Twenty five years ago the WSU “farm barn” with its cattle stalls and hayloft was converted into a welcome landing for visiting alumni and their families and friends. The ground-floor livestock area was transformed with a visitors’ desk, an open lounge with distinct seating areas, a small library, and several charming meeting rooms. The second level under the gambrel roof became a bright, open space perfect for parties, reunions, and game day gatherings.
The farm barn had been a landmark on the east side of campus since the 1920s when it was built to serve the agriculture school. Over the years, offices, laboratories, and classroom buildings sprouted out of the surrounding farmland and by the 1980s, the animals had been moved away from the central campus. The barn was deemed obsolete and scheduled to be demolished. But the Washington State University Alumni Association stepped forward with an offer to convert the landmark into a home for the organization.
A groundswell of support and donations from alumni and friends got the project started. Donors Jack and Ann Lewis gave $1 million and their name to the project. Architects Steve McNutt ’71 and Robert Grossman ’59 took on the challenge of remaking the building.
After traveling to other campuses seeking ideas for the renovation, the architects returned to Pullman to create not only a home for the alumni association, but a flexible space for campus gatherings, retirement parties, and starting this summer, wedding receptions. The building hosts 300-400 events a year.
Now, after 25 years, the structure is undergoing another overhaul, albeit on a much smaller scale. New furnishings, paint, lighting, and a variety of upgrades will bring the building up to date.
“For years the Alumni Centre has served as the University’s living room. We want to keep it fresh, contemporary, and useful to campus,” says Mark Wilcomb ’85, director of finance and operations with WSUAA. Part of that is building in more technology, offering wireless access for individual visitors as well as facilities for technology-based interactive meetings for groups. The association is revisiting the original ideas of architects McNutt and Grossman. By drawing ideas from the original plans “we’re hoping to offer even more of a Cougar feel than there is right now,” says Wilcomb.
Though the renovation will be underway throughout the summer, the center is welcoming visitors and commemorating the anniversary with displays of memorabilia and gifts from alumni. “We have the green freshman beanie, we get huge laughs with that,” says Wilcomb. Other items include a 1912 cadet’s uniform and a medal of honor donated by James Fleming ’66, an Air Force colonel honored for his life-saving actions piloting a helicopter rescue in South Vietnam.
The displays and a series of events celebrating the center’s anniversary will take place throughout the summer, culminating in the fall during Homecoming and the golden and diamond graduates’ reunions.
“We want to be an exciting and inviting twenty-first-century facility,” says Wilcomb. “But we’ll never forget our roots.”
For more information about WSUAA and alumni chapters go to alumni.wsu.edu or call 1-800-258-6978.
Video: A building is “re-barn” – Architect Robert Grossman ’59 and the WSU Lewis Alumni Centre