Filed Under Places

The Lecture Hall

Mason's "Mysterious" First Gathering Place

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.

Images

Lecture Hall, view from the southwest
Lecture Hall, view from the southwest The Lecture Hall as seen from the southwest, in 1973. Source: George Mason University Broadside photograph collection #R0135, Box 29 Page 2 Creator: Kerry Miller Date: September 5, 1973
Image from Program, design analysis, recommendations, and outline specifications: George Mason College of the University of Virginia, revised August 1, 1961
Image from Program, design analysis, recommendations, and outline specifications: George Mason College of the University of Virginia, revised August 1, 1961 Architectural drawing depicting original 5 buildings planned for the Fairfax Campus. The small building on the far right is the Lecture Hall, which was planned not built in 1964. Source: George Mason University Facilities records #R0017 Creator: Joseph Saunders & Associates Date: August 1, 1961
Lecture Hall construction
Lecture Hall construction Photograph depicting the construction of the Lecture Hall taken in 1967. Fenwick Library (also under construction) can be seen in the background. Source: George Mason University photograph collection #R0120, Box 1 Folder 29 Creator: George Mason University Creative Services Date: circa 1967
George Mason College Commencement ceremony, Lecture Hall
George Mason College Commencement ceremony, Lecture Hall Students of the first graduating class of George Mason College as a four-year institution receiving diplomas during first Commencement, June 9, 1968. Handing out diplomas in the center is Chancellor, Lorin A. Thompson. Source: George Mason University photograph collection #R0120, Box 1 Folder 25 Creator: George Mason University Creative Services Date: June 9, 1968
Jane Fonda and Holly Near, Lecture Hall
Jane Fonda and Holly Near, Lecture Hall Jane Fonda speaks at the Indochina Peace Initiative event, February 8, 1974 Source: George Mason University Broadside photograph collection #R0135, Box 8, Page 19. Creator: Michelle Rubenstein Date: February 8, 1974
Audience, Indochina Peace Initiative event, Lecture Hall
Audience, Indochina Peace Initiative event, Lecture Hall Faculty, staff, and students listen to the discussion during with Jane Fonda, Holly Near, and Tom Hayden in the Lecture Hall on February 11, 1974. Source: George Mason University Broadside photograph collection #R0135, Box 8, Page 19 Creator: Michelle Rubenstein Date: February 11, 1974
Lecture Hall with tents in background
Lecture Hall with tents in background The Lecture Hall as seen from the southwest on November 19, 1976. Individuals are walking in foreground and tents have been pitched behind the building as part of Patriots Day celebrations that year. Source: George Mason University Broadside photograph collection #R0135, Box Creator: Kerry Miller Date: November 19, 1976
Snowball fight with Fenwick Library and Lecture Hall in background
Snowball fight with Fenwick Library and Lecture Hall in background A snowball fight amongst students breaks out in the Quadrangle in front of the Fenwick Library. The Lecture Hall is seen on the left, February 1, 1979. Source: George Mason University Broadside photograph collection #R0135, Box 18, Page 5 Creator: Paul Watters (George Mason University Broadside photographer) Date: February 1, 1979

Location

Metadata

George Mason University Past and Present Team, “The Lecture Hall,” The Mason Experience: Past and Present, accessed April 21, 2024, https://pastandpresent.gmu.edu/items/show/6.