The Big Blue Tent is graphically represented in the Gay Reese Lobby at the Eisner Center, calling out the history of the site for many summer performances that helped make the South Quad into a center for the arts. Many students who would go on to be notable performers and actors, including the famous Hal Holbrook ‘48, participated in the performances.

In early summer, students erected a tent on an abandoned tennis court in the late 1940s, approximately where the Denison Museum now stands. The theatre department would perform a new show every week. Learning new lines and setting up a new stage took work, but the students were dedicated, and they provided great entertainment for the citizens of Granville and surrounding area until the early 1960s.

Right beside the summer location of the theater tent stood “the Wigwam,” which once served as Denison’s men’s gym together with the 1904 gym in Cleveland Hall across the street. Built in 1925, it was a large indoor space that found use as an all-purpose area for sorority dances, dinners with live music, band practice, clubs, and other large gatherings. Until the construction of Livingston Gymnasium (nicknamed “the Bigwam”) in 1944, the Wigwam hosted early Denison basketball games as well as physical education classes.

Ultimately, the building which was supposed to be “temporary” in 1925 was razed in 1952, cited as a “fire hazard and eyesore.”

At the far west end of the quad, now a grassy hill between King and Burton, stood Shepardson Hall, which served as a dining hall for female students (when residential life was separated by gender) from its construction in 1893 until 1960. In this picture, you can see the formal practices of the time, complete with set tables and waiters:

South Quad had been inhabited only by women since its 19th-century founding, as it was the site of the old Shepardson College for Women, which merged with Denison in the early 20th-century. Women transitioned to East Quad, when Huffman Dining Hall was built, in 1960. Old Shepardson Dining Hall became the headquarters of the Air Force ROTC after it stopped functioning as a dining hall. On May 8, 1970, anti-Vietnam war student activists attempted to set it on fire, failing to do any damage. During this time, the attic space which had long been used for Shepardson women’s clubs and meetings was being used for studios by some of the art faculty.

The ROTC left Denison when the war ended in 1974, and with art faculty already using the building, it came to be used as a working space for the studio arts, and called the “Art Annex.”

It was casually separated into areas for painting and printmaking, and it included a photography darkroom. In bad need of repair, it was razed in 1977, shifting studio art spaces to Cleveland Hall, which was renovated into the Bryant Center for the Arts in 2009.

In the coming weeks, we will take a look at the old Burke Hall and fill out the rest of the Arts Quad’s rich history over our final three installments.

March 2, 2022