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Annie May Swift: Everything Old is New Again

One of the oldest academic buildings on the Evanston campus has a modern makeover that retains the historic features of the structure.

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November 11, 2008
EVANSTON, Ill. --- One of the oldest academic buildings on the Evanston campus has an all-new look – a modern makeover that retains the historic features of the structure.

Annie May Swift Hall, built in 1895 and now an Evanston Historic Landmark, is now home again to School of Communication faculty members.

Radio/TV/Film, performance studies, and speech and rhetoric faculty in communication studies moved back to the renovated structure this fall. They had moved temporarily to the 1800 Sherman Avenue Building, and The McCoy Foundation basement studios of student radio station WNUR-FM moved permanently to remodeled space in John J. Louis Hall.

Renovation of the 27,000-square-foot building included preservation of historic features; renovation of faculty and staff offices; restoration of both seminar-style classrooms on the first-floor; renovation and restoration of the Peggy Dow Helmerich Auditorium (named for actress Peggy Dow Helmerich, a member of the School of Communication Class of 1948 who donated funds for the renovation of the auditorium); construction of an elevator serving all floors; and installation of a first-floor flexible teaching area, similar to a black-box theatre, for performance studies. There was minor restoration, tuckpointing and window replacement on the exterior.

A chair lift that had provided access from the east side garden level to the first floor was removed. The garden level was maintained as an accessible entrance and window wells there were enlarged to provide more natural light.

Other work included replacement of mechanical, electrical and plumbing facilities and life safety systems; renovation of lavatory facilities on the garden level and second floor; installation of a second stairway at the north end of the building; and a fire escape on the east side was removed.

Susan Budinsky, Facilities Management construction projects manager, was project architect for the project, and the Austin/AECOM firm was the architect/engineers firm.

Little of Annie May Swift Hall's original interior structure had remained because of improvements made over the years. The north section was added to the original structure in the 1920s, and that end of the building was renovated in 1995 to accommodate WNUR in the basement. Other past upgrades have included renovation of the auditorium, installation of life safety systems, rebuilding of the south stairs, installation of an accessible ramp on the east side of the building; and restoration of the exterior east stairs.

The impetus for construction of Annie May Swift began with the work of Professor Robert McLean Cumnock who had developed an elocution curriculum which gained widespread popularity. The success of his work in the School of Oratory warranted the design of a new building to support his program and to be named after him.

But that changed after the Panic of 1893, when Cumnock appealed to the Chicago philanthropist and meatpacking magnate Gustavus F. Swift, a University trustee, to provide funds to complete the building. (Northwestern recognized Swift's generous contribution of $12,500 by dedicating the new building to the memory of his daughter Annie May, a Northwestern student who had died in 1889.)

Annie May Swift Hall, an eclectic mixture of Venetian Gothic revival and Romanesque architecture designed by Charles R. Ayars, features an exterior of rock-faced Lemont limestone, Roman brick and terra cotta, and red tile roof.

The building was dedicated May 16, 1895. Until the creation of the lakefill campus in the 1960s, Annie May Swift Hall stood on Lake Michigan's shore.

Historic views are available online at http://www.library.northwestern.edu/archives/exhibits/architecture/ (search for: Annie May Swift).