrooms. There was a special location with north light for graphics production. There were offices for media professionals two photographers, a graphic artist, television-radio-audio producer-directors, an audiovisual specialist, and a technical-engineering staff. There was spare space for temporary faculty offices, those who were working on media related presentations.

Faculty who were to use the studios and resources had to commute from their offices in other buildings – a fatal flaw as it turned out. Many faculty made great efforts not to use McEwen. Weather would be the most objective defense of their reluctance.

There is a rumor that Mr. Pei’s group, and we know it was more than just his work, had a leftover plan designed for some place like Arizona or New Mexico. There is no evidence to support this but one does wonder at the many outdoor benches, open walkways, and unprotected outside stairways.

One example of this is the raised walkway that connects to the Campus (Williams) Center. Most students using this walkway travel under it for protection from the elements. They can thank Dr. Tom Hagen of the History Department (and former Academic Vice President) that this way is paved. It wasn’t when originally completed. There have been efforts to cover the upper level but as of this writing, 35 years later, nothing has been done. The walkway is closed in winter.

John Malcolm is a Fredonia resident.