Cornerstone Cassette, Part 1: The Location

Right after Thanksgiving 1983 I spent a couple of hours in the WTLX studios down in the basement of Clay Hall, spinning almost two dozen 45s while a blank cassette whirled away in the recorder that the station had acquired that fall. I wrote names of song and artist on the accompanying card and soon after handed it off to the folks on the Transylvania University Student Activity Board. On Saturday, December 3, at the end of the dedication service for the William T. Young Campus Center, the tape was sealed up in the new building’s cornerstone; it’s resided in that time capsule ever since.

Earlier this year, I learned that Transy’s plans for a new campus center on the site of the soon-to-be-demolished women’s dorm Forrer Hall include a gutting and renovation of the Young Center. My mind immediately went to the time capsule—might they choose to crack it open with that construction? It turns out not—I think they’re wanting to wait a half-century—but that led me to wonder: what else had gone into the capsule? I was pretty certain the contents had been listed in the Rambler, TU’s student newspaper, but a search through my bins of college memorabilia revealed I hadn’t kept a copy of that specific issue.

Last week I spent a couple of hours in the Special Collections section of Transy’s library, looking through two folders stuffed with items related to the opening of the Young Center. I had correctly guessed they had the issue of the Rambler concerning the dedication, but I found so much more: articles in the Lexington Leader (one of the city’s two dailies back then), internal memos, floor plans, letters from alums, and dozens of pictures. It dawned on me there might be a story of interest, at least to a few folks, waiting to be told; we’ll see if I can do it some measure of justice.

I: The Site
It’s not clear from the materials I searched just how far back the quest for a student center on Transy’s campus goes, but by early 1978 the school’s Board of Curators had a firm idea of where it should be built: on land the college owned on North Broadway, between Forrer Hall and Fourth Street. There was a moderately delicate matter to address, however. Four turn-of-the century houses (three facing Broadway, one on Fourth) currently sat there, and both the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation and the Northside Neighborhood Association wouldn’t be happy about their demolition. The Board voted that May to raze the houses to make way for a new building. A charm offensive/defense began in the papers that summer and fall.


There were other opinion pieces in the files, one pro-preservation and a response to that crafted by a Board member who looks to have had some credibility with the preservation crowd. Ultimately, neither the BGT nor NNA could keep the houses from coming down; there’s a Rambler from March 79 featuring a front-page article about and picture of the mostly-leveled plot.

II. The Groundbreaking
The houses came down with the idea that a student center could be completed in 1980, coinciding with TU’s bicentennial. I can’t tell if this was a realistic goal; while it’s not made explicit, slowish fundraising seemed to be an ongoing issue.  I found some memos from the early 80s outlining various plans to gather dollars sufficient for its construction. In the meantime, Dr. William Kelly, TU’s President since 1976, resigned in 1981, and his immediate predecessor, Dr. Irvin Lunger, took over in an interim role. One wonders if the change in leadership had a role in the time it took to feel confident in proceeding.

At the same time, a local architecture firm, Johnson-Romanowitz, had been brought on to design a building. Plans included an expansion of the dining area in the cafeteria and an overhaul of its kitchen facilities, adjacent to the construction zone. Price tag: $4-4.5 million.


Note the placeholder name the architects used in their sketch of the exterior!

But money did continue to be raised for the project, and sometime in early 1982 plans began forming to break ground on May 15, as a part of Alumni Weekend. The first envelope I opened when I started combing through the folders last week contained pictures from this ceremony. I didn’t take a photo of the first shovels of dirt being overturned, alas, but here’s an anticipatory report from a mailing to alums and friends, called the Transylvania Crier:


III. The Naming
Over the summer of 82, an appeal went out from Dr. Lunger to alums and friends of the college; it included a flyer with information about and a sketch of the proposed building similar to what you saw above. I discovered two handwritten responses from recipients. One, from a 1926 alumna, noted she had donated a small sum years ago to go toward a campus swimming pool and the enclosed check was to be used only for support of the same. The other was, well, less receptive to the pitch and had a few thoughts about the new building’s appearance:


(Gideon Shryock was the 19th century Greek Revival architect who designed Old Morrison, Transy’s iconic administration building.)

