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Brace Laboratory of Physics

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Brace Laboratory of Physics was named in honor of DeWitt Bristol Brace, chair of the Department of Physics, who died of blood poisoning in October 1905 just as the building was nearing completion. Brace was instrumental in the planning and development of the new physics facility, and a rising star in the University faculty.

Stylistically, Brace Laboratory represents a turning point in campus architecture. Architects Mendelssohn, Fisher and Lawrie utilized a simple building form with elaborate but limited ornamentation. This represented a shift away from the complex late Victorian buildings they previously designed on campus, those being the Library (now Architecture Hall) and Grant Memorial Hall (razed, 1966). Brace was the first building to deviate from the traditional red brick used for all campus buildings up to this point as well.

Brace Laboratory was constructed of Omaha grey pressed brick and terra cotta trimmings with a slate roof. Construction began in June of 1904, although a local brick shortage slowed its progress slightly. Since its construction Brace has been altered only slightly, but the overall impact of these alterations is significant. The terra cotta detailing used in the entry pediment and the cornice has been removed, as well as the cast iron roof cresting and finials. The slate roof was replaced with asphalt shingles as well. These changes have made the once simple yet appealing building appear plain and inconsequential.

The University Building Committee determined the location of the physics building "...directly west of the central building (University Hall) corresponding approximately to the position of the Grant Hall annex on the east..." This location interfered with the original athletic field, then located to the north of the proposed physics building, running parallel to 10th street. A compromise was required which altered the final form and plan of the physics building, but the Building Committee held fast to the planned location of the building, and the athletic field was moved slightly to the west.

C. R. Richards, head of the Athletic committee and chair of the Mechanic Arts program, was most disturbed by the proposed location of the new physics building. Richards feared that the football field would be compromised by the close proximity of the Physics Laboratory. Shortly after the construction of Physics, Richards became Dean of Mechanical Engineering, and designed his own new facility. Ironically, this new facility, the Mechanical Engineering Laboratory (now Richards Hall) was erected on the site of the old athletic field in 1908. The athletic field was moved to a newly purchased tract of land across T street to the north of campus, between 10th and 11th. This new location is incorporated into the current Memorial Stadium.

Due to terrible crowding on campus during the early 20th century, several other departments requested space in the new building while it was under construction. Ultimately, only the meteorology department was allocated space, and was allowed to place wind recording instruments on the roof. The building was named "Brace Laboratory of Physics" following a request from Brace's colleagues in the Physics department and the University Senate, and accepted by the Board of Regents in December 1905. It was formally christened as the Brace Laboratory of Physics on Founders Day, February 15, 1906.

Source Information:
University Archives--17th biennial rpt 1903/04; Contract with architects; Letter from JT Lees, June 1905, Regents minutes.