Sociology building has rich history

A renovation will bring the 111-year-old building back to use.
Monday, February 16, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 6:24 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

MU’s red brick Sociology Building stands empty. A sign on each door tells passers-by to “Stop” in large red letters. Most of the windows are covered. Inside, there are a few abandoned chairs, desks, file cabinets and sheets of paper strewn across the floor.

Hardly anyone has been inside the 111-year-old building — once the home of the law school, then the business school and, finally, the sociology and rural sociology departments — since it closed a year and a half ago.

But the $31 million gift from the Reynolds Foundation to the Missouri School of Journalism, announced last week, will revive the building. After a massive renovation, it will become part of a journalism institute scheduled to open in 2007.

This means that the Journalism School will inherit one of the oldest and most historic buildings on campus.

Part of what is known as “Red Campus,” where most of the buildings are made of red brick, the Sociology Building was born out of catastrophe. On Jan. 9, 1892, Academic Hall, the building that had housed the MU Law Department, burned down. The homeless law school was forced to teach classes in the Boone County Courthouse.

Soon afterward, MU administrators began planning for a new law building, to be built at the northeast corner of Francis Quadrangle. Construction on what was then called the Law Department Building was finished in March 1893, though classes were already being taught there in February of that year. It was affectionately nicknamed the “Law Barn” by the students and faculty who called it home.

The building was the Law Department’s home until 1927, when the department moved into the newly built Tate Hall. The Law Barn became home to the Business and Public Administration Department.

However, the building didn’t age well. Nylan Edwards, a former MU business professor, said that when he began working out of it in 1955, it was in decay.

“There was a spot on the west stairway where the bricks were so far apart that you could see sunlight through the wall,” Edwards said.

The department was also hampered by lack of space. There were not enough classrooms for a growing business department, which at the time included political science and economics, Edwards said. Business professors were forced to teach classes out of classrooms all across campus and out of wooden temporary buildings.

“It was unbelievable just how desperate we were for a new building,” Edwards said.

In 1960, the business school moved to Middlebush Hall and the sociology and rural sociology departments moved in. The building became known as the Sociology Building, and the word “law,” carved in stone at the west entrance of the building, was covered by a bronze plaque that said “sociology.”

Years of use continued to take their toll, said Ken Benson, MU sociology professor and former chairman of the sociology department, who began working in the building in 1966.

“The floors were creaky,” Benson said. “If someone walked down the hall, it would disrupt the whole class.”

MU sociology professor John Galliher, who began working in the building in 1967, said its sheer age caused many problems.

“It was impossible to keep clean,” Galliher said. “It was cold in the winter and hot in the summer. And there were some problems with the wiring. I didn’t have any faith that the place wouldn’t burn down.”

But the Sociology Building had its charm, Benson said.

“We did develop a real sense of community working there,” he said. “It was also nice to be on the quad and to be close to the other classroom buildings and administrative offices.”

In August 2002, after 109 years of steady use, the second-oldest classroom building on campus succumbed to budget cuts. The building was vacated, a move that MU spokesman Christian Basi at the time said would save the university $25,000 a year.

When the Sociology Building is renovated, a new four-story building will be built inside the building’s current exterior, according to information released when the Reynolds gift was announced last week. It will house the journalism institute’s offices and a journalism library, which right now is next door in Walter Williams Hall. Galliher said he’s glad the Sociology Building will be used again.

“It’s such a great location,” he said. “It would be sad if it went unused indefinitely.”

Editor’s note: Some of the information used in this article came from the University of Missouri Archives and “The Law Barn: A Brief History of the School of Law: University of Missouri-Columbia” by William Fratcher.

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