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Priority Won

December 12, 1941


With an architectural design that combines elements of Art Moderne and Art Deco, two soaring main entrance columns, and three limestone bas-relief depictions of geologists and engineers in a socialist-realist style, asymmetrical Lindley Hall is one of the most unusual looking buildings on the campus of the University of Kansas.

But Lindley’s atypical appearance is only one aspect of its singular provenance. This structure – named after KU Chancellor Ernest H. Lindley (1920-39) – dodged many a speeding bullet on its way to completion both before and after formal construction began on December 12, 1941.

KU had to finesse a federal government-assigned priority rating to begin the job and the occasional bureaucratic dispensation to wrap it up. And once it was finished, Lindley Hall effectively joined the US Army for the duration of World War II and then some, before finally settling down to its original intended purpose as KU’s mineral industries building.

None of this could have been contemplated when Chancellor Lindley first proposed the hall in 1938. In the University’s 37th Biennial Report, Lindley expressed “a real need … for a building to house the departments of Geology, Chemical Engineering and Petroleum Engineering, the [State] Geological Survey, and the testing laboratories of the departments of Civil Engineering and Applied Mechanics.”

As Board of Regents member Oscar Stauffer (half-namesake of present-day Stauffer-Flint Hall) would later observe, research facilities “are housed in sub-basements gouged out from under the back end of Hoch Auditorium and are entirely inadequate.”

Lindley cited the twin exigencies of centralizing KU’s industrial departments, which then were scattered across campus, and providing “adequate quarters … for teaching and research” as justifications for the project.

His petition, however, read more like a humble request than a persuasive plea. Perhaps that is why the solons in Topeka denied it, although the persistence of the Great Depression was probably a factor as well. Lindley formally resigned from KU a year later, and it fell to his successor, Deane W. Malott, to make a more effective petition.

Malott, a successful business executive and an associate professor at Harvard Business School before becoming KU chancellor, seemed to have learned from his predecessor’s failure. In the University’s 38th Biennial Report for the period ending June 30, 1940, the new chancellor bombarded the legislators with descriptions of how the Geological Survey was “housed in a frame and sheet metal” shanty-like addition to Haworth Hall and “in quarters scooped out under [Hoch] Auditorium.” Petroleum engineering was “crowded into two small rooms in the basement of Haworth” and chemical engineering was crammed into a “sub-basement” of Bailey Hall. Many other departments, too, were wallowing in “antiquated” accommodations.

The rhetorical roundhouse to these initial sharp jabs was Malott’s appeal to the legislators’ state pride. “A new mineral industries building,” noted the Abilene native and KU alum, “offers tremendous possibilities to serve the people of Kansas” and would help students and faculty make long strides in developing “the mineral resources of the state.” This was a “long-deferred” need, wrote Malott, who took care to mention that the University “is asking for only one building,” its first in more than 15 years.

This time the legislators were more receptive. They voted a $408,500 appropriation for the new structure. Although Kansas Governor Payne Ratner struck this expenditure from the initial budget, he eventually agreed to it and signed the bill on April 9, 1941. (The sum of $325,000 was earmarked for the actual construction; $71,500 for furniture and equipment; and a $12,000 allotment to build a service tunnel.) Two months later, on June 9, the Kansas Board of Regents would choose to name the new building after Chancellor Lindley, who had died in 1940.

A Kansas City Star editorial heralded the decision to build a freestanding mineral resources building, calling it a “veritable turning point industrially for the whole state.” Visions of technological research, thoughts of new techniques to harvest the state’s natural resources, and the chance finally for departments to leave deficient quarters swirled through the minds of faculty members and others who felt future KU geologists and engineers would do great things for the Sunflower State.

Forthwith, the University appointed a faculty building committee that would work closely with State Architect Roy Stookey in the design of the new structure. The panel included John J. Jakosky, dean of the School of Engineering; K.K. Landes, professor of geology; Ray Moore, chairman of the geology department; and Eugene Stephenson, professor of petroleum engineering.

But half a continent away in Washington, DC, Congress and President Franklin Roosevelt were contemplating larger matters, and inadvertently, these plans threatened to put the kibosh on KU’s attempt to erect a new building.

In March 1941, about a month before the Kansas legislature gave the green light to proceed with what would become Lindley Hall, President Roosevelt had won congressional passage of the landmark Lend-Lease Act. It provided that “any country whose defense the President deems vital to the defense of the United States” could receive military equipment, supplies and raw materials – collectively termed “defense articles” – by sale, transfer or lease.

