Filed Under Places

The First Four Buildings at the Fairfax Campus

North, South, East and West Buildings

The Fairfax campus opened in September 1964 with only four buildings. From then until 1974, these original buildings were the center of Mason student life and the site of many notable events.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the new Fairfax campus was held on August 1, 1963. Students at Bailey’s Crossroads knew of the construction, but few were interested in following it. Student photographers Jim Wilson and Bill Flandermeyer visited the campus while it was under construction and took some of the earliest photographs of the Fairfax campus.

The campus at Fairfax officially opened on Monday, September 14, 1964, to 356 registered students. This number represented a 58% increase in the student population from the final school year at Bailey’s Crossroads. The original campus consisted of four buildings, named North, South, East and West, each for the direction it faced. Because the campus was initially small, students spent much of their campus life from 1964 to 1974 in these first four buildings. The then-state-of-the-art buildings were designed and built by local businesses Joseph Saunders & Associates of Alexandria and Eugene Simpson and brother, respectively.  

On opening day, Mason’s new director, Robert Reid, boasted to the Fairfax Times that Mason was the first fully air-conditioned college in the Washington, D.C., area. Air conditioning was a welcome change for students and faculty who experienced the lack of climate control in the old school building at Bailey’s Crossroads. They were delighted with the spacious, top-of-line classrooms and laboratories. The air conditioning and brand-new facilities temporarily distracted them from realizing the campus lacked some essential amenities. During the first week, there was no faculty lounge or place for students to get food and beverages. Mason’s administration quickly set up vending machines in a study hall as a temporary solution.

The campus was formally dedicated on November 12, 1964. The ninety-minute dedication ceremony took place in front of the North Building. Nearly a thousand people attended, including prominent politicians, educators, members of the community and the local press.

Construction was still ongoing when the Fairfax campus opened. The sidewalks were incomplete, so planks were put down when it rained. The covered walkways between the buildings had yet to be constructed. Former students described the campus as “a sea of mud.” Even with the wooden planks, mud was difficult to avoid since students had to cross an unpaved path between the North and East Buildings to reach their gravel parking lot. Photographs from the 1965 to 1966 yearbook show that in addition to the completion of sidewalks and covered walkways, the roads around campus and parking spaces were paved, finally ending the mud problem.

South Building (Krug Hall)

By 1965, the students received a dining hall in the basement of the South Building. They named it the Ordinary, after the old English word for a pub. Chemical smells often drifted in from the biology and chemistry laboratories directly above. The Ordinary quickly became a popular hangout spot for students. Like their predecessors at the Bailey’s Crossroads campus, alumni from the Class of 1968 recalled playing competitive games of Hearts, Spades and Bridge. These card games were sometimes so intense that students nearly missed classes.

The Ordinary started serving fresh food in the fall of 1965. Articles in The Gunston Ledger frequently complained that the Ordinary was too crowded, so additional spaces for students to gather were added or improved in the East and West Buildings beginning in 1965. The Ordinary featured a jukebox. When the original jukebox died in April of 1966, a student penned an obituary for it in The Gunston Ledger commemorating its year and a half of service to students. The Gunston Ledger gleefully announced the purchase of a new jukebox for the Ordinary in October 1966. The Ordinary remained a gathering place for students until 1974 when the building that is now SUB I was completed.

Mason Day began in 1965 as a half-day of speeches and awards the day after UVA's Founder's Day celebration. During the 1968 to 1969 school year, Student Government Activities Chair, Mike Baker, transformed Mason Day into a multi-day spectacle of fun and entertainment. As part of Mason Day in 1969, for 3 days, 40 male students camped in tents behind the South Building. The event was labeled “Mason’s First Dormitories.” They ate their meals in the Ordinary, played sports on the lawn, roasted hot dogs, played music, watched movies and attended a presentation by local photographer Charles Baptie in the Lecture Hall, and staged a water balloon fight. Mason Tent City remained a tradition until 1977, when the university opened permanent dormitories.

North Building (Finley Building)

The North Building originally housed Mason’s administrative offices. An anonymous article in The Gunston Ledger, on November 16, 1967, decried that Mason was the only institution in Virginia without a flagpole. The writer implored students to find a way to raise $150 for a flagpole. The shaming worked, and a flagpole, which no longer stands, was installed in front of the North Building shortly after.

According to Broadside, beginning November 10, 1969, students stood in front of the flagpole in a memorial vigil of the lives lost in the Vietnam War. The previous month, the Vietnam War Moratorium Committee had presented Chancellor Lorin Thompson with a petition containing hundreds of signatures from students and faculty asking to be excused for one day of classes to participate in anti-war activities. Thompson rejected their petition. The vigils in front of the flagpole, visible from the administrative offices, were likely a response to his denial of their request.

