Letter to the Editor

May I clarify a few points and correct some misinformation in your October 19th article on Fulford Hall? Tess Steele did a great job with her story. I admire her journalistic skill. But some of the information she got from Administration sources was inaccurate. As a former News Editor of the Purple, I know column inches are valuable. Leslie Richardson, former Faculty Trustee and Instructor in Italian, has written a longer, more detailed response to the Purple article, and readers looking for a fuller discussion may read it on the Save Fulford Hall Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/972372776140999/. Our concerns about Fulford Hall’s future are not based on rumors. As early as August, 2014, a month after the Rebels Rest fire, a local builder was brought in to evaluate how much of the hardwood flooring and other materials from Fulford could be salvaged in case the University decided to tear it down. In May, 2015, a member of the Administration remarked to a colleague that the destruction of Rebel’s Rest made that site, together with the adjoining site of Fulford, an ideal location for a new large student center. With this information in hand, we emailed the Sewanee Classifieds in midsummer that Fulford might be slated to be demolished. Responses from alumni and community members who did not want this to happen inspired an alumna from Nashville to set up the Save Fulford Hall Facebook page. Within a month, membership had risen to more than 1200. Contrary to Vice Chancellor McCardell’s comments about “factually inaccurate” material on the FB page and “the seeming anonymity that social media can encourage,” anyone familiar with Facebook knows that no comment can be posted anonymously. Mrs. Richardson and I stand solidly behind all statements we have made. If the VC wants to dispute the factuality of anything we have said, we would be delighted if he would do so publicly and in detail.

In early July, Dr. McCardell invited us to constitute an advisory committee on Fulford. Dean Terry Papillon is quoted as saying “[the Adminstration] had an obligation to find how safe the building was,” but neglects slow to notice the ambiguity contained in that statement until a friend on the to mention that the University did not have Fulford inspected for fire safety. Leslie and I, as members of the Vice Chancellor’s Ad Hoc Advisory Committee on Fulford Hall, engaged Joe Castellano, fire safety engineer and Vice President of Jensen Hughes, Inc., in Atlanta, to conduct a study. Mr. Castellano was impressed with the building, finding it safe and in good condition, and he generously waived his fee. Dr. Papillon goes on to say, “While in reality there had been no decision made about the future of the building, there was misinterpretation among the community. . .” I don’t understand this statement. We have never claimed that a final decision had been made. It was the possibility that one of Sewanee’s most iconic and best-loved buildings might be torn down that prompted us to action. This being the case, we were extremely gratified that on August 25th the VC announced that Fulford Hall “would continue to stand on the Sewanee campus.” At this point there was widespread rejoicing in the community. I myself was slow to notice the ambiguity contained in that statement until a friend on the Board of Regents pointed out to me that it did not preclude the possibility of Fulford’s being moved. We asked Patrick McIntyre, Executive Director of the Tennessee Historical Commission, for his opinion on the advisability of moving Fulford Hall to some other location. Mr. McIntyre visited Sewanee in response to our committee’s request and afterwards wrote a letter which I quote from: “While moving a building is the last option to avoiding demolition, moving is almost always very damaging to significant historical materials. . . . A moved building is almost always removed from its historic context. . . .” While the Vice Chancellor politely takes exception to Mr. McIntyre’s findings as to the damage that would be done, both structurally and in terms of its historical and cultural context, he neglects to mention that Mr. McIntyre’s opinion coincides with that of Greg Rutledge, Preservation Architect at Hanbury Evans Wright Vlattas, the planning firm for the University Commons project.

The 2012 Master Plan calls for a University Commons to be built on the site of Thompson Union. As for the Administration’s proposed deviation from the Master Plan (which by University bylaws is the responsibility not of the Vice Chancellor but of the Board of Trustees), you further quote Dean Papillon to the effect that after the Rebels Rest fire, “Suddenly we had a prime piece of property right on central campus, and this threw the master plan out the window. It was the possibility of serious safety concerns and exceptionally costly renovations that resulted in demolition even being mentioned.” It is not too hard to figure out what was going on here, since both the “serious safety concerns and the exceptionally costly renovations” turn out to have been fictional.“

Emotion,” “nostalgia,” “enthusiasm,” and “passion” are sometimes negatively contrasted to “clear-eyed decision-making.” This is not a valid dichotomy, nor are the terms mutually exclusive. Sewanee is a place we all feel emotional about—at least I hope so! Funds should be directed wisely to preserve Fulford Hall on its original site, where it can continue to remind generations of students that past and future are part of an ongoing continuum. Tradition is about the transmission of values from one generation to the next. This is how the past serves the future. A decision for the next 50 to 100 years should not be taken lightly. If a house is well built and worth the investment, as Fulford is, it should neither be destroyed nor removed. Fulford Hall, at age 125, is still going strong and serving Sewanee well. Renovate and remodel it if you must, but let Fulford stand where Vice Chancellor Charles Todd Quintard, who saved Sewanee from going under after the Civil War, built it and intended for it to stand. What newcomers may think of as “nostalgia,” longtime Sewanee people regard as faithfulness to our history and traditions. Erasing the past does not provide a good foundation for the future. Yours sincerely, Richard Tillinghast, C’62, Hon. D.Litt.’08

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