Building 9 showed the power of a utility player
Editor’s note: Second in a series of progress reports on the construction of new facilities at Grand Canyon University.
“A lot of times a player has a lot of versatility. That’s really what their strength is and what their role is.”
— Bill Belichick, head coach, New England Patriots
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
Bill Belichick would have loved Building 9.
One of the oldest buildings on the Grand Canyon University campus, Building 9 was demolished Tuesday to make room for the new soccer stadium. But its memories — which for some means its french fries — will live on for anyone who has been here awhile.
Building 9 wasn’t among the nine original structures in place when what was then Grand Canyon College was moved from Prescott to Phoenix in 1951. According to L.E. “Sharky” Baker, who graduated from GCU in 1956 and knows the University’s history as well as anyone, it opened as the student center that year and didn’t become the cafeteria until later.
As the years went by, Building 9 became the utility player that can fill any role. Interviews with alumni and longtime employees identified a sweet 16 of uses for the one-story tan brick building:
- Snack bar
- Coffee shop
- Student center
- Film studies
- Financial aid
- Public safety
- Food services
- Mail center
- Print shop
- Dance studio
- Computer lab
- Learning Lounge
The fondest stories are from its days as the only eatery on campus. It wasn’t huge, it wasn’t fancy, but it was the place to be if you weren’t in class — and sometimes when you should have been in class.
“I remember that it was the biggest deal,” said Faith Weese, chief University relations officer. “The students loved it — they loved the booths in there.”
Several people mentioned the french fries, which were made so perfectly every day. A sampling of the comments:
- “So many good memories from that café — that was our big hangout. I may have even missed class a few times because hanging out with friends was so much fun.”
- “Missed class a few times because of it. French fries with ranch was much better than going to class.”
- “All the free saltine crackers you could eat — especially when I had no money left on my meal card.”
From crackers to The Nutcracker: Building 9 served as the dance studio for a year in 2012-13, and dance director Susannah Keita remembers it as “the perfect solution for the time until we got our beautiful new studios in Saguaro Hall.”
After dance came the library staff for about four months in 2013 as it transitioned from Fleming Library to its current spot in the Student Union, but that was long enough for director Nita Mailander to have a favorite memory.
The only place to put the computer lab was where the dance studio had been, which meant that students had to clickety-clack on their keyboards in a room with floor-to-ceiling mirrors on the walls and plywood on the floor. If anyone was walking around in regular shoes, Mailander said, “you couldn’t even hear. It was like a full tap dance was going on.”
Mailander’s solution: Everyone had to either take off their shoes or wear flip-flops. The staff even brought area rugs from home to try to dissipate the noise.
“It was hysterical for us,” Mailander said.
Keith Baker, senior associate athletic director, remembers the big fireplace in the special events room on the north side of the building, where Drs. David and Mildred Brazell hosted a Christmas party for local children every year. One of the professors dressed up as Santa Claus.
As for the cafeteria, Baker’s staple was pretty straightforward: “They had a generous supply of white bread, peanut butter and jelly.”
The last major use of Building 9 was for the Learning Lounge, which was there for five months in 2013-14 while its new headquarters in CAS II were being completed. Dr. Joe Veres, GCU’s director of student development and outreach, said the move to Building 9 proved a blessing for two reasons.
Dave Basham, manager of academic Web services, has been at GCU since the 1980s, when he used to help his mom, Mari, who was a cashier at the time and later managed the business office and did a variety of accounting jobs. He then was a student in the 1990s and remembers how Building 9 saved him.
During one summer school session, Basham ducked into Building 9 at lunch every day for a tuna melt — and fries, of course. He never deviated (“They knew what I wanted as soon as I walked in the door”), and the Building 9 cafeteria never disappointed until it became too small for the growing campus.
“Obviously, we outgrew it pretty quickly,” he said.
The cafeteria and snack bar were moved to the Tell Science building while he was still in school, starting the falling dominoes that led Building 9 to where it is today. The ultimate utility player has finally outlived its usefulness.
“The danger of extreme versatility,” Downton Abbey author Julian Fellowes once said, “is that you don’t spring to mind for anything.”
He obviously never had the french fries in Building 9.
Contact Rick Vacek at 602-639-8203 or [email protected]