Lux Libertas in Perpetuity: Historic Preservation at UNC

Cold winds swept through its ill-fitting swinging doors. There was no toilet… The only washing facilities — and they were then a modern improvement — were long galvanized iron troughs in the corridors with cold water taps above them. Undoubtedly the recollection of great earlier students filled the rooms. In their time, they must have shivered too.

— Mr. Jonathan Daniels, recalling in 1966 his days as a student resident of Old East

Old East, circa 1929
Old East, circa 1929

Old East is, rightly, the beginning of any history of UNC’s built environment. When its cornerstone was laid in 1793, its builders surely knew that it was the first state university building in the nation. But could they have known then that it would still be standing in 2012? Could they have imagined the changes it would see in its lifetime: first toilets, then television, then microwaves, then wi-fi?

In 1922, Old East was condemned as unsafe and that could have been the end of the story. Fortunately, those at the helm had the foresight (and the hindsight) to recognize the building’s value and invest in renovations. As the result of a legislative appropriation, its walls were reinforced and its east-side portico restored. In 1966, Old East was designated a National Historic Landmark.

The effort to preserve Old East is one of the stories Wendy Hillis will share during “Lux Libertas in Perpetuity: Historic Preservation at UNC.” Hillis, UNC’s historic preservation officer, will deliver the talk as the 2012 Gladys Hall Coates University History Lecture on April 4 at 5:30 in Wilson Library.

The talk celebrates two current Library exhibitions about campus architecture. A Dialogue Between Old and New: Notable Buildings on the UNC Campus is on view in the North Carolina Collection Gallery. Knowledge Building(s): The Libraries at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is in the gallery of Davis Library. Both are open through May 31, 2012.