A Work for Art

A Work for Art
Higher Ground - A Work for Art - Spring 2006

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 face-lift 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. 

The Bryants are longtime residents of St. Louis, where Don is chairman and CEO of Bryant Group International L.L.C., an executive fringe benefit planning firm for public and privately held businesses, and of the Bryant Family Vineyards, a premium winery in Napa Valley, Calif. He also is a trustee of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City and serves on the International Advisory Board of the Tate Gallery in London. In 2000, the Bryants endowed the Barbara Murphy Bryant Professorship in Art History at Washington University of St. Louis, Barbara’s alma mater. The Bryants were lead gift donors to the Bryant Art Center at the Mary Institute and Saint Louis Country Day School in St. Louis. He is heavily involved in the St. Louis arts community, working with such organizations as the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Dance St. Louis, and the St. Louis Art Museum. 

Barbara works with The Haven of Grace, a transitional residential shelter for homeless pregnant women, and is a founding member of the steering committee for the Bowery Mission Women’s Residential Center in New York City. She serves as vice president of the Bryant Family Vineyards and is a trustee of the Trinity Forum, an organization that works to cultivate networks of leaders. The couple have three children, Derek (34), Christina (22) and Justin (17).

Higher Ground Campaign Co-chair Thomas Hoaglin ’71, who in professional life is president, board chair and CEO of Huntington Bancshares, Inc., responded enthusiastically to the announcement, praising the Bryants for their leadership. 

“Don first encountered the wonders of the world of art while studying at Denison,” Hoaglin said, “and he has been able to maintain that interest as a central part of his life ever since. He is to be commended for following his heart and helping us to keep the fine arts at the center of the liberal arts experience.”

In announcing the Bryant gift to the Denison faculty, President Knobel related the enthusiasm shown by the couple when they visited the campus to inspect the building and meet with the lead architect for the project, fellow Denisonian Jack Beyer ’54 of the New York architectural firm of Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners. This firm oversaw restoration of the complex at Ellis Island, among other major commissions. Knobel pointed out that one of the most meaningful things for Don Bryant was that his classmate, Jim Oelschlager ’64 and his wife, Vanita, provided leadership funding for Denison’s Samson Talbot Hall of Biological Science, built in 2003.

Hoaglin’s co-chair in the Higher Ground drive, civic volunteer Mary Jane Armacost ’62, also affirmed the importance of the Bryants’ commitment, emphasizing that the gift will preserve an important Denison landmark.

“Cleveland Hall is a defining structure on our campus skyline,” Armacost said. “It is on one of the major paths between the upper and lower campuses, meaning students pass by it every day. Renovation will return it to its pristine beauty and preserve it for future generations.”

Don Bryant himself reflected: “Barbara and I have been active in the art world for many years, and we believe it is important to support learning in the arts. Additionally, we are avid collectors and have lent and donated many paintings and sculptures to museums. Personally, with the exception of my family, there is nothing that gives me more pleasure than art. It’s my true passion.”

The renovation will provide state-of-the-art facilities for studio art and art history. It will contain a named center honoring the Bryants, but the building name itself will remain Cleveland Hall, which was chosen at the time of construction to honor the generosity of several Cleveland benefactors and trustees, including oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937) and industrialist Ambrose Swasey (1846-1937).

Published March 2006