O’Hara Hall to make way for new parking lot

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Older than Johnston Hall, Sensenbrenner Hall and even Gesu, the building now known as O’Hara Hall comes from an era of horse-drawn carriages and Ulysses S. Grant.

Upon its demolition this summer, the 140-year-old landmark will join a long list of campus area structures that have faded into the history books.

The actual date of the building’s construction is debated, but it first appeared in public records in 1870, said Michelle Sweetser, a Raynor Library archivist.

The brown brick building served as the private residence of General Frederick Winkler, a Milwaukee attorney and Civil War veteran, until Marquette purchased the property in 1920. Rumor has it President Theodore Roosevelt once stayed overnight as Winkler’s guest.

O’Hara was renamed Lalumiere Hall in 1923. Courses in mathematics, religion, languages and law were all taught within its walls, and it temporarily served as the home of the College of Hospital Administration.

The building was near demolition, but was remodeled through funding from Charles O’Hara, a member of Marquette’s board of governors, according to history professor Thomas Jablonsky’s book, “Milwaukee’s Jesuit University.”

In 1939, University President the Rev. Raphael McCarthy and his administration moved in and the building was renamed O’Hara Hall.

For much of its history, the building has enjoyed a mundane existence. But during the Vietnam War, students stormed the building’s doors to protest violence and racial segregation, Jablonsky said.

“O’Hara Hall became a kind of physical lightening rod for war-related and civil rights protests,” he said.

Today, O’Hara stands vacant and ready for demolition. The completion of Zilber Hall rendered O’Hara essentially obsolete, said University Architect Tom Ganey.

The building’s plumbing, heating, cooling and electric systems are all outdated, and it is not handicapped-accessible. Ganey said renovating the building is simply not worth the cost.

An 85-space surface parking lot will replace it by the end of summer, Ganey said. The new lot’s landscaping will be similar to Lot A, the parking area on the corner of 16th and Wells streets.

But this will not be the first time Marquette replaces a historically rich building for modernization’s sake.

PLANKINTON

There was significant public outcry when Marquette demolished the Elizabeth Plankinton Mansion, which was located where the Alumni Memorial Union stands today.

The ornate residence was built in 1886 by John Plankinton, one of Milwaukee’s wealthiest men, as a wedding gift for his daughter. She never used the estate, and the Knights of Columbus purchased it in 1910.

It served as their longtime headquarters until Marquette acquired the building’s plot through urban renewal efforts.

But historic preservation groups, students and concerned community members held protests in hopes of saving or relocating the mansion, said Steve Daily, curator of research collections for the Milwaukee County Historical Society.

“Not only was it a beautiful home, but it was virtually unaltered from the time it was built in 1882,” he said.

Local media outlets exaggerated the issue and the debate turned into a “political circus,” Jablonsky said.

During the early hours of Oct. 11, 1980, a bulldozer destroyed the building’s porch. The preservation groups, which had planned to form a human circle around the mansion the next day, were outraged, Daily said.

The remaining structure was cleared soon afterward.

BILTMORE and BROOKS

Marquette was again confronted by historic preservationists when the Biltmore Apartments and Brooks Union were torn down to make room for the John P. Raynor Library.

Milwaukee’s Historic Preservation Committee voted to designate the Biltmore as a historic landmark, but the Common Council voted against the motion, according to a 1999 Tribune article.

There were no significant efforts made to save Brooks Union, but many alumni were sentimental about its removal. Brooks featured a large cafeteria, ballrooms and recreational space. It served as a vital social hub on campus, especially during the 1950s and ’60s, Jablonsky said.

OVERALL CHANGE

Maintaining an area’s historic integrity is important, but clearing these buildings is how the campus that exists today was created, Ganey said.

“Individual buildings may come and go, but the characteristics and feel of campus should endure,” he said.

When Marquette’s first building was constructed at 10th and State Streets in 1881, the university’s current landscape would have been unimaginable, Jablonsky said.

“Marquette is the hard work and vision of literally 100 years of individuals taking one step at a time,” he said. “None of us can appreciate it on a day-to-day basis.”

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