CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Anyone who spends time wandering the heart of Oregon State University’s main Corvallis campus knows it’s a lovely place, abundant with lush Pacific Northwest greenery, rife with stately red brick buildings and rich with history.
The uniqueness of the place was not lost on the National Park Service, which recently announced that is has placed not just a building but an entire “historic district” of OSU structures, green spaces and plans on the National Register of Historic Places. Some 83 “historic resources” are involved, including such icons as Weatherford Hall, the Memorial Union and Benton Hall, which at the age of 116, is the oldest building on campus.
OSU is now Oregon’s only public or private college or university so represented on the register. In fact, only a handful of campuses nationally have secured such a district, among them the College of William & Mary and Washington and Lee University. The designation thrilled Campus Planning Manager Patty McIntosh, who began creating the university’s nomination for the honor two years ago, supported by a $190,000 grant from the Getty Foundation.
“We were amazed – this was a two-year planning effort that just seemed to go through flawlessly,” she said. “Obviously, we’re very happy to be part of an effort to put OSU at the forefront of Oregon history.”
The State Advisory Committee for Historic Preservation unanimously approved the nomination last February. After a few refinements, the nomination package went to the U.S. Dept. of the Interior and the National Park Service, which finalized the district over the summer.
Though Oregon has 110 other historic districts on the National Register, none is part of a college or university campus. One major reason that OSU’s historic district now finds itself on the register is the campus plan upon which it was based, created in 1909 by famed architect John C. Olmsted of the Boston-based Olmsted Brothers landscape architecture firm.
The Olmsted architectural legacy includes a long list of national treasures – Yosemite National Park and Central Park in New York City among them – and many of John Olmsted’s recommendations. are visible in features that distinguish OSU’s 570-acre campus: the open park-like area in the lower campus, buildings surrounding open-space quads with diagonal crosswalks and harmony of design and architecture. The intent of the plan, McIntosh says, remains in effect today.
"The defining trait of the plan is the quads – buildings surrounding open spaces. Our tree-lined streets are part of that plan, too,” said McIntosh. “We retained the red brick building design, and the mass and scale of buildings are similar to what was envisioned by our campus architect, John V. Bennes of Portland, who designed more than 50 buildings on campus, including Gilkey, Batcheller, Kidder and Bexell.”
Inclusion on the register will help make OSU more competitive for grant funding from private foundations and organizations seeking to preserve historic structures, McIntosh said.
OSU and Corvallis, which has some 500 other properties on the register, may benefit in other, more immediate ways. OSU is asking the Oregon Dept. of Transportation to place brown historical marker signage on Interstate 5 to make travelers aware of the campus historic district 10 miles west of the highway.
Campus planners are also working with a private architectural design firm to create signage for campus and for street signs around the historic district perimeter. The signs will be paid for with remaining funds from the Getty Foundation grant.
“We’re excited about the possibilities the new designation creates to raise awareness of the historic significance and beauty of Oregon State,” said McIntosh.