The small nondescript structure on George Mason's Fairfax Campus' northeast side has been a witness to and contributor to university history. The building has been the host of Mason's first Commencement, performing arts productions, and quite a few other gatherings, not to mention tens of thousands of class lectures. But was this building actually meant to be built on the Fairfax Campus?
There is a legend among long-time faculty and staff at George Mason that the Lecture Hall on the Fairfax Campus was intended for another university in the commonwealth. Indeed, the author of this piece has been told by more than one long-tenured Mason employee that our Lecture Hall was meant to be built elsewhere. Believers in the legend point to the fact that the Lecture Hall does not resemble the initial buildings constructed at Fairfax just three years earlier. It is true that the Lecture Hall was initially scheduled to be completed in 1964, and it was meant to resemble the North, South, East and West Buildings in many respects, but budget overruns forced the Lecture Hall to be eliminated from the initial construction.
In 1965 the University of Virginia (Mason's then parent institution) successfully petitioned the General Assembly for funding to add this missing piece to compliment the Library that was already underway. As with the original four buildings, the University chose a local architect to design the Lecture Hall. The firm, Vosbeck and Vosbeck of Alexandria was the same which designed Fenwick Library, but, interestingly, not the same which designed the original four buildings (Saunders and Pearson - also of Alexandria). Construction began in Spring of 1966 and was complete in December of 1967. The Lecture Hall had three auditoriums, one large one seating three hundred and two smaller ones, each seating one hundred.
By the spring semester of 1968, the Lecture Hall was busy around the clock hosting classes and other noteworthy events. In February, there was a controversial and well-attended program where faculty members debated whether colleges should eliminate the grading system. In March, Mason's Agora Society presented Shakespeare's The Country Wife. Tickets sold for $1.00 each. In April and May, Philosophy professor Dr. James Shea appeared in several Vietnam War-related teach-ins in the Lecture Hall. And on June 9, it hosted Mason's first Commencement. The college initially planned to confer degrees on the fifty-two members of Mason's Class of 1968 outdoors on the lawn in front of the Lecture Hall, but rain was in the forecast for that day, forcing the ceremony indoors.
The Lecture Hall was the venue for another notable gathering in 1974. On February 11 peace activists Jane Fonda, her husband, founder of Students for a Democratic Society, Tom Hayden, and folk singer Holly Near visited George Mason University as part of the Indochina Peace Initiative tour. It was attended by about one hundred George Mason students, faculty, and staff, some of whom, it has been rumored, were FBI agents disguised as students.
In the early 2000's the Lecture Hall was among several buildings on the north side of campus set to be demolished for the creation of a global education complex. This never came to fruition, and it has remained a part of the Fairfax Campus.
The Lecture Hall has played a key part in the function of the university ever since it first opened over fifty-six years ago. Simple but unique among the other places on the Fairfax Campus, it has had and continues to play a small yet significant role at Mason.