Opening the Gate

Nathan Whalen

Walking through the east entrance of the brand-new McNamara Alumni Center University of Minnesota Gateway into Memorial Hall, visitors will be greeted by a six-story, geode-shaped atrium with fissure-like windows running along the length of the building.
What they will also see is years of memories in a building only officially days old.
The $45 million, privately funded Gateway alumni center is meant to be a welcome center for visitors at the University, and will house the Board of Regents, the Alumni Association and the foundations that helped fund the building.
Memorial Hall, a centerpiece of the Gateway alumni center, was viewed by the public for the first time during the weekend grand opening of the building.
The festivities started Friday when University students, staff and faculty members were treated to free lunch and tours of the building.
A formal black-tie dance honoring the building’s donors highlighted Saturday’s events and the public opening of the Gateway alumni center occurred Sunday morning when families toured the building and were served free pancake breakfasts.
Built on memories
The celebration of the building’s grand opening was also shared by memories of Homecomings and graduations when alumni caught site of the historic Memorial Arch erected on the west side of Memorial Hall.
The arch used to be the main entrance to Memorial Stadium and was dedicated to World War I veterans. The arch was an entrance for football players during games and for graduates during convocation ceremonies.
Linda Mona, a member of the board of directors of the Gateway Corporation, attended many football games when she was an undergraduate in the 1960s. Many times, she found herself seated at the very top of the open-air stadium.
“It was so cold, we had to bring sleeping bags,” Mona said.
Others felt the cold, open air was the best part of the stadium.
“I used to like Memorial Stadium better than anything,” said Bob Patterson, professor of biomedical engineering, who has been at the University for 38 years.
The Memorial Arch was saved by the efforts of members of the class of 1942 who wanted to preserve artifacts of the stadium when it was demolished in 1992. The 68-ton arch had been in storage since then.
The opening of the Gateway alumni center also coincided with the opening of the University’s Heritage Gallery.
The gallery, the entrance of which is through the Memorial Arch, presents the history of the University through displays and interactive computers.
A dominant aspect of the gallery is the 35-foot-tall wall of books. The wall represents books that have been written by people associated with the University.
“It boggles the mind, that these are all somehow related to the University,” said Bob Ulstrom, who taught in the Medical School from 1950 to 1990. Ulstrom donated four books to the wall.
Donated books and duplicates from University Libraries comprise the more than 5000-book wall.
Also in the gallery is a timeline, which traces the University back to its agricultural roots. Several glass displays in the center of the room house a number of scientific inventions developed by University researchers, including the Akerman tailless airplane and the mass spectrometer, both on loan from the Smithsonian Institution.
Many former University students and their families contributed to the gallery’s collection. Frederick Myren donated “Brain Food,” a 1934 book comprised of recipes from University faculty. He had inherited the book from his sister who was a faculty member at the time.
“I think this was the right place for it to end up,” Myren said.
In keeping with the football tradition reflected by its Memorial Arch entrance, one pin from each University Homecoming celebration is displayed, such as the 1984 pin that reads, “Let’s turn those Wildcats into Mildcats.”
A 12-foot-diameter University seal is encased in the floor of the gallery. Standing in the middle of the seal and looking down, visitors will see computer monitors in the floor that broadcast live Web cam shots of each of the University’s five campuses.

Built for the future
Despite all of the attention given to University alumni and history, the Gateway architect, Antoine Predock, encourages student-use of the Gateway alumni center, either as a place to hang out or for pre-game tailgating.
“Students can take over and do protests in it,” he said during the Heritage Gallery’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.
To encourage student use of the center and improve the connection with students and alumni, an all-campus dance will be held on Friday, Feb. 18, in Memorial Hall of the Gateway alumni center.
Memorial Hall, which comprises the geode, is the most recognizable part of the copper and granite building, a representation of the natural resources found in Minnesota.
The Gateway alumni center is divided into two parts: The geode-shaped hall with a wooden interior and the copper-covered structure that houses the University offices.
The hall, lit by the fissures seen in the geode, will remain an open meeting place, complete with a fountain and a cafe operated by D’Amico and Sons.
Although the Gateway alumni center is just about complete, many have questioned its outer appearance.
“I think it’s ugly from the outside and beautiful from the inside,” said Tammy Smokowicz, a junior marketing major.
However, others said the center’s looks will improve when the surrounding parking lots change.

Home at last
A plaza is supposed to wrap around the Gateway alumni center, replacing the sea of parking lots that serves as its neighbors. The fissures from the front of the building are supposed to extend into the plaza, which is intended to provide a connection to Stadium Village. The open space might even contain an ice rink or fountains.
However, these plans have been shelved until Gateway Corporation officials are able to negotiate terms with the University for the current parking lot, said Larry Laukka, the corporation’s chief executive officer.
Another goal is to improve the connection the Gateway alumni center has with the campus by building the “Sesquicentennial Scholars’ Walk,” a tree-lined walkway that will provide a brief history of University’s scholastic achievements.
“(The Scholar’s Walk) is a transition from the Heritage Gallery to campus and vice versa,” said Clinton Hewitt, associate vice president in the Office of Master Planning.
The walk, like the rest of the building’s outer facilities, is in the planning stages and is expected to be completed in the summer of 2001. It will connect the eastern end of campus with the rest of the University’s East Bank.

Nathan Whalen covers facilities and construction. He welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3236.