Romance Language Building
In 1928 when the new University Museum on North University was completed, the old University Museum on the central campus became the Romance Language Building. It was built in 1880-81 and housed the natural history and anthropological collections of the University. The plans for the old Museum, which were prepared by Major William Le Baron Jenney, Professor of Architecture and Design, were submitted to the Regents and approved in July, 1879. The building, was of brick with stone trim, stood on State Street between University Hall and Alumni Memorial Hall.
During subsequent years, when the building was used as a museum, many defects in its construction developed. Built without a basement, the ground floor settled and a new one had to be installed. In 1894 the original roof proved too heavy and was replaced with “a makeshift affair fastened together with so curious a system of trusses and bolts” that classes from the Department of Architecture were accustomed to visit it. The building also was inadequate in point of space. Only one floor and half of another could be used for exhibits; there was also a shortage of storage room, which necessitated the use of an abandoned elevator shaft for this purpose; moreover, the building was very badly lighted for the display of exhibits.
These difficulties in the use of the building as a museum became increasingly obvious. By 1923 it was reported that at least 75 per cent of the specimens possessed by the University were kept in storage because of inadequate facilities for display and that some of the collections had not been unpacked since 1878. The risk of fire to the collections, which were valued in 1923 at $2,000,000, was serious. The result was that while the Museum was still housed in this building the University was forced to decline many valuable collections.
These continually increasing problems did not come to an end until the new University Museum was constructed. The old building, because of its advantageous position on the campus, was assigned to the Department of Romance Languages. Extensive alterations, including the construction of classrooms at a cost of about $20,000, were carried out, as far as possible, with fireproof materials. The building, which was painted a light gray, contains the offices and classrooms of the Department.
Wilfred B. Shaw
Romance Languages Building 1928- 1958