Another way to tell that fundraising for the campus center was ongoing post-groundbreaking was that the building still did not have a name. I came across an interesting note that I think was from one member of the Board to another. The author sketched out two possibilities for names. One was William T. Young, Lexington businessman/philanthropist/then-Board chair. The author acknowledges this is the likeliest outcome, but wonders if an additional naming gift in support might still be desirable. The other, much more speculative, was one of Transy’s more well-known alums, a man who had experienced success in multiple fields. The memo goes on to suggest that some space in the campus center could be dedicated to the display of memorabilia from his careers. I saw no evidence in the files that this second possibility was ever pursued. There is evidence, however, of a substantial, anonymous donation of stock from a friend of the college in November 82,  which might have been the ‘additional gift’ on behalf of Young.

By this point, I was on campus as a freshman, the college had a new President, Dr. David Brown (I wrote about my interactions with him last year), and construction had been going on for a few months.

It’s not until the following spring that any announcement regarding a name was made, though. A ceremony was held on May 28, 1983, in the unfinished interior of the building. There are several documents in the file discussing the specs (and cost) of a plaque, bearing an image of Young’s head and shoulders, to be mounted in the center when it opened. A model of the plaque was revealed at this event.


Dr. Brown is on the left. The inscription reads, “This building is named in honor of William T. Young to recognize his service to this university, the city of Lexington, and the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”

Over the summer, however, Dr. Brown departed the university, and Dr. Charles Shearer, the VP of Finance, assumed the presidency. I didn’t recall seeing such a plaque on display in the Young Center during my time at Transy; after learning about it last week, I went back over there and looked around, just to see if I’d overlooked something.  It’s not there. My guess is that Mr. Young didn’t want it.

IV. The Dedication
The target date for opening must have originally been January 1984, at the beginning of the Winter Term, but work went so well over the summer and fall that Dr. Shearer made the call to hold the “Dedication and Laying of the Cornerstone” a month ahead of schedule.


I didn’t attend, but there are pictures! I’m going to do a little compare-and-contrast with some I’ve taken in recent weeks.


My good friend Lana was president of the Student Activities Board, and she was tasked with describing the items to go in the cornerstone (I know that’s what’s going on here because the files in the library include a tape recording of the dedication service as well as a transcript of the proceedings). By the way, that’s Gov. John Y. Brown, Jr.—he had just ten days left in his term—and Dean of the College Dr. Asa Humphries in the background.

They called the area where the dedication was held a canteen, but I’d say it was more of a lounge/gathering space. It had a large screen projection TV and plenty of tables and chairs. If it originally had vending machines, I never used them. Here’s what it looks like now.


Yes, those are sketches of the new campus center on the easels, coming to a college near me in 2020. (And no, a naming gift hasn’t been received yet—some things don’t seem to change?)

In the beginning there was a game room. Here’s a young attendee at the dedication checking out what was on offer:


Some number of years ago, that room was converted into office space for the Center for Campus & Community Engagement. The far wall in the picture on the right is where that bank of games stood.


And here’s what they have available now, video game-wise (if you squint you can see it above, lurking behind an easel):


But where were we? Oh yeah, the contents of the time capsule. Here’s the list, courtesy of a special issue of the Rambler:


So, what had I put on the tape? If you’re suspecting that I kept records, you are most certainly correct. Hate to leave you with a cliffhanger, but this has already taken so long that I’m going to hold off on revealing the playlist until Thursday.


Many, many thanks to B.J. Gooch, Special Collections Librarian and University Archivist at Transy, for providing me with the file material and allowing me to take pictures of documents and photographs.

Bonus content! I didn’t expect to find a picture with me in it in those files, but I did, a rare action shot of me with my trombone (and even more rarely, one with me wearing a silly hat).


It was in an envelope labeled “Pictures of Campus Center Groundbreaking,” but that’s incorrect. It’s from the spring of 85, at the groundbreaking for the Warren Rosenthal Residence Complex.  That would open a little down Fourth Street from the Young Center a year later, just in time for my last semester.

I let Ms. Gooch know that the envelope had been misfiled.

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