NAU history reflected in new book about its buildings

Buildings as History

The people who comprise a university setting change over time and in varying degrees. But the buildings on a college campus are more permanent fixtures, and the stories behind them can contribute greatly to the community culture.

It is the stories behind Northern Arizona University’s buildings that are the foundation for a newly released book, Northern Arizona University: Buildings as History.

Having spent more than 40 years studying and teaching about animal behavior, retired biology professor-turned history buff Lee Drickamer has turned his attention to the buildings that have graced the Northern Arizona University campus from its opening in 1899 to the present.

“A campus like NAU is a museum for those who study and appreciate architecture,” he said.

Teaming up with Peter Runge, a former curator of Special Collections and Archives for NAU’s Cline Library, the authors tell the chronological history of NAU through its physical structures, beginning with Old Main, which was joined by five other buildings prior to World War I.

In the following decades the campus remained relatively small, expanding to about 25 structures by the late 1950s. The university effectively doubled in size during the tenure of President J. Lawrence Walkup (1957-1979), spreading southward and adding more than 40 buildings, including an entire south campus academic area. Since 1979 the campus has witnessed the addition of more than 30 structures, most as infill within the existing campus layout.

“I think the most striking thing that comes from the book is the way in which NAU expanded over the decades in terms of the buildings, the overall size of the school and the changing mission,” Drickamer said. “The way the campus expanded southward and then has begun to fill in provides a perspective on how American higher education shifted after WWII from a plethora of normal schools for teacher training to multi-faceted campuses.”

This extensively illustrated volume briefly describes the history of every building that has been a part of the university’s physical layout. The authors describe various structural aspects of each building and provide entertaining anecdotes about events and people associated with the structures.

By combing the university’s archives, Drickamer and Runge have turned up photographs of each building as it looked shortly after construction and at present, providing an intriguing visual time lapse.

With more than 200 images of campus buildings—many of which have never been published—Northern Arizona University: Buildings as History provides an informative pictorial chronicle of the campus that will interest architectural historians as well as all those who have called NAU home.