Germaine Price, a UM alumna who graduated in 1983, recalls attending photography classes in the Art Building when she was a student.
“It was not what I was expecting from a college campus,” she said. “The paint was peeling, and the floor was creaking. I guess it had that funky college feel.”
Price is referring to the building that currently houses the graphic design and multimedia departments, which is located on the north end of campus near the Memorial Building and the L-1 Building.
The Coral Gables Historic Preservation Board designated the building historic in 2010 because it “exemplifies the historic … or social trends of the community,” according to a report published by the Gables Historic Resources Department.
The building is being renovated after the university deemed it unsafe in 2003, according to an article published in The Miami Hurricane. Before 2003, the building was called the Art Building, featuring most of the art programs that are now located in the new Studio Arts Complex on Levante Avenue.
The building’s current renovation, which began in November 2011, will provide office spaces for the political science, international studies and geography departments, said Leonidas Bachas, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. The renovation is expected to be completed in the fall of 2013.
“The building will be the new home for researchers and students in political science, international studies and geography,” he said. “The college is pleased and excited that our historic administration building is being restored to its former glory.”
The estimated cost of the renovation was not available, but it will be more costly because it is a wood building in poor condition, said Janet Gavarrete, associate vice president of campus planning and development.
“It is a costly renovation/rehabilitation for two main reasons,” she said. “It is a wood building, and secondly it was in very poor condition with a very labor intensive cost of wood construction and renovation. Lastly, the building will meet the current building code in terms of safety and ADA and other storm resistant standards.”
Price witnessed only one version of the building’s several incarnations that began after World War II.
In the early 1940s, the Art Building was built from surplus military barracks and helped accommodate returning veterans who took advantage of the G.I. Bill that offered benefits like defraying tuition costs and living expenses. The building was one of the “shacks” that was constructed under emergency circumstances because university enrollment increased from 1,923 in 1945 to 5,800 in 1946.
The building served as the university’s main administration building before the completion of permanent structures such as Merrick and Memorial. The administration building contained the offices of the president, secretary, treasurer, dean of the graduate school, director of admissions and director of athletics.
The Art Building’s architectural significance also designates the building as historic.
Marion Manley, the first registered female architect in Miami, “rearranged sections of wood frame barracks buildings into an inventive and practical, attractive academic office building, later adapted again for classroom use,” according to the Gables Historic report. Manley served as president of the South Florida chapter of the American Institute of Architects and vice-president of the Florida Association of Architects.
The design plan followed a similar scheme to the Memorial Building, with a central corridor that runs the length of the structure and a rectangular layout.
The renovation will restore the building’s exterior, enhancing its structure. Other features, such as the existing wood railings and interior partitions, will be restored and reconfigured to meet the needs of the future administration building.
“You want the building to retain its character but still look modern and nice,” Price said. “With the rest of the campus looking modern and sophisticated, you don’t want this one building looking ramshackle.”