Renovation at WMC reaching crescendo Fine Arts Building is latest project


A neoclassical gem on the campus of Western Maryland College soon will be refurbished as a symbol of the college's rededication to teaching fine arts.

By next summer, the 1908 Fine Arts Building will be restored and renovated as the centerpiece of an arts complex on the east side of the 160-acre campus in Westminster.

The three-level building is one of the last designed by Baltimore architect Jackson C. Gott. Built for $26,500, it has been likened in appearance to the Petit Trianon at Versailles, a 1763 residence used by Marie Antoinette and other members of French royalty )) as a refuge from the formality of mid-18th century court life.

Of particular interest is the top-level reading room, which contains English white oak paneling, stucco pilasters and cornices that were covered in the 1960s.

To fund the renovation, Baltimore philanthropist and former college trustee Clementine L. Peterson recently gave $1 million -- the largest single donation in the college's history.

The restoration is the latest of several major building projects initiated during the nine-year tenure of college President Robert H. Chambers, along with the $10 million expansion of Hoover Library and a proposed expansion of Lewis Hall, the science building.

The college is spending $4.9 million to upgrade four other buildings -- Levine Recital Hall, Memorial Hall, Alumni Hall and the Art Studio.

The 126-year-old college has about 67 art and art history majors among its 1,100 undergraduate students and 500 graduate students.

"In spite of our rather limited facilities," Dr. Chambers said, "we have ranked second in the state among private colleges [behind the Maryland Institute College of Art] in the number of degrees awarded in art and art history during the past 15 years. We've always been firmly committed to such scholarship and now, with this gift, we will have a facility to match that commitment."

The building originally housed offices for the college president and treasurer, the trustee board room, and the college's museum and library. In the 1920s, when the president's office was relocated, the library filled the vacant space. When the library was moved in 1962, the building became home for the department of art and art history.

As part of the renovation, most of the college's studio art courses, such as ceramics, painting and printmaking, will be permanently relocated from the Fine Arts building to the Art Studio. The move will free room in the Fine Arts building for the teaching of art history, design, computer graphics and photography.

The lower level will house two art history classrooms, two faculty offices and slide preparation areas.

The main floor will contain a computer graphics area, photography laboratory, design and drawing studio, faculty offices and a reception area.

The ornate top-floor reading room will be restored to its original appearance and used as an art exhibition gallery.

The building's limestone-and-brick exterior will be cleaned, and the structure will be made fully accessible to the disabled.

"It was viewed as a magnificent building" when it was constructed, said LeRoy Panek, director of corporate and foundation relations. "The aim now is to restore it and make it modern at the same time."

When work is complete, the building will be a key part of an arts complex that includes Alumni Hall, with its 550-seat theater, and Levine Recital Hall, which is used for music studies.

Administrators say they will seek to add the latest restoration to the National Register of Historic Places, along with six other buildings that comprise the college's historic district.

Centerbrook Architects of Essex, Conn., is the project architect. The Fine Arts building has been renamed Clementine and Duane L. Peterson Hall in honor of Ms. Peterson and her late husband, a co-founder of the Hunt Valley-based PHH Corp., formerly Peterson, Howell and Heather.

Museum expansion nearing completion

Contractors have begun placing aluminum panels on the exterior of the New Wing for Modern Art at the Baltimore Museum of Art, a sign work is nearing completion on the $5.5 million project. The Cone Wing will close for three months around Nov. 1 to accommodate the final "cut through" stages of construction.

A grand opening is tentatively set for September 1994.

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