Visible clouds of breath hang about as we all look upon what remains of the original murals of the Ferdinand’s ice cream shop once located in the now deserted Troy Hall.
The first home of the dairy department, Troy is in the middle of campus and in poor condition. Roped off for safety, this 1920s brick structure has been on the University’s capital planning list for renovation for a few years now. It is currently in the design stage of what is expected to be a $40 million renovation so that it can be a suitable home for environmental sciences and chemistry.
As rotting bits of ceiling hang above us and more pieces are scattered on the floor, our small group has a rare opportunity to explore the empty halls and rooms. Some of the project’s planners and designers and I start our tour in the first-floor room where Ferdinand’s opened in the 1940s, and where a few rare glimpses of the first Ferdinand murals can be found.
We can see disoriented patches of images straight from the children’s book illustrations of The Story of Ferdinand.
Simply painted in brown and white, an image of a baby bull named Ferdinand and a bit of text on a teal blue background peeks out from one wall. Several emails, phone calls, and a look into the University’s archives suggest that in 1951–1952 physical plant painter Steve Allured crafted the murals after the name Ferdinand’s was given to the shop.
Three of the four walls were once covered with the murals, but then they were all but erased thanks to a remodel of Troy Hall during 1970–1973. According to Marc Bates, who managed the creamery from 1974 to 2000, “parts of that remodel caused new pipes and conduits to be routed through the ceiling area of Ferdinand’s, causing damage to the original mural.”
To mask the damages, a false ceiling was built, which then covered more of the murals. Rich Brim ’77 took photographs of what remained the original murals before they were nearly covered over with further improvements. Those images were the inspiration for yet another painter to transfer the story onto the pieces of five large panels of plywood.
Putting the paintings on panels made it easier to clean and manage the walls in the small shop in Troy. They served their purpose into the early 1990s. But when Ferdinand’s moved from Troy Hall to the Food Quality Building in May of 1992, there was no room for them. Instead, an even smaller, newer version of the Ferdinand story was put up.
And the striking plywood paintings were stashed away. But not forever.
In 2000, the current manager of the creamery found the panels in the basement of the Food Quality Building. “I thought it would be a real waste for people not to see them,” says Russ Salvadalena. “Then three of four years ago as I was walking past the Food Science office I noticed these big empty spaces on the walls. So I talked to the School of Food Science and asked them if we could put the panels up there.”
It took a few years and some convincing, but the panels were eventually taken from storage for cleaning and restoration and placed back into public view. Though the painter of the second set of murals is still a mystery, Bates believes that the artists’ name might be on the back of one of the panels that now dominate the walls of the main stairwell in the west part of the Food Science building.
Now, when people stop by Ferdinand’s to sample the creamery’s newest flavors of ice cream, they can also slip around the corner and into the main hall of Food Science building for a taste of the past.