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The Temple

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Louis Jensen



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At the turn of the century, Chancellor Benjamin Andrews wished to create a space specifically designed for student activities. Andrews sought private funding to carry out his vision of a place where student groups could gather, hold discussions, and commingle. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., committed $66,666 to construct such a building, with the agreement that Andrews would raise the remaining $33,333. Andrews had become acquainted with the Rockefeller family while at Brown University serving as its President prior to moving to Nebraska. The lots upon which the Temple was built were donated by Chancellor Andrews, who had privately purchased them in 1903 after early negotiations with Rockefeller. Andrews then raised the necessary money by mid 1904.

The Rockefeller name smacked of controversy in 1904. Ida Tarbell had recently published her series of articles in McClure's Magazine (and later as the book, The History of the Standard Oil Company) concerning the evils of the oil industry, and the Rockefellers in particular. Negative public sentiment ran high, fueled by the oratory of William Jennings Bryan, and the acceptance of "tainted money" was viewed as inappropriate, even dangerous. In spite of public outcry and criticism coming from all directions, Andrews drew together a committee to raise funds for the Temple. The Board of Regents, always happy to accept money for new buildings, formally approved construction of the Temple in December 1904.

Construction on the Temple building began in 1906 after John Latenser, Sr., the Omaha architect, modified his plans to bring the estimated costs within budget. The building was completed early in 1908. Shortly after, the second floor was renovated to provide space for social functions. E. M. Barkley, Dean of Women, requested this alteration as a means of controlling student social gatherings. Prior to the renovation of Temple 2nd floor, parties and dances were held at halls and hotels downtown, and were sometimes unsupervised and ran to "increasing elaborateness and expense". The YMCA and YWCA moved into the Temple and operated a lunch room, and after 1908, the Teachers College High School moved into the basement.

By the late 1970's Temple was in constant need of repair and was considered a fire hazard. In fact, it was condemned by the State Fire Marshall more than once. The 1977 Legislature appropriated funds to study the feasibility of razing or renovating the building. Architects developed plans for a new structure to house the Theater Department and theatrical productions. Lack of funds and public fondness for the old building resulted in renovation instead.

The graduating class of 1915 made a gift to the University of a plaque which states: "In honor of Elisha Benjamin Andrews, Ph.D, D.D., L.L.D., Chancellor of the University of Nebraska, 1900-1908, through whose efforts this building was erected." This plaque still hangs in the Temple.

Source Information:
Archives and Special Collections, UNL Libraries; Knoll, Robert. Prairie University; Chernow, Ron. Titan: the life of John D Rockefeller, Sr. 1998.