Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2007 | 7:12 a.m.
The name that graces UNLV's first building is that of Maude Frazier, the local educator who pushed state leaders to build a university in Las Vegas decades ago.
To those who knew her, Frazier, who died in 1963, was more than a name on a building.
Though Frazier never married and had no sons or daughters of her own, she loved the children of Las Vegas, friends say.
They remember her as the woman so dedicated to education that nothing would keep her from her students. She kept a shovel in her Dodge and on her way to visit schools across Southern Nevada, she would stop the car where the road was damaged.
"She shoveled rocks and dirt into the holes and made a road," remembers Donna Andress. Now 82, Andress studied at Las Vegas High School in the 1940s when Frazier, who had come from Wisconsin to teach as a young woman, was principal there and superintendent of the school district. "She was very, very self-sufficient."
So to old-timers who knew Frazier, UNLV's plan to demolish Maude Frazier Hall is a personal matter.
The school wants to replace the cramped one-story building on Maryland Parkway with a formal gateway that will make the campus more inviting to visitors and students. Preservationists hope to save at least part of the 50-year-old structure, saying it has historical if not architectural significance.
County commissioners joined the debate Tuesday by adopting a resolution advocating the preservation of Frazier Hall. Higher education regents plan to discuss the demolition and the preservation of campus buildings at their meeting in Las Vegas next week.
And Frazier's old friends, divided in their views, took time this week to share their thoughts.
State higher education Regent Thalia Dondero drove Frazier to state parent-teacher meetings in Tonopah in the 1960s. She says tearing down Frazier Hall would insult history and the woman it honors. UNLV has only one first building, and separating the building from Frazier is not easy, she said.
Frazier "had a great appreciation for the history of Nevada and she was part of it," said Dondero, 86.
When legislators told Las Vegans to come up with $35,000 to help buy land for the school that would become UNLV, Frazier led fundraising efforts. Along with other local educators, she initiated the "Porchlight Campaign" of 1955, during which high school seniors visited every valley home asking for money for the university-to-be, according to "Las Vegas: A Centennial History," by Eugene Moehring and Michael Green.
The fundraisers succeeded, and in 1956 Frazier dug up the first shovelful of dirt to start construction of Frazier Hall, which opened a year later.
Saving history is important, even if expensive, Dondero said.
But others who knew Frazier say the estimated cost of renovating Frazier Hall - $15 million, according to UNLV - seems excessive for a 16,600-square-foot structure.
"I don't think the building is that special," said Walter Long, 82, who graduated from Las Vegas High School in 1943. "I would like to see (Frazier) recognized in some other way on the campus."
Andress does not share Long's attitude about Frazier Hall, but agrees that honoring the woman matters more than saving a building.
"It's the name that is synonymous with early Las Vegas ... Let's save a few things," Andress said. "If we're not going to save the building, let's put her name on something else at that university."
Before razing the building, UNLV officials should decide how to honor Frazier, said Andress' husband, Gail Andress, 82, who also studied at Las Vegas High under Frazier's watch.
That's the plan. School leaders say they recognize the need to remember Frazier in a significant way, such as naming the new gateway to the campus after her.
Frazier, who rose to become a state assemblywoman and Nevada's first woman lieutenant governor, commanded students' and voters' respect.
She carried a bunch of keys that jingled as she patrolled the hallways of Las Vegas High School, and Donna and Gail Andress remember that sound and how kids would stand up straighter when they heard it.
Over the years, Frazier hired Donna Andress' mother, Long's father and Dondero's husband as teachers in Las Vegas.
Dondero still has the 1931 telegram Frazier sent to her husband making the offer. Straight to the point, the one-paragraph message lays out the pay ($1,620 for the year) and the subjects he would teach (algebra and public speaking).
"Work begins immediately," Frazier wrote. "Please wire reply ... "
Frazier and the building that bears her name are not one and the same. But in some ways it is hard to separate them.
Dondero's description of Frazier the woman seems also an apt portrayal of Frazier the building: down-to-earth, strait-laced, no frills.