The Vietnam War Moratorium Committee had officially scheduled to attend an off-campus event on November 14, 1969. So students were shocked when a group of protestors, in a spectacle Broadside called "Guerrilla Theatre", burned an American flag in the Ordinary. That same afternoon, Professor James Shea led students in burning draft cards in the Quadrangle. The Guerrilla Theatre incident divided the Vietnam War Moratorium Committee's student leaders, with Jim Corrigan speaking out against it and George Whelpley behind it. The Student Government was similarly divided, voting 6-3-3 to oppose disciplinary action against those responsible for the incidents. The Student Government supported Shea and asked the administration to retain him.

On the morning of May 6, 1970, Mason students asked Thompson to lower the flag in honor of students killed by the National Guard at Kent State University two days earlier. Thompson denied their request. A Kent State student spoke in the Quadrangle. Following the speech, a demonstration of fifty Mason students marched to the flagpole in an attempt to lower the flag by cutting the cord used to raise and lower it. Campus police confronted the demonstrating students. At noon, Thompson agreed to lower the flag to half-mast to accommodate the students and prevent any unrest.

East Building

The second floor of the East Building served as Mason's library until its free standing library was completed in late 1967. The entire East Building had originally been allotted for the library. However, the librarian generously gave two floors back to the college, which they used for classrooms and an additional lounge. In 1965, SAGE, a women’s organization on campus, hosted a fashion show in the East Building. On June 9, 1965, the first final day exercises were held in the East Building, and Mason’s class of 1965 received their diplomas. In 1968, the first class to graduate with Bachelor’s degrees from Mason put on their graduation robes in Eats before proceeding to the ceremony in the Lecture Hall.

West Building

The West Building became the center of attention at Mason on September 21, 1966. At 2:10 pm that day, a hot water pump motor in the boiler room burned out and caused an electrical fire. The building’s supervisor discovered it but found his telephone was out of order. He then drove to the Fairfax Fire Station to report to the fire alarm. Seven fire trucks from Fairfax, Vienna, and Annandale responded to the fire alarm. The fire marshal ordered everyone to evacuate the smoke-filled West Building upon arrival. Firefighters set up fans to blow the smoke out of the building. Once it cleared, they put out the fire with a regular fire extinguisher. No one was injured, but students and staff were inconvenienced because the fire knocked out all telephone service and many of the lights across campus. The food machines in the Ordinary also did not work. Classes were dismissed for the rest of the day.

Video

Tour of George Mason College Fairfax Campus, July 24, 1964 In this film, George Mason College Director, Robert Reid, is taking a group of citizens and Fairfax leaders on a tour of the unfinished campus. The tour begins in the North Building (today's Finley Building) and continues around the exterior of the campus. As the group makes its way around campus, carpenters are at work on the interiors of the buildings, and painters and construction workers are putting the finishing touches on the exteriors. The film ends with a brief segment in which an announcer interviews Dr. Reid and Robert Parcells, Chairman of the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce. Source: George Mason University Audio-Visual records, #R0136 Creator: unidentified Date: July 24, 1964

Audio

Press Conference with George Mason College Director, Robert H. Reid In this recording, Fairfax Mayor, John C. Wood and Virginia State Senator from Arlington, Charles Rogers Fenwick introduce George Mason College director, Robert H. Reid to the people of Fairfax. Wood and Fenwick speak for several minutes about the background of the college and that of Dr. Reid before introducing him. Reid speaks for about 16 minutes before the recording abruptly ends. Mp3 audio. Run time is 24 minutes, 42 seconds. Source: Martha Turnage Papers Creator: Robert H. Reid Date: May 5, 1964

