Urban Campus

Modlin Fine Arts Building

Booker Hall (formerly George M. Modlin Fine Arts Building)

View of Booker from the front at an angle.

"The arts, quite simply, nourish the soul. They sustain, comfort, and inspire. There is nothing like that exquisite moment when when you first discover the beauty of connecting with others in celebration of larger ideas and shared wisdom." - Gordan Gee. 

Though often underappreciated, the arts are a crucial part of any college campus. Fostering creativity, inclusion and ingenuity, an arts program can include anything from orchestra to sculpting, making such a building one of the most architecturally challenging buildings to build. Booker Hall of Music manages to house more that twenty different types of arts under one roof, a feat quite in itself without even considering that it was built in 1968. Although often overshadowed by Modlin, Booker has a rich history of music and theater as it was the first building on campus to unify all the arts, giving the scores of art students a home away from home. 

Booker Hall of Music, originally known as Modlin Fine Arts Building and affectionately called the FAB, was built around 1968. The architects behind this project were Corneal & Johnson and it was erected by the Bass Company. The groundbreaking of the FAB was on August 17th, 1966, and was officially opened around November 2nd, 1968 with the production of Oliver! This building was funded by Ur’s campaign “Progress Campaign,” which also funded three other buildings around the same time and, overall, cost around one million dollars. Though there were very few complications, which was impressive, like problems with the acoustics, the date it was to be opened was pushed back and the price was increased to two million dollars. One of the main reasons Booker was complicated to build, though there weren’t many problems while building it, was because it had to accommodate several different kinds of arts. From the theater, which needed to have perfect acoustics for different kinds of performances, to the orchestra and choir room, which needed to be semi soundproof so not to disturb the rest of the building, to storing paintings and sculptures, which needed to have proper heating and cooling systems, there were several things that could have gone wrong. Despite several factors that could have disrupted the construction, the architects and construction workers executed the construction perfectly.

One of the main purposes of this building was to consolidate all the arts into one building. During the 1960s, there was a sharp increase in the number of students applying to colleges and many of these students decided to pursue a career in the arts. Before the FAB, the arts were split up into different temporary buildings that weren’t meant for the arts. For example, the theater was housed in Quonset huts that could only house an audience of around 140 people. Additionally, the Quonset hut didn’t have the right kind of lighting and sound equipment to properly pull of some shows. Though many students were fond of the Quonset huts, many of the professors were glad to have a theater worthy of the brilliant performances put on by the drama department. 

Booker (Modlin Fine Arts Building)

Diagram of the inside of Booker.

This building had everything an arts building is meant to have and more. From the Camp Theater, which was named after James L. Camp Sr. who was a member of the Board of Trustees, to the rotating art gallery, the building was the pinnacle of ingenuity. The Camp Theater, which can hold up to 700 people, has features such as four large curtains that control the acoustics so that the audience could hear a performer whispering or a booming choir. The theater also had a trap door, state of the art lighting and sound systems, and around 11 well lit makeup and costume rooms. This theater was the pride of the school for several years before Modlin was built. In addition to the theater, the FAB also had a band room right under the choir room and because of special features that could “deaden” or “liven” the music, both sets of students could practice at the same time and not hear each other. FAB also had an art gallery that apparently had rotating art displays that would be changed out every week. It also had several smaller features like glass cases along the first floor displaying art, and sound rooms with headphones. The building was one of the most impressive structures on campus, until it started to deteriorate and Modlin was built. According to the 1973 directory, the FAB housed everything from speech and debate, to theater, dance and visual arts. However, after Modlin was built, many of these classes were moved and according to the 2010 directory mainly speech and debate are now hosted in Booker.

Unfortunately, Booker hit its limit as Modlin was under construction. The building started to flood because of the air conditioning system, the glass cabinets slowly started to empty, the dance floors became uneven, and no one knows where the arty gallery is anymore. It’s unfortunate because this building was once a matter of pride, yet now its old and, though still beautiful, isn’t used as much.

 Overall, Booker is one of the most significant buildings on campus as it was the first building to unite all the arts. The beautiful architecture and rich history of the building gives it character. Though it is tragic that it isn’t being used or respected like it was before, it will always be an important part of our campus.

Modlin Fine Arts Building