In reality, it was an emergency aid package for Great Britain, then teetering on the brink of destruction by Adolf Hitler’s war machine.

The “defense article” umbrella covered steel and other building materials, and effectively placed a federal construction freeze on nonessential projects. As a result, Lindley now faced postponement or cancellation.

There was only one way out: KU would have to secure a prized priority rating from the government. And for that, it would have to convince the Supply Priorities and Allocations Board that the proposed building would be a direct help to national defense. The man who volunteered to make this case in Washington was Dean Jakosky.

Certainly the dean had his work cut out for him. Nonetheless, Jakosky’s close ties with the Lindley project and his desire to see it built no matter what compromises or concessions had to be made with Washington culminated in success. On November 7, 1941, the Kansan led with the headline “Industries Building Assured.” On that day, Chancellor Malott proclaimed to the KU community that Jakosky’s lobbying had worked and that Lindley had been granted a priority rating on the condition that it would be given over to the government on completion.

“The announcement was made after Malott had conferred by long-distance telephone with J.J. Jakosky, dean of the School of Engineering, who is in Washington talking with government officials concerning the priorities,” the Kansan reported. Lindley would “assume defense tasks” for as long as the government needed and then be discharged back to KU. While nothing had been set in stone, the paper reported there was talk the building would be “used as a laboratory by the shell-loading plant now in operation at Parsons.”

Once the federal government gave the go-order, construction began almost immediately. Cost considerations eliminated two wings that would have flanked the structure, but other than that, it was full speed ahead. From December 12, 1941, when crews broke the first ground, until the end of 1942, things seemed to be going along swimmingly, especially considering the nation was now fully engaged in a costly and increasingly bloody war against the Axis Powers.

In the September 22, 1942, edition of the University Daily Kansan, Dean Jakosky predicted that Lindley would be completed by January 1943, in time for spring semester classes. Two months later, the November 1942 Graduate Magazine reported that Lindley Hall “was practically ready for occupancy,” though it hedged a bit, noting, “Just how it will be used during the upheaval of war times is not yet announced.”

The hesitation was prescient. Early in January 1943, a copper-wire shortage meant that the building’s electrical system could not be completed in time for spring classes. But through the efforts of State Architect Stookey, who followed in the footsteps of Dean Jakosky and went to Washington to grease the bureaucratic skids, KU was promised a further special dispensation by March.

Assuming the wiring arrived on time, C.G. Bayles, superintendent of buildings and grounds, told the Kansan in late February 1943, the new mineral industries building would be completed by June or July. Once again, it seemed as if the four-story, L-shaped limestone structure was back on the road to full occupancy by KU students, perhaps in time for fall 1943 classes.

But any hopes that the federal government had assigned a rare wartime priority rating to Lindley and then simply forgotten about it were dashed on July 16, 1943, when the Kansan reported that Lindley would be transformed into a combination army barracks and mess hall.

Two weeks later, the newly completed building welcomed 250 young men from the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP), a number that would exceed 800 by mid-month. These soldiers joined some 500 machinists’ mates from the Navy’s Great Lakes Training Station, already bunking in Strong Hall, who were learning their trade at the Fowler Shops. “Uncle Sam is dean at KU,” observed the Lawrence Journal-World.

That may have been an overstatement, but Lindley was definitely in the army now. “Lindley Hall was our first home away from home – our introduction to army life,” recalled Donald Cassling, a native Iowan who was part of that first contingent of ASTP trainees in August 1943. Cassling remembered being quartered with “thirteen other guys” in a small room that offered direct access to the roof.

“The roof became a recreational area for sunbathing, playing catch, shooting the breeze and, in the evening before lights out,” he admitted, “hopefully watching the windows of the sorority house across the street. Looking back, I don’t remember a single one of us who had the smarts or the confidence to call up and ask for a date.” (After leaving Lawrence, Cassling served as an infantryman in the European Theater and was on a ship bound for Japan when V-J Day was proclaimed.)

When the Army finally discontinued its ASTP program in October 1944, many assumed this decision marked the end of Lindley’s wartime service. The geology and petroleum engineering departments, plus the Kansas Geological Survey, began moving in and holding classes during the spring 1945 semester.

But the federal government wasn’t quite ready to give up its “squatter’s rights” and continued to use part of Lindley as temporary housing for military and civilian personnel. Among this second wave of occupants, as reported by the Journal-World on March 22, 1945, were “200 engineers, chemists and other DuPont employees” who were to begin a “5-week training course at Sunflower Ordnance Works” in April of that year. Only in February 1946 did the government move out once and for all.