Images

George Mason College, Fairfax Campus, ca. 1965, aerial photograph
George Mason College, Fairfax Campus, ca. 1965, aerial photograph Aerial photograph portraying the newly-built George Mason College, Fairfax campus, ca. 1965. Buildings from top left are: East, South, West, and North. Source: George Mason University photograph collection, #R0120 Box 1, Folder 11 Creator: Unidentified photographer Date: ca. 1965
Groundbreaking ceremony for the Fairfax campus
Groundbreaking ceremony for the Fairfax campus Photograph of key individuals in the history of George Mason University breaking ground for the new George Mason College campus in Fairfax, Va., August 1, 1963. Pictured in the foreground from left to right are John C. Wood, Clarence Steele, Charles Fenwick, J.N.G. Finley, and C. Harrison Mann Jr. Source: George Mason University photograph collection, #R0120 Box 1, Folder 9 Creator: Don Hubbard Date: August 1, 1963
East Building construction
East Building construction Photograph showing East Building under construction. In this image, the brick exterior is nearly complete, while the other buildings (North, South, and West) are still being framed. Source: George Mason University photograph collection, #R0120 Box 1, Folder 14 Creator: Jim Wilson Date: February 7, 1964
Reception, George Mason College Dedication
Reception, George Mason College Dedication Participants in the reception following the dedication ceremonies at George Mason College, Fairfax, Va, November 12, 1964. This event is taking place in the North (now Finley) Building. Pictured here are, from immediate left to right: John Norville Gibson Finley (former Director of George Mason College), Robert H. Reid (Director of George Mason College), and Edgar F. Shannon (President of the University of Virginia). Directly over Reid's right shoulder, looking towards the ground is Virginia Senator Charles Rodgers Fenwick. Source: Oliver F. Atkins photograph collection, #C0032 Box 3, Folder 10 Creator: Oliver F. Atkins Date: November 12, 1964
Speakers platform, George Mason College Dedication
Speakers platform, George Mason College Dedication Photograph of the George Mason College Dedication from the perspective of the audience. The building in the background is the North Building (now named the Finley Building). Source: Oliver F. Atkins photograph collection, #C0032 Box 3, Folder 10 Creator: Oliver F. Atkins Date: November 12, 1964
Students walk on wooden planks between buildings
Students walk on wooden planks between buildings Students walk across wooden planks over mud to get to class on a rainy day. Photograph was taken through the window of the Biology Lab in the South Building. Source: Richard M. Sparks photograph collection Creator: Richard Sparks Date: October 1964
News reporter photographs students protesting dress code
News reporter photographs students protesting dress code In 1965 George Mason College students protested a new mandatory dress code (jackets and ties for men and skirts and blouses for women) by following the spirit rather than the letter of the law. Men wore skirts, and women, jackets and ties. A photographer captured a group of students protesting in February 1965 for this local newspaper article. While this was occurring, GMC student Doug Nelms (Class of 1965) photographed the photographer at work and his subjects. This photo session took place in the Quad in the center of the four original buildings. And the dress code was quietly rescinded by the end of the year. Source: Douglas Nelms photograph collection, #R0152 Creator: Douglas Nelms Date: February 1965
Students eating lunch in the Ordinary
Students eating lunch in the Ordinary A pair of students eat lunch in the Ordinary in the South Building in this very early color photograph. Its beloved jukebox is visible directly behind the woman. Source: Richard M. Sparks photograph collection Creator: Richard Sparks Date: 1965
Students wait in line in the Ordinary to purchase food and drink
Students wait in line in the Ordinary to purchase food and drink Students line up to use the food and drink machines in the newly-opened Ordinary in the South Building. Source: Doug Nelms photograph collection, #R0152 Creator: Douglas Nelms Date: November 1964
Fire trucks and students crowd around the West Building
Fire trucks and students crowd around the West Building Fire trucks from the Fairfax, Annandale and Vienna Fire Department respond the to the boiler room fire in the West Building as evacuated students look on. Source: Doug Nelms photograph collection, #R0152 Creator: Douglas Nelms Date: September 21, 1966
"Governor Harrison Dedicates George Mason College"
"Governor Harrison Dedicates George Mason College" Article about the dedication ceremony for the Fairfax Campus in The Gunston Ledger, Volume 2, Number 2. Source: Broadside and Gunston Ledger, #R1028, Box 1 Creator: The Gunston Ledger Staff Date: November 13, 1964
"Farewell  117247,  As You Go to Your Place in the Sun"
"Farewell 117247, As You Go to Your Place in the Sun" An obituary written by a student for the jukebox in the Ordinary, which stopped working. This was printed in The Gunston Ledger, Volume 3, Number 14. Source: Broadside and Gunston Ledger, #R0128, Box 1 Creator: The Gunston Ledger Staff Date: April 12, 1966
Volleyball, Mason Day, 1968
Volleyball, Mason Day, 1968 This game of volleyball is being played in the Quad in the center of the North, South, East, and West buildings. Source: George Mason University photograph collection, #R0120, Box 1, Folder 22 Creator: Unidentified Date: April 19, 1968

Location

Metadata

George Mason University Past and Present Team, “The First Four Buildings at the Fairfax Campus,” The Mason Experience: Past and Present, accessed March 2, 2024, https://pastandpresent.gmu.edu/items/show/4.