Commission honors Gershman Graduate Center, Carnegie Hall historic preservation work
Graduate Center benefactors Hal & Kathy Gershman also honored; GF Historic Preservation Commission celebrates ‘amazing’ work
UND’s preservation efforts on the Gershman Graduate Center and Carnegie Hall buildings on campus recently were recognized by the Grand Forks Historic Preservation Commission and the city of Grand Forks.
The commission and city also recognized Hal and Kathy Gershman “for their vision and support of the historic renovation of Oxford House, the original residence of University Presidents now known as the Gershman Graduate Center,” as the plaque presented to the Gershmans reads.
“We on the Grand Forks Historic Preservation Commission truly appreciate the efforts,” said Chuck Flemmer, chairperson of the commission, at a ceremony last week at which the Commission awarded certificates to the University and to Hal and Kathy Gershman.
“These are important historic buildings for the community. The Graduate Center, for example, is currently the oldest building on our campus, and Carnegie Hall was built as a Carnegie Library and served as the UND library for many years.
“Thanks to the renovations, the level of historical detail that you can now see in the buildings is amazing,” Flemmer continued.
“It took a lot of effort, because restoring a building the right way is much harder than just fixing it up. But it was truly great work, and again, we on the commission are grateful.”
Restored to original glory
Carnegie Hall was built in 1907-08 as one of three Carnegie academic libraries (and 11 Carnegie libraries) in North Dakota. A prominent building that anchors the southern end of the UND Quad, Carnegie Hall served as UND’s library until 1928 and housed other University offices and functions from then until now.
To restore the building’s exterior, additions from the 1920s and the 1950s that were not historically significant were removed. The restored building will house executive offices and meeting spaces, with an eye to opening up new academic spaces in Twamley Hall, according to UND.
The Gershman Graduate Center was previously known as the President’s House, the J. Lloyd Stone Alumni Center and the Oxford House.
The house was originally built for Dr. and Mrs. Webster Merrifield, UND’s fourth President, in 1902. The building was the first important Grand Forks commission for architect Joseph Bell DeRemer, the Grand Forks-based architect who, decades later, designed the North Dakota State Capitol skyscraper, according to the Grand Forks Historic Preservation Commission.
The house also was the first in Grand Forks to be built with electrical wiring, the Historic Preservation Commission noted.
‘Once in a lifetime’ project
In 2018, a $3 million gift from Hal and Kathy Gershman helped pay for the building’s renovation into an engagement center for graduate students. The gift qualified for a state matching grant, making a total of $4.5 million available for the historic renovation and remodeling of the house.
“We found a lot of photos of the building and its original interior, so we went through those and took note of as many details as we could,” said Nick Jensen, job captain for JLG Architects in Grand Forks.
“We didn’t try to match exactly what was there before, but we did try to get the same spirit of things.” For example, light fixtures with an early 20th century style were found on the Internet and installed, period-appropriate wallpaper was put up, a new hardwood floor on the main floor was installed with the same pattern as the earlier floor, and so on.
But at the same time, designers took pains to equip the building with state-of-the-art wireless and other technologies, in recognition of the building’s role as a graduate-student center, Jensen said.
“This was really a once-in-a-lifetime type of project,” Jensen said. “As an architect, sometimes you get to reuse or renovate old buildings, but very seldom do you get to strive for authenticity at this level. It has been a great project to work on all around.”
One of Midwest’s most beautiful buildings
Kathy Gershman agreed. “You know, I was a graduate student,” said Gershman, professor emerita of UND’s Department of Educational Foundations and Research program. “So I know the importance of not only finding places to study, but also of cooperation and collaboration among graduate students.”
Kathy and Hal Gershman took great care to make sure the house was not only restored to its 1902-03 glory, but also made a comfortable and inviting gathering place for students.
“This home was referred to as one of the most beautiful buildings in the Midwest,” said Hal Gershman to UND Today in 2020.
“Our objective was to try to do that again; and now, this building is here for another hundred years.”