This blog post will be the only fanfare Tuesday for a structure about to meet its demise on the Abilene Christian University campus, one perhaps best known by its nearly anonymous description: “that one-story building between Bennett Gym and Chambers Hall.”
History shows it actually helped speak volumes about ACU for more than 50 years.
One of only two buildings erected during the Great Depression and World War II, the Utility Building as it first became known was requested in February 1937 by sixth president James F. Cox and the Board of Trustees to serve as a fire-proof structure large enough for a store room, Carpenter Shop, Print Shop and double garage.
The only other ACU building project completed from 1930-45 was Morris Stadium, which served as the on-campus home of the football and track and field teams (Its footprint today is largely occupied by the Mabee Business Building). The one-story brick Utility Building was nearly 2,500 square feet in size, cost $3,390.35 and when it opened in October 1938, also doubled as office space for The Optimist student newspaper.
“Such a building would pay for itself in saving within two years,” Cox said in his 1937 annual report to the board. “We could take better care of our tools and janitor supplies, take better care of our bus and a needed truck, do more of our repair work and do it better, and do more of our printing.”
By Fall 1941, the Utility Building also became home to a classroom for students studying Civil Aeronautics and a new location for the library’s book bindery enterprise. Later, some of the athletics staff would office there as well. The Print Shop handled everything from The Optimist and Prickly Pear yearbook to course catalogs and all manner of printed material for Abilene Christian in an era when publishing was virtually the only way for the college to communicate with students and alumni.
The late Irvin Hiler (’45) was a student employee from 1942-45 in the Print Shop, which was run by Homer Howk (’34). Hiler ended up marrying Howk’s daughter, Alta Faye Howk (’47) and becoming manager of the operation, beginning a 41-year career overseeing publications and printing for his alma mater. The Hilers were married 58 years when Alta Faye died in 2007; Irv passed away in 2013.
The Print Shop became a part of Communication Services, which included professionals in public, media and sports relations; graphic design; film-making; and photography. Hiler later turned his focus to only printing, including the many books and Bible commentaries published for ACU Press.
When the Print Shop moved to the first floor of Zellner Hall and then to a storefront on Campus Court, and Communication Services relocated to the third floor of Zellner, the little one-story building became the home of campus security, and eventually, offices for WFF Facilities Services. ACU converted its Print Shop to a Copy Center in the 1990s, until the prevalence of photocopiers on campus made a central facility cost-prohibitive.
Like the old Utility Building, Chambers Hall will soon find itself – and lose its identity – in demolition. Two of ACU’s oldest structures will make way, in part, for the gleaming new Halbert-Walling Research Center, one of three major science buildings that are part of the $75 million Vision in Action initiative.
The wordsmiths who worked in The Little Building That Could would have a big time creating metaphors for the work done inside through the years. It fades away starting today, like remnants of a late February ice storm on a warm early day in March. But its story as an unassuming home for students and professional staff who, together, told ACU’s story to the world for five decades, will hopefully not be forgotten.