Whitcomb Conservatory/ Lee Memorial Chapel
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Whitcomb Conservatory/Lee Memorial Chapel, a unique five-sided structure, is significant architecturally on state and national levels as an unusual combination of the Prairie School and Arts and Crafts architectural movements. This building was the product of Dean and Dean, Architects, a prestigious Chicago company owned by 19th century Doane College alumni George and Arthur Dean. Their firm played an active role in shaping the nation's Prairie School architectural theory and national movement led by nationally known architects Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan.
Whitcomb Conservatory, commonly known as the "Con," is the only non-domestic Prairie School structure in Nebraska. The building is flanked by two other historic buildings, Gaylord Hall (1884) and Boswell Observatory (1883). The three structures are listed in the National Register of Historic Places as the "Doane College Historic District." For 65 years, the Conservatory served dual purposes as a chapel and music conservatory, hence the combination name. All students attended weekly "required chapel" services and regular mandatory convocations in the auditorium space in the center of the structure. Concerts and theatre productions were held there, and music department offices and practice rooms were located in the appendages protruding from the pure pentagon-shaped plan. Whitcomb Conservatory/Lee Memorial Chapel is named for two major donors to the original building project, George F. Lee of Otoe County, Nebraska, and Henry Whitcomb of Worcester, Massachusetts. The building, vacated in 1971, has been used for storage and is now scheduled for renovation beginning in July, 2003.
The Conservatory is one of several Doane College buildings designed by the Dean brothers for their alma mater. It displays many stylistic details identified with the Prairie School and Arts and Crafts movements, such as Roman pressed brick, articulated piers, hipped roof, wide overhanging eaves, ribbon windows, and window surrounds on the ground floor. These were typical materials and motifs used by Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan, and a small group of Chicago architects who were experimenting with the radical architectural ideas that emerged as the Prairie School movement just after the turn of the 20th century.
George Dean, Doane College class of 1887, was an active intellectual participant in Wright's Prairie School movement. He became associated with the famous architect's Steinway Hall colony in Chicago and was a member of an informal forum of architects called "The Circle of Eighteen" who met regularly during the late 1890s and early 20th century to discuss architectural theories and problems.
The Dean brothers worked primarily in the industrial field and designed buildings for the Goodman Manufacturing Plant in Chicago, the U.S. Steel Corporation Plant in Gary, Indiana, and the entire industrial village of Morgan Park in Duluth, Minnesota. They also built many fraternity houses throughout the East and Midwest. Dean and Dean Architects designed four other Doane College campus buildings. They are Whitin Library (1894), Fiske Lodge (1910), Men's Hall (1929), and Frees Hall (1931)--all still extant. The Dean Memorial Pergola, built over the original campus water source in 1930, is a memorial to their Congregational missionary parents.
Whitcomb Conservatory is perhaps the most artistic project produced by Dean and Dean, Architects. It is a remarkable illustration of this important phase in 20thcentury American architecture and heralds the phenomenal architectural evolution that took place during a time when the country was also going through much other social and intellectual reform. That a progressive building of this aesthetic magnitude would exist on a non-urban, small college campus is very important.
Renovation/restoration is scheduled to begin on this building July 1, 2003. It will become home to the Doane College Theatre and Forensics Departments and will also serve as a location for community theatre performances, music recitals, alumni gatherings, and various other assemblies.
Brown, Fred D. Doane College. New York: Newcomen Society of the United States, 2003.
Jeffries, Janet L. "Gentility on the Prairie, Urbanization and Refinement in Crete, Nebraska, 1871-1891." M. A. thesis, University of Nebraska at Lincoln, 1996.
Murphy, D. Doane College Historic District. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1977.
Perry, Thomas D., ed. History of Doane College 1872-1912. Crete, NE: Doane College, 1957.