University of Kentucky plans to demolish 5 of 11 buildings placed on endangered list

lblackford@herald-leader.comJanuary 30, 2014 

  • 1—Ligon House on South Limestone

    2—Mathews House and Garden on South Limestone (This property is threatened by a planned renovation and expansion of the UK Law School.)

    3—Kirwan-Blanding dormitory complex, designed by famed modernist architect Edward Durrell Stone. UK has not yet made a decision on whether it will be demolished to make way for new housing.

    4—Carnahan House at UK's Coldstream Campus, now unused

    5—Patterson Hall off South Limestone. It is due to be renovated.

    6—Hamilton House on South Limestone

    7—The Quadrangle (Bowman Hall, Breckinridge Hall, Bradley Hall and Kinkead Hall). UK officials said they are maintaining those buildings and have never discussed tearing them down.

    8-11—Buildings designed by architect Ernst Johnson, including the Wenner-Gren Research Laboratory, Jewell Hall, Holmes Hall and Donovan Hall.

  • the Blue Grass Trust's 2014 list of endangered historical structures

Eleven buildings on the University of Kentucky's rapidly changing campus are the most endangered historic structures in Central Kentucky, the Blue Grass Trust announced Thursday.

The preservation group's announcement came just 24 hours before the UK Board of Trustees is expected to approve the demolition of three of the buildings on the list — Jewell and Holmes Halls and Hamilton House — to make way for two new residence halls on the corner of Limestone and Avenue of Champions.

Two more buildings on the list, the Wenner-Gren Research Laboratory and Donovan Hall, which sit next to each other on Rose Street, will also be razed for a new science building, according to UK officials. The fates of several others on the list are still unknown.

"We challenge the university to evolve its thinking about its built environment and consider ways to maintain, preserve, restore and adaptively reuse original campus buildings for a new era," said trust member Bill Johnston, who announced the list of 11 UK buildings.

Three of the five doomed buildings — Jewell and Holmes halls and Wenner-Gren — are by noted modernist architect Ernst Johnson, who designed many buildings on campus, including Memorial Coliseum and Funkhauser Hall.

Jewell Hall, Holmes Hall and Hamilton House, a 19th-century Italianate house which sits on Limestone next to Holmes, will be torn down starting this summer, as construction starts on two massive residence halls, now called Limestone Park I and II. Two additional dorms on the block that are not considered historically or architecturally significant, Keeneland and Boyd, also will be demolished.

Patterson Hall, which is still used as a dorm, will be renovated, and another large dorm, Blazer Hall, will be kept open for its dining facilities for a few more years.

The new dorms are being built through a partnership with a private developer, Memphis-based Education Realty Trust, or EdR. But UK will bear the cost of demolition, about $3.8 million in all.

Hamilton House was built in 1880. Bob Wiseman, vice president for facilities who recently announced his retirement, said officials had discussed trying to move the building, but doing that would cost more than $1 million.

UK spokesman Jay Blanton said the university also considered using Hamilton House as part of the new dorm complex, "but ultimately decided that it would not fit in the context of much larger, more modern residence halls."

The list of endangered buildings also includes UK's Kirwan-Blanding residential complex, which was designed by Edward Durell Stone, a famous mid-century architect who designed the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. UK officials have not yet decided whether to renovate or tear down the complex, which includes two tall dorm towers amid a series of lower buildings and a dining area on several acres of green space.

UK officials said they have listened to local preservationists, and welcome their perspective on different buildings.

"The decision about whether to preserve or demolish a building on the UK campus is, to be sure, a balancing act of often competing values," Blanton said. "It is based on a number of factors and is done thoughtfully and deliberately."

He said the university has tried to grow within its current boundaries, which "places pressure on older, smaller and outdated structures within the critical campus core."

For example, the Wenner-Gren Research Laboratory, a small, curved brick and glass block building, sits where a $100 million science building is scheduled to be built.

Blanton said UK officials explored the possibility of integrating Wenner-Gren into the new building's design, but "it was not feasible."

UK did not explore moving the small building, something preservationists have suggested.

The Blue Grass Trust releases a new list each year of historical structures that are in danger of demolition. According to a Jan. 29 letter to UK President Eli Capilouto, the goal of this year's list "is to initiate a progressive dialogue that creates positive long-term solutions."

The letter also said the trust became concerned when the pre-1800s Cooper House on Spindletop Farm, which is owned by UK, was demolished last year with no notification to the city or anyone else.

"The Blue Grass Trust encourages the University of Kentucky to better incorporate its historically and architecturally important resources into its master plan as a way to visibly utilize its unique heritage to the benefit of the campus and the city of Lexington," the trust said in its letter to Capilouto.

The 19th-century architecture of the Hamilton House is familiar to many Lexington residents, local architect Sarah Tate said, but many are not as well versed in the 20th-century architecture that makes up much of UK's campus.

"UK is a museum of 20th-century architecture," said Tate, who has written several lectures on Ernst Johnson's work in Lexington. "Some of it is the finest out there. I think it is a matter of education."

Hundreds of campuses around the country use their historical building stock to attract and retain students, Tate said. That list includes many of the schools that UK aspires to match in rankings and other measures.

Demolition planned at the corner of Limestone and Avenue of Champions also will erase several tributes to the history of women at UK, which started when the first women were admitted in 1880. Jewell, Boyd, and Holmes were all named for early female administrators. Hamilton House was an early classroom building for female students, and it later became a hospitality center for Good Samaritan Hospital.

Patterson Hall, which will be renovated, was the first residence hall for women.

Capilouto has asked UK's special collections to prepare more information on the block's history.

"The planning for this next step in our campus revitalization has reminded me of how invisible over time some of our most important stories and history have become — the integral role women have played in leading and opening up our campus to more people from all backgrounds," Capilouto said in a statement.

Linda Carroll, former president of the Blue Grass Trust, said the group hopes to open more dialogue with UK, which as a state agency isn't required to get community support for its demolition plans, but those plans affect the larger community.

"UK is an institution of higher learning that needs to elevate its thought," Carroll said.

Members of the Board of Trustees are usually briefed before big votes and rarely discuss them during meetings, but vice chairman Keith Gannon said he was sure board members would talk about the proposed demolition Friday.

"Personally, I'm very sensitive to historical issues," Gannon said. "If this has just come up and we haven't been made aware of it, I'm sure there will be discussion about it. I'm always assured that what we do is done with a lot of community input and as much consensus as we can get."

Linda Blackford: (859) 231-1359. Twitter: @lbblackford.

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