Las Vegas Sun

November 12, 2018

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Take a long look at Frazier Hall

Hailed as great achievement when it opened in 1957, building serves last students

Image

Tiffany Brown

Frazier Hall, UNLV’s oldest building, will be demolished to make way for a park officials hope will be an inviting gateway to the university.

The heyday of UNLV’s Maude Frazier Hall passed long ago. Few would contest that.

Click to enlarge photo

In the early 1960s, when this photo likely was taken, Frazier Hall was the epicenter of the fledgling UNLV campus, originally Nevada Southern University.

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It must have been an exciting time. In its glory days, the campus’s first building housed everything — the library, the classrooms, the offices, the science laboratories.

Students shared cigarettes and stories on the patio. Snakes, frogs and lizards for biology classes lived in hallway cages.

More than all that, though, Frazier Hall stood as a symbol of achievement for Southern Nevadans. Its 1957 opening validated the labors of visionaries who had fought to bring a university here. The building, a brick and cinder block shoe box fixed on a canvas of barren desert, was the culmination of what many people had once ridiculed as an impossible dream.

Now, after 50 years, Frazier Hall’s long run is coming to a close. This week, the 100 or so employees who still work there, mostly folks in the registrar’s and admissions offices, are moving out.

Next week, the doors that have been open longer than any others at UNLV are scheduled to close to students, presumably forever.

College officials say it would cost too much to renovate the building, so they plan, instead, to demolish it over winter break.

Preservationists are crying sin. But some people with close ties to the university say the planned wrecking of Frazier Hall, like its construction so many years ago, is actually, in some ways, a point of pride. UNLV has grown so fast, they say, it no longer needs the little building that once meant everything.

“It shows that the university’s taking off,” said alum Dean Gaudette, who finished his master’s degree in education in 1998 and stopped by Frazier Hall on Thursday to request transcripts.

The building’s meaning has changed a lot over the years. Many of today’s students don’t know it was the epicenter of the campus, and they see it as little more than an eyesore.

In 1957, when UNLV was Nevada Southern University, Frazier Hall was the talk of the town in Las Vegas. On March 18 that year, a Monday, the Sun and the Review-Journal ran cover stories documenting the building’s progress.

“College education got out of its toddling clothes in Southern Nevada yesterday when the cornerstone of the first building on the Nevada Southern campus was laid by the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons in Nevada,” the Sun reported. “The colorful ceremony, which attracted a crowd of nearly 1,000, was conducted by Charles E. Fleming of Reno, most worshipful grand master, with scores of ranking Nevada Masons representing every section of the state taking part.”

The Boulder City High School band, along with the Kiwanis quartet accompanied by an organist, provided the soundtrack on the “rather chilly afternoon,” according to the Review-Journal story. Dignitaries including the lieutenant governor spread mortar.

On Sept. 10, 1957, the day Frazier Hall opened for classes, Sun founding publisher Hank Greenspun pondered, in his front-page column, the significance of the new campus.

He noted that he was from New Haven, Conn., home to Yale University.

“The whole town centered around the university and just living in the same town gave us a feeling of being someone. When a professor evolved a famous theory which brought nationwide renown, we gloried in his reward. When Albie Booth scored an impressive touchdown, we took pride in his feat. And we never went to Yale. But we were still part of it.”

Nevada Southern, Greenspun wrote, would grow to become the pride of Las Vegas. To him, Frazier Hall’s dedication was the “biggest news of the year.”

“The students who trudge through the desert to get to the one building, which houses all the classes, are just the forerunner of thousands who will one day walk along sidewalks between numerous buildings,” he predicted.

He was right. UNLV, which had about 500 students in 1957, now has about 28,000. Academic departments, classes and the library all moved out of Frazier Hall as new buildings rose.

Today, the university’s first structure rattles, whistles and creaks with age. Heavy dust clings to many of its wheezing air vents. As someone once told Flora Jones, an office supervisor in the admissions division, Frazier Hall speaks to students. It says, “Come in, do your business, and get the hell out.”

On Thursday, Jones, who has worked in the building since October 1980, swapped Frazier Hall stories with three other old-timers.

Over the years, over frequent potlucks, the colleagues have become like family. Out front are trees employees planted in memory of Diane, Ginger and Marietta, co-workers who died.

“We spend more time in this building than we do at home,” said Karen Calder, assistant to the registrar. She has clocked 23 years in the facility.

Still, Calder, Jones and two fellow Frazier Hall veterans said they’re ready to move. The complex across campus where they’ll be working will unite departments including financial aid, the registrar and admissions, which will be better for students.

So Frazier Hall will spend its last semester at UNLV empty, overlooking Maryland Parkway. And in winter the old building, ever faithful, will serve its university one final time, giving up its spot to make room for a park, a gateway to the bustling campus on which it once stood all alone.

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