One Man's Vision
Huddleston's plan for developing the campus was approved by the trustees in 1919. A few years later, it played an important role in the university's campaign for the "mill tax," passed by the state legislature in 1925. This set aside one mill (a tenth of a cent) for university purposes for every "dollar of the valuation of property locally assessed in the state" each year. For the first time, the university had a reliable pool of funds to draw on for construction projects.
Fairchild Hall, completed in 1916, was Huddleston's first building project, although most of the design work was done before he arrived on campus. He began work on a student dining hall, the Commons, that same year. (This is the building that was renamed in Huddleston's honor in 1963.) With World War I already raging in Europe, steel was in short supply, and it appeared that construction would have to be delayed. But Huddleston paid a personal visit to the Bethlehem Steel Co., where he persuaded the plant superintendent, another Cornell alumnus, to supply the I-beams needed for the dining hall. Andrew says that this building, with its arcades and elegant symmetry, is his favorite Huddleston design.
In 1918, the U.S. War Department began sending soldiers to campus for training in construction skills, and Huddleston put them to work. Doughboys erected two frame barracks, East and West Halls, that served as dormitories for more than 50 years. Under Huddleston's direction, the recruits sited and laid down sidewalks through muddy fields--sidewalks to nowhere at that time.
After the war, new buildings designed by Huddleston started sprouting up along those sidewalks, 16 of them between 1920 and 1946, when he stepped down as supervising architect (see Huddleston's Legacy). Many of those buildings were constructed during the Great Depression and all were built with bare-bones budgets. "He was never given enough money" to do everything he wanted, says Caroline Huddleston.
Huddleston revised the contracting procedure to save money. The 1933 Huddleston Plan demanded competitive, public bidding to "eliminate shopping, padding and chiseling of bids and to provide for fair construction." Bencks, the current university architect, observes that the university always got its money's worth with Huddleston.
While he was guiding the rapid growth of the UNH campus, Huddleston was also doing outside architectural work. In 1935, he joined a former student, Irving W. Hersey '25, in a Durham firm that built several fraternity and sorority houses and numerous other buildings in town. At one point, Huddleston and Hersey was the state's largest architectural firm, designing more than a hundred school buildings in New Hampshire. Huddleston was a founder and the first president of the New Hampshire Society of Architects, and he became a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1953.
Toward the end of his career, Huddleston's eyesight dimmed, but his enthusiasm for teaching did not. He had to use a magnifying glass to grade his students' final projects before he retired in 1958. He sat for a formal university portrait at about that time, but wasn't impressed by the result, wishing it "looked more like my homely mug." He moved to Lancaster, N.H., where he died in 1977.
The End of an Era
Huddleston's final UNH buildings were Gibbs, Engelhardt and Hunter, completed in 1946. The following year, the trustees chose an outside architect to design Kingsbury Hall, the first major departure from Huddleston's campus plan. That, says Victor Azzi, marked "the end of the Huddleston design continuum."
Over the decades that followed, the university contracted many different architects who designed one-of-a-kind buildings entirely unrelated to Huddleston's. The result was a loss of coherence that "diminishes the campus in large measure once you get away from the Huddleston buildings on Main Street," Azzi believes.
Both Bencks and Azzi see a paradox in those newer buildings. During the Huddleston years, funds were scarce but the buildings were solid. After World War II, when the economy was better and more construction funds were available, the quality of the new structures did not hold up. Azzi and Andrew both describe some of the post-Huddleston buildings as "terrible."
Azzi became the campus planner in 1988 and began to rehabilitate Huddleston's vision in the 1991 master plan. "That was the first time planning had been done on this scale since 1923," he says. As a result, the campus buildings constructed over the past decade look more like the early ones, sharing architectural elements such as water-struck brick and gables.
Now, with $8.5 million to spend on Murkland's renovation, Bencks says he will try to bring the entrance hall and the stairwell back to the Huddleston-designed elegance. Part of the plan is to replace the cushioned metal chairs that are lined up in Richards Auditorium with simpler ones. If they turn out to be like Huddleston's choices, they will almost certainly be more comfortable. ~
John Milne is a writer who lives in Concord, N.H.
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