In the past 15 years the USF campus has been gradually receiving aesthetic upgrades. Before the most recent nip and tuck of the University Center, Kalmanovitz Hall had a major heart surgery to the tune of 40 million dollars and reopened in 2008.
Back when all students were commuters and the school size was much smaller, this gem of a building was a functional space with almost no artistic integrity. As the oldest building on main campus it was home to the cafeteria, classrooms and student lounge space, but now serves as offices and classrooms for humanities and social sciences departments.
The scenery on walks to classes or meetings with professors in K-Hall has improved dramatically and the Rev. Tom Lucas, S.J., knows more about it than anyone. His experience as an architecture professor and witness to the renovations since 1995 make him the best source for finding out about the art and other intricacies of Kalmanovitz Hall. The Foghorn was lucky enough to sit down with him as he divulged the history of multiple pieces and of the Kalmanovitz building.
Santa Maria de Ovila Portal
Before even entering Kalmanovitz the average passerby, whether a new student or a longtime professor, is hard pressed not to stop and glance at the Santa Maria de Ovila Portal in the amphitheatre. This work of architectural beauty was made in 1575 and is native to a monastery in central Spain near Madrid where it was the front entrance to the chapel.
William Randolph Hearst treasured it so much that he bought the entire monastery and had it shipped to San Francisco sometime in the 1930s. His plan was to rebuild it as a home for his mother near Mount Shasta in northern California. Hard economic times prevented the project from being completed and eventually all the pieces came to rest at the De Young Museum.
For a while there was talk of erecting it in Golden Gate Park to serve as a museum, but the squatting residences of the park detested the idea. If you look closely, you can still see burn marks on some of the 44 pellets of stone from when they set fire to the crates.
Its final home came to be at the University as a gift from the De Young Museum on the condition it be rebuilt with great care.
Another architectural gift from the De Young Museum is the Romanesque Portal, which fits the atrium space exactly. In fact, the design of the atrium was dictated by the portal with special braces built deep into the ground solely to withstand its weight, but also to give it proper significance. This piece was made in northern Italy sometime between the late 12th century and early 13th century. You may never have noticed but two famous biblical figures adorn the top arch: Adam and Eve.
Rev. Lucas said, “It’s appropriate that Adam and Eve are on the top of a piece of artwork that is the center piece of the entire humanities building.”
Figure of an Angel
Directly behind the portal in a glass encasement stands the Figure of an Angel from the Galleons and Globalization exhibit currently in the Thacher Gallery. This painted wooden statue has a history of travel beginning with its journey from Mexico to a mission in Santa Barbara.
Rev. Lucas told the story behind the piece: “The legend goes that it was mounted on a ship traveling rough waters. The crew vowed if they survived they would give the statue to a mission.” It was made in the mid to late 1700s and will be at USF through December.
Historic USF Fireplace
Now for some school spirit. On the right side of the portal in the atrium, there are a few steps down that leads to couches for some quality studying real estate. If you’re like me, you never noticed that the hallway continues back (the direction of the library) and opens into another prime studying space that faces St. Ignatius Church.
As if that weren’t enough of a view, you span the room and find yourself face to face with an enormous fireplace with the University’s Coat of Arms and a ribbon with Latin inscriptions running across the face of it. Oh yes, a fireplace worthy of an old institution and rich with historical value.
According to Rev. Lucas, it was made in either 1926 or 1927 and resided in the “commuter lounge,” the area where students spent time in the old Kalmanovitz building. Because there were no dorms on campus until 1955, this space was essential for student gatherings.
Rev. Lucas translates the ribbon’s Latin inscription; it is a quote from from Virgil’s Aeneid and means “Someday you’ll look back and laugh at all of this.” The University remarkably still has the cast for the fireplace and is considering making another for the lounge on the first floor of the University Center when construction is complete.
More USF treasures lie among the hallways of the main floor behind the atrium. On the walls are tiles with pictures of the University’s early buildings (before it came to reside on Fulton Street), professors and students. There are photos of documents from 1855 as well as pictures of more recent students.
If you look down the left hallway, you will see an opening on the right side of a small room with windows showcasing elements of Kalmanovitz before the remodel. This was the original entrance to the University, which had been bricked up but was reopened in 2008.
The gorgeous dark hardwood table and benches are also part of USF’s history because they were part of the commuter lounge with the fireplace.
Luckily, the furnishings complement the space, because they literally cannot be moved. Their awkwardly large dimensions make it impossible to find a home anywhere else as the construction crew for the University Center found out this past summer. For a brief moment, the table and benches were suggested for the fourth or fifth floor, but the ideas were thrown out when they calculated that even if they blew out two windows and used a crane, it still would not fit. How’s that for some USF history?
Other Notable Art Spaces
On the second floor the walls are decorated with the works of Eric Hongisto, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Art and Architecture, in the Faculty Gallery.
One floor above is the Alumni Gallery with a few different artists who have graduated from various years from USF.
On the fourth floor in the English department there is a mural that spans many walls beginning
with the one directly in front of the elevator. Last but not least is the Sculpture Garden on the rooftop of the third floor. Although there is no exhibit there right now, Rev. Lucas expects it to be filled by the end of next week and it is open during daylight hours.
A great deal of effort has been invested in the beautification of Kalmanovitz Hall and campus in general.
Said Rev. Lucas, “For too long we went for safety and half for comfort. But beauty is part of what a university is about…It is also a way of respecting the students to maximize what we have to make it humane. Some people think beauty is a frill. It is not. It’s what moves us in the world and makes us human.” In true USF fashion, he concluded, “Let beauty transform people’s hearts.”
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