That spring, Lindley finally began serving its long-anticipated role as KU’s new mineral resources building. The chemical, petroleum, mining and metallurgical engineering departments, along with those of geography and geology, plus the sub-department of astronomy, were able to set up permanent shop in their new quarters. And faculty and students were able to test the Kansas Engineer’s January 1942 prediction that Lindley would “mark a modern and scientific step of progress in the history of the University of Kansas.”

The more than 34,000-square-foot structure boasted 129 rooms plus a 265-seat auditorium and a rooftop astronomical observatory (which in 1980 was christened the Clyde W. Tombaugh Observatory after the KU grad who had discovered the planet Pluto 50 years earlier). Perhaps as a reward for faithful (and patient) service, the federal government established in Lindley an office of the US Geological Survey (USGS).

The building they moved into combined elements of several architectural styles, as well as actual pieces of Old Snow Hall, which had been razed in 1934. Constructed of Cottonwood and Silverdale limestone, much of the design reflects the Art Moderne style, as seen in its flat roof, casement and glass block windows, asymmetrical façade, the smooth rounded surfaces of its two soaring main entry pillars, and a general emphasis on the horizontal. There are also some Art Deco touches, particularly the ornamental medallion over the south door of the east face.

Perhaps most striking are the three limestone socialist-realist bas-relief sculptures over the main entryway that depict workers using the tools of the disciplines Lindley was built to house: geology and mining on the right (pickaxe), chemical engineering in the center (tubing and cracking tower), and petroleum engineering on left with the large hoisting apparatus. Bernard “Poco” Frazier, who also created the bronze doors of KU’s Memorial Campanile, sculpted all three. (Fortunately, as KU geology professor Anthony Walton has noted, Kansans at the time were probably unaware that these bas-reliefs were done in the socialist-realist style. “Saying anything in Kansas is socialist realism,” he wryly observed, “is risking a loss of funding from the legislature.”)

In the early 1940s, a major selling point to Kansas legislators was that Lindley Hall, as the home to disparate mineral industries departments at KU, would be an economic boon to the state. This prediction would turn out to be largely correct. Lindley Hall has given numerous KU engineers and geologists a solid platform upon which to explore, analyze and develop the state’s mineral resources to the economic benefit of all.

Among the tangible results of discoveries and innovations made by Lindley Hall personnel, many of whom have been associated with the Kansas Geological Survey, is the success of the Kansas ceramics, brick and tile-making industries, thanks to the identification of high-quality clay from the state’s central regions.

Lindley-based engineers have also provided valuable assistance to the state’s oil and gas industries by doing detailed mapping and surveying work; and they have helped farmers and ordinary citizens maintain access to steady and clean water supplies.

But perhaps the most important work out of Lindley has been with plain old rocks. “Aid in the discovery of quarries,” whether they contain “sand and gravel, glass sand [or] asphalt rock,” as the January 1949 edition of the Graduate Magazine put it, “rock … has been responsible for starting more small businesses than almost anything else the [Kansas Geological] Survey has ever done.”

From revealing how Kansas volcanic ash could be used as filters in water treatment and petroleum processing, to guarding against environmental degradation and spurring the state’s salt, lime, shale and glass-producing industries, Lindley’s geologists and engineers have given Kansans a tremendous return on their original $408,500 investment.

But just as its wartime role necessitated bidding adieu to diverse and transitory houseguests, present-day Lindley has notably fewer departmental occupants. The Kansas Geological Survey moved to Moore Hall in 1973, and three years later, petroleum and chemical engineering went to Learned. The USGS also eventually outgrew its Lindley quarters. Still remaining are the Departments of Geology and Geography, and the Astronomy program.

As for Lindley Hall’s future, some in the local preservationist community have expressed concerns about whether, long term, it can elude the wrecking ball.

According to Dennis Farney, past president of the Historic Mount Oread Friends (HMOF), Lindley is “probably the most vulnerable landmark on campus,” sitting as it does “on a big piece of developable land.” As yet, to be sure, there have been no public utterances or ruminations about possibly replacing Lindley; but as past HMOF president Marilyn Gridley observed, “Once talk surfaces, it’s usually too late. And KU’s [preservationist] record does not inspire complacency.”

But if the past is any indication, and barring any rash destructive acts, one can bet that this limestone veteran, forged in war, will provide stalwart service for decades to come.

