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Behind the Brick Walls: Tucker Hall mixes past and present

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September 8, 2015

1:45 AM

As many freshmen have found out in the past week, if you have a class in St. George Tucker Hall, you should arrive early to allow yourself time to both admire the distinct layout of Tucker and to navigate through it. Tucker’s architecture, long history and urban legends are what make it one of the more exciting buildings on The College of William and Mary’s campus in which to have a class.

The building originally opened as the College’s library in 1908. It served briefly as the law school after the Earl Gregg Swem library openedin 1966. Then in 1980 the English department moved in, and the building was renamed St. George Tucker Hall.

Thirty years later, Tucker Hall underwent renovations. The English department moved back in August 2013 just in time for the new school year. Getting Tucker ready for the 2013-2014 school year was a memorable part of the project for  Renovation Project Manager Randy Strickland.

“It was very, very close, and we managed to get it done,” Strickland said.

Tucker’s architecture, long history and urban legends are what make it one of the more exciting buildings on The College of William and Mary’s campus in which to have a class.

The renovation fixed a load-bearing wall two inches from the foundation and set up a new sewer system. According to Strickland, the sewage system was a priority. Before the renovation, a distinct smell would linger in the building.

“It turned out there had been an open sewer under the building, and the smell would come and go,” Associate Professor of English and Assistant Dean of Academic Advising Monica Potkay said.

The project strove to protect Tucker’s original plan.

“Tucker is an original building. The main lobby, two front classrooms, and the administrative lobby are in the original 1908 building,” Strickland said. “We preserved the original staircase, and then there was a three story addition.”

The most recent Tucker renovation sought to create harmony between these historical additions while bringing the building into the 21st century.

“One of the interesting things about the architects was they really wanted to respect the history,” Potkay said. “They really wanted to keep the older design elements to keep it traditional but make it look up-to-date.”

This commitment an easy one for the design team.

“One of the challenges we had was to tile five floors together so we had wheelchair access everywhere,” Strickland said.

This challenge was how Tucker ended up with two second floors. Going up the entrance staircase, you reach the Intermediate Second Floor. For Potkay, this half-floor adds to Tucker’s charm.

“As a joke, I just tell people Tucker is a confusing building because we’re not the math department since we have two second floors,” Potkay said.

Potkay and several other professors served on the Tucker Hall Renovation Committee to provide suggestions for the architects.

According to Administrative and Technology Coordinator Shanay Butler, the English Department loves being back in Tucker.  Butler said she specifically enjoys the updated lobby.

“We have all of our parties and festivities out there,” Butler said. “So it’s kind of like an area for us to congregate and catch up.”

Another legend states that the third floor women’s bathroom is haunted.

Despite its new appearance, Tucker’s history lingers on in the form of the Tucker ghost. In 2006, an article was written for the English Department’s Newsletter about ghostly encounters in the  basement of Tucker. Since then, reports of the ghost have been limited.

Another legend states that the third floor women’s bathroom is haunted. The old women’s bathroom is currently serving as an office, but there are still the occasional rumors.

“Nobody has ever seen [the ghost] per se before, but they’re like, ‘We’ve heard weird noises’ or whatever,” Butler said.  “I guess if you believe in it, it is what it is.”

Despite rumors of spirits from the past, the English department looks toward the future of Tucker. One recent change is the addition of a mural on the patio behind the building. It was designed by Kristen Lied Peyton ‘12 to reference to some of literature’s most famous works, like Hamlet and Moby Dick.

The mural, though, is now one of the highlights of the building

“Originally, what they wanted for [the back patio] was an outdoor classroom,” Potkay said.  “So there was going to be a whole plaza with seating and plants so one could have class outside, but we had to cut the cost of the building.”

The mural, though, is now one of the highlights of the building for Potkay, as is the bright lighting throughout and the faculty and alumni bookshelf that lines along the sides of the central lobby staircase.

“It’s not just current faculty, but as much as possible it’s a history of the English department,” Potkay said about the bookshelf. “We tried to put as many books by faculty as we could find it’s a really interesting way to look at how English has changed.”

The English department is also looking for student artwork to place around the building, and there is a plan to add armchairs to the lobby. These projects are all part of the long-term plan to improve even more upon the post-renovation Tucker Hall.

“It’s nice to be back in Tucker. Tucker used to have a kind of seedy, homey charm where people kind of hung out,” Potkay said. “In terms of where we’re going we really want to be more welcoming to students.”

Behind the Brick Walls is a series exploring the unusual histories of ordinary academic buildings.

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About Author

  • Lizzy Flood

Associate Variety Editor Lizzy Flood '18 is an English major from Stamford, Connecticut.

  • TribeGrammarPolice

    C’monnnn, guys – proofread your articles, ESPECIALLY when they’re focused on the English Dept. and written by a current English major! I guess typos will happen, but “per say”?!