Sacred Ground

Back in the rough-hewn early days, piles of debris cluttered the hilltop and hogs rooted among the tree stumps. ("Local food," one presumes.) Kenyon being Kenyon, it's likely that somebody objected when our first technocrat president, David Bates Douglass (a civil engineer), destroyed the ambiance by laying out Middle Path and turning the campus into a park. But there was no Collegian or e-mail then, so we have no record of any protest.

The trees grew along the path. The stone halls rose. And at some point it was perfect.

It must have been, because pretty much every change since then (whenever "then" was) has been attacked as a desecration. Even Peirce Hall, we're told, met with opposition when it was built in 1928-29. It blocked the view.

Coeducation brought controversy not only because it disrupted the masculine idyll (see Girls?!) but also because construction of the Coordinate College in the northern part of campus replaced an entire Gambier neighborhood, including a few charming homes, with sixties brick.

The new buildings joined Farr Hall, completed in 1966 after criticism forced the architect to come up with three completely different plans. It must be said that Farr never really impressed anyone. When Jim Hayes moved his market into the new building, the Collegian reported on the grand opening of the grocer's "emporium," marveling puckishly, "Everything is directed toward convenience. There is an IN door and an OUT door."

Farr's reputation went nowhere but downhill. The May 4, 2000, issue of the Collegian included an article on "the top five campus buildings just begging to be demolished." Under a headline addressed directly to President Robert A. Oden Jr.—"Yo! Oden! Call in the Bulldozers!"—the story said: "While some architecture is timeless and some simply outdated, Farr ... boasts the unusual quality of being timelessly outdated: an eyesore in any decade's context."

Trees—that is, plans to cut them down—have been a particular sore point over the years, especially as environmental awareness grew and the campus continued to develop. The siting of the Ernst Center on the hillside, rather than in the flats at the bottom, sparked accusations that the College was destroying "one of the most beautiful areas on Kenyon's campus," in the words of a letter in the April 4, 1979, Collegian. A similar outcry arose last summer, when employees saw how many trees had been marked for cutting in preparation for two new art buildings. A number of faculty members signed a long, eloquent plea ("The trees are an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace ..."), to no avail.

Interestingly, the 2003-06 construction of the Kenyon Athletic Center—on the flats—paved the way, as it were, for the razing of Ernst and the restoration of the hillside. But that doesn't mean the KAC wasn't controversial itself. (See Un-Kenyon.)

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