Higher Ground

Higher Ground

A Work for Art

When Cleveland Hall first opened more than a century ago, it was an important new face on the college landscape, a robust architectural statement that stood apart from some of the more dated structures higher up on College Hill. It also confronted a half-dozen eclectic buildings left from the days of Shepardson College on the lower Campus. In Jeffersonian Federal Revival style, it was Denison’s first attempt at a model that defines so many campuses.

Cleveland Hall first served as the men’s gymnasium, home to Big Red teams and site of spirited competition. There was an indoor pool, running track, basketball court, auditorium, and offices and locker facilities. Legendary athletic director Walter Livingston ‘09 was a commanding presence, and later, coach Woody Hayes ‘35 had an office there.

Men departed Cleveland Hall around mid-century, with the opening of the Physical Education Center on the north side of the hill. Women moved across the street from tiny Doane Gymnasium and used the space another 25 years or so, ultimately joining the men in the newer facility and vacating Cleveland Hall in favor of Art in the 1970s.

By this time, Cleveland Hall was showing its age, and kilns, printmaking studios, and diverse specialized workrooms were squeezed into every nook and cranny. The place developed a fun, if funky, climate of its own.

It also became increasingly worn. A cosmetic facelift undertaken as a component of the 1978-1981 Sesquicentennial Campaign did little to arrest the decline, but it cleaned things up a bit. By the end of another 25 years, it was obvious that a serious investment in renovation was needed if Cleveland Hall was to have a future in the 21st century.

A Meeting of Vision and Opportunity

As priorities were being drawn up for the current Higher Ground campaign, renovation of Cleveland Hall early surfaced as a possibility. To ensure renovation was a practical idea, structural engineers examined the building to determine feasibility. The report came back saying that while significant shoring up and systems upgrades would be needed, the shell itself, in its dramatic hillside location, was good. So a campaign component of $10 million was incorporated in the overall list, which topped out at $160 million for people, programs, facilities, and the Annual Fund.

Denison is fortunate in having a lead donor who is providing the major funding for the effort. The Bryant family of St. Louis, headed by Barbara and Donald L. Bryant, Jr. ‘64, have stepped forward with an incredibly generous $6 million commitment that will provide the momentum necessary to push this project forward. Their gift is the second-largest commitment ever received from an individual family for a capital facility at the college.

Published November 2020