John H. McCool
Department of History
University of Kansas

Source Notes

[Source Notes: Most of the information for this article comes from the Lindley Hall building files housed in University Archives, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas. Many of the documents contained in the various file folders are either undated or the date is obscured because of poor photocopying or simply the passage of, in many cases, decades of time.For those desiring as near a complete list of sources as possible pertaining to Lindley Hall, see the Index folder in the Lindley building file. It not only gives a brief summary of the building’s history but also lists dozens of meticulously noted sources, from building scrapbooks, various editions of the alumni magazines, and articles appearing in numerous student newspapers, all pertaining to some aspect of Lindley Hall’s more than 60-year history on campus.The sources most heavily relied upon for this article are the following, in general order of use:For KU’s procurement of a federal priority rating for the construction of Lindley Hall, first see the November 7, 1941, edition of the University Daily Kansan, p. 1, in which it reported Chancellor Deane W. Malott’s effort and the success of Dean John J. Jakosky’s visit to Washington, DC. Announcements of the start of actual construction are covered in the December 11 and December 12 editions, both stories appearing on page one.
For background on Chancellor Ernest H. Lindley’s initial efforts to get a new mineral resources building for KU, see a document titled “Lindley Hall” dated October 30, 1987, in the 1987 folder of the Lindley Hall building file. Although there is no attribution, it has the mark of officialdom, and seems to be part of a campus-wide effort to chronicle the history of important buildings. In any event, it is comprehensive in scope, giving important history of Lindley’s construction from the embryonic stages in the late 1930s and early 1940s, through the struggles to obtain a federal priority rating, the occupation of Lindley by members of the Army Specialized Training Program, and finally KU’s eventual takeover in 1946. This is the most important resource the the history of Lindley Hall. The reproductions of key parts of both Chancellors Lindley and Malott’s 37th and 38th (respectively) Biennial Reports about the need for a new mineral resources building are also helpful.

Also useful is a three-page article from the fall 1993 edition of the G-Hawker, a copy of which is located in the 1993 folder of the Lindley Hall building file at Spencer. Titled “1943-1993: Lindley Hall,” it is a fiftieth anniversary tribute to the building and contains some valuable information about its construction and early history. On page 20 are the reminiscences of Donald Cassling, the WWII veteran who, as a 17-year-old trainee, spent the summer and fall of 1943 in Lindley Hall before being sent to basic training at Ft. Benning and then to the European Theater.

For a transcript of the March 11, 1941, Lend-Lease Act, the spirit of which would eventually place federal restrictions on various building materials, particularly steel, and threaten the realization of Lindley Hall, see: http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq59-23.htm. For a copy of President Franklin Roosevelt’s August 28, 1941, executive order establishing the Supply Priorities and Allocations Board, see: http://www.uhuh.com/laws/donncoll/eo/1941/EO8875.TXT.

The progress of Lindley Hall construction is documented in the Graduate Magazine. March-April 1941, p. 11, “Appropriations Include New Building,” reported the legislature’s approval of the funds for the new mineral resources building and included a detailed budget summary for the 1941-43 biennium. The June 1941 edition, p. 11, “Will Be Lindley Hall,” announced that, as of the June 9, 1941, meeting of the Kansas State Board of Regents, the proposed structure would be named after former KU chancellor Ernest Lindley. The November 1942 edition of the Graduate Magazine, p. 6, announced the near completion of the building.

For a brief summation of Lindley’s construction history and the news that the building would be opened by July 1943, see the February 28, 1943, edition of the University Daily Kansan. Also of interest is a January 1942 story in the Kansas Engineer (p. 10) about how the proposed structure would be a boon to both the University and the state.

For information on how Lindley was used by the US military during the mid-1940s, see Clifford S. Griffin, The University of Kansas: A History, (University Press of Kansas, 1974), pp. 484-86, and 493-95; and Robert Taft, The Years on Mount Oread, (University Press of Kansas, 1955), pp. 159-171.

More detailed studies of Chancellors Lindley and Malott and their respective administrations are contained in this author’s two pieces on the men published by This Week In KU History. The Lindley bio is at: http://www.kuhistory.com/proto/story.asp?id=37, and the Malott bio is at: http://www.kuhistory.com/proto/story.asp?id=37

The author wishes to thank Dennis Farney, past president of the Historic Mount Oread Fund, Marilyn Gridley, the organization’s current president, and KU geology professors Anthony Walton and W.R. van Schmus for their assistance in preparing this article.