A look at the past, present and future of BYU



    For students and alumni visiting BYU campus in the next few weeks, many will be surprised to find it’s not the same BYU they remember.

    BYU has been in a period of rapid growth and expansion that is only now starting to slow down, said the assistant director of the Planning Department Warren Jones. To truly appreciate where BYU is today, it’s important to know where BYU came from, he said.

    BYU professor Douglas L. Smoot has spent years studying the history of BYU and the role his great-grandfather Abraham Owin Smoot, the first president of the board of trusties, had in founding BYU.

    He said, “Knowing the past has an impact on the future, especially the history of the buildings on campus. They preserve a legacy and the sacrifice of early pioneers.”

    Smoot explained that BYU has gone through four major periods of growth. The first period was from 1875 to 1911. The BYU Academy was built on January 3, 1876, on University Ave. in downtown Provo.

    According to Ernest L. Wilkinson’s book, “Brigham Young University, the First 100 Years,” Brigham Young laid the groundwork for the Academy in Provo in 1875. He did so at the suggestion of George Q. Cannon who said, “these colleges would keep Brigham Young’s memory alive in the minds of the people. There would be an ever present living evidence of his care and thought for the saints.”

    During the first experimental terms at the BYU Academy, tuition averaged about $4 dollars per term. Most residents generally paid from script they received from the tithing office for the value of grain, beef and cloth they would bring in to exchange, Wilkinson said in his book.

    The Academy, with an enrollment of 70 students, offered both high school and college courses in a single curriculum, Smoot said. From the start, religion was taught and incorporated into classes, he said.

    It wasn’t until October 23, 1903, that the school’s name was changed to Brigham Young University. In the start of the 1904 school year, 60 college age students separated from the student body to attend school in the new College Hall, marking the start of today’s university curriculum, Wilkinson said.

    The completion of the $100,000 Maeser Memorial Building, named after the BYU Academy’s first principal, was completed in 1911 and marked the second era of expansion, which continued until the early 1950s, Smoot said.

    The Karl G.Maeser building was the first building to be built on what was known as “Temple Hill.” The name was the result of the fulfillment of the prophecy by Brigham Young that a temple would be built on Provo Hill. The building came to be known as a “temple of learning,” Wilkinson said.

    “The Maeser represented both the school’s devotion to its past and its hope for the future,” he said.

    During this period students would have to run from lower campus where the academy was located, to upper campus or “temple hill” to attend classes, said Lee Bartlett, assistant to the president for University Communications.

    “Because BYU had a smaller campus, you were acquainted with a larger number of students, friendliness and getting to know each other was more common,” he said.

    Upper campus grew relatively slowly until it reached a student body of approximately 5,000, Smoot said.

    Many new buildings underwent construction and were used for very different purposes than they are today, Bartlett said. The Maeser housed the administration and registration which was completely manual. The Heber J. Grant Building now used as the testing center was the campus’s first library. The newest building on campus was the Joseph Smith Building, where the first student branch of 1500 people would fill the auditorium each Sunday, Bartlett said. Today 226 BYU wards meet each Sunday.

    A number of military surplus buildings were transported on campus and used as dormitories. Each had two floors with a community bathroom on each floor, he said. This was the only housing for students until the Knight Magnum Buildings opened as women’s campus dorms, he said. Bartlett recalls weekly matinee dances, with live bands, which were a popular campus event, that occurred in the lower level social hall of the new building.

    President Ernest L. Wilkinson oversaw the third and greatest period of expansion and change at BYU during his term as president of the university from 1951 to 1971, Smoot said.

    “Upper campus just exploded with the many buildings built during his administration,” he said.

    During this time the student body population increased from 5,000 to 20,000 students, and numerous buildings were constructed to accommodate the growth, Smoot said.

    Under the direction of the BYU President Dallin H. Oaks, the Academy building was sold in 1975 and the university terminated all classes at lower campus. The old Academy building is still standing and in 1995 a six year effort was planned to remodel the building after it was classified as “the most important endangered building west of the Mississippi,” Smoot said.

    Although building on campus slowed during the final modern era from 1972 until present, changes today are visible all over campus, where the student population has grown to more than 30,000.

    The most recently completed building is the addition to the Harold B. Lee Library which opened Wednesday. The new library addition, which has been under construction since 1996, features a glass atrium entrance and is built almost entirely underground.

    “The opening of the new library brings us to the commencement of renovation and new additions at BYU,” Bartlett said.

    The library addition and many of the other newer buildings on campus, such as the Tanner building, feature architecture of a more modern nature, Smoot said.

    Some faculty and students, such as Kara Smith, 20, from Provo, majoring in English teaching, have been witnesses to the expansion on campus and don’t always approve of the modern additions.

    “I think they should do construction that is less dated. I love the grounds but I think they should go with the old style like the Maeser building,” Smith said.

    “I can remember the days you could see from the law school to the Talmage building. People used to play on all the grass; now it’s all cement. It seems more industrialized and more impersonal. I liked it the old way,” said BYU alumna Emily Parker, 25, now secretary of school relations.

    According to Jones and the planning department, students don’t have to worry about much change in the future.

    “I think we’ll stay pretty much the same, just maintain our growth, not add any more square footage,” Jones said.

    Decisions on building expansion are governed by the Board of Trustees. Some of their objectives are to have a fixed campus enrollment, make maximum use of present campus facilities and increase educational uses of campus resources, Smoot said.

    Possibilities of new indoor practice facilities for athletics and reconstruction of other buildings on campus have been proposed, but are not yet approved, Jones said.

    However, two projects under construction now will be added to BYU in the near future. A joint use facility on University Avenue is scheduled to open this week. It will be used for church on Sunday and for the English As A Second Language Program during the week. The old elementary Page School, previously used as extra class and office space, is being torn down to provide parking for the University Parkway Center, Jones said.

    Also scheduled to open in June, 2000 at Aspen Grove, is the new Aspen Lodge for BYU alumni, Jones said. This will provide lodging for BYU students who wish to visit the campus to reminisce about the past, admire the present, and dream of the future of the buildings at BYU.

    Print Friendly, PDF & Email