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Rearview Mirror: Oh, No, He’s Talking About Buildings Again

Why does [insert random olden-times administrator] have a building named after him? And, yeah, it’s pretty much always been him.

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The Carnegie Physics Building, or, the D. M. Smith Building. Take your pick.
Georgia Tech Archives/Facilities Department Photographs and Slides (

A note before we get to this week’s column:
In the comments last week, there were two notable and prescient remarks regarding Jim Luck and Sgt. Gary Beringause. In it, it was suggested that the baseball hall of fame in Russ Chandler Phase II be named for Jim Luck, who, besides passing too soon while serving as the Assistant Athletic Director for Non-Revenue Sports and Facilities, is widely considered the father of modern Tech baseball, as we saw. While it is seemingly too late to acknowledge Sgt. Beringause with the building being named in his honor, as noted, it doesn’t seem too late for that to happen at The Rusty C. This page on the AT Fund website implies that naming rights for things comes with donations exceeding $500,000, an amount of money I can’t even fathom as a college student, but perhaps, with funds already raised, there might be an opportunity to get around that. Either way, thanks to Bill Brockman and CTJacket for noting the opportunity.

I had originally intended to write about the football seasons following the high-water mark of 1956 - “how do you know you’re leaving a Golden Age?” is a fascinating premise - when Tech started to trail off in the last three seasons of the decade. Instead, an interesting thought crossed my mind that I’ve been pondering off and on since the building bracket: when did we make the switch from honorary building names to donation-based naming? Or is my brain writing too much into a trend that doesn’t actually exist?

It’s pretty easy to get something named after yourself you’re willing to write a big enough check. I mean, if you clicked that link, you can see that there’s plenty to be named and that keeps the lights on, or so to speak, in the Athletic Association, as is true many place. Nowadays, that’s pretty common in academics, as well. There’s a lecture hall named after American Telephone and Telegraph in the CULC, for goodness’ sake. I wonder when he graduated Tech?

It’s pretty easy to see the athletics fundraising opportunities and something like the renaming of the Engineered Biosystems Building into the Krone Engineered Biosystems Building and cynically go, “ah geez, there goes the neighborhood.” After all, when you spend a hefty chunk of time in the D. M. Smith Building, for example, taking an economics class, let’s say advanced microeconomics, for the sake of the rhetorical device, you look around wonder about what the heck D. M. Smith did. Again, definitely not speaking from experience or anything.

Well, D. M. Smith was a Tech professor. And he wasn’t just any professor, no, he was legendary. In his forty year career at the school, he taught almost every student who went to Georgia Tech at least one math class. He began as an assistant professor, eventually working his way up to the head of the math department. He was a noted curmudgeon, but a well-loved one at that. He was a well-read, effective instructor, and, when he finally retired in 1954, the short, uneven-legged gentleman rode his shockingly-Ramblin’-Reck-like 1930s coupe [this in a time preceding the purchase of the Reck from Delta chief pilot Ted Johnson] into the sunset of retirement, to be remembered extremely fondly by his students and colleagues alike.

And what was the D. M. Smith Building originally called? That would be the Carnegie Physics Building, named after the foundation that supplied most of the funding for its construction, and which had also funded most of the construction of the original library, now home to the Institute President’s office, and called, shockingly, the Carnegie Building.

“But, Jake!” you might exclaim, “it’s Carnegie! He funded everything! Most of the rest were named out of honor back then. And, plus, it seems like there haven’t been many honorary names since then.”

To an extent, that’s true. However, the best days by far to get a building named after yourself, if that’s your angle, were the early 1960s. Tech was growing into its newfound land between Old Hemphill and Tech Parkway that it really couldn’t name buildings fast enough. If you were an administrator that had been around a while back then, well, you were in luck.

Herman Fulmer, associate mathematics professor? BOOM! You get a freshman dorm named after you! Edwin Folk, english prfessor? BOOM! You get a freshman dorm! Hugh Caldwell, Tech registrar? Oh, yeah, freshman dorm.

Around the same time, there were also the Blake Van Leer Electrical Engineering Building, the Gilbert Boggs Chemistry Building, the Cherry Emerson Biology Building, the Vernon Skiles Classroom Building, the Jesse Mason Civil Engineering Building, the aforementioned D. M. Smith Building, the William Emerson Building, the Fred Wenn Student Center, the John Saylor Coon Mechanical Engineering Building, the Dorothy Crosland Tower, and the Joseph Howey Physics Building. These guys, though, may not have been Institute presidents, but, in their time, they were the most important people on campus.

And therein lies the catch. They were the first, and probably only generation of Georgia Tech professors, staff, and administrators that possibly could’ve been venerated in the way they were. Sure, Uncle Heinie has a street named after him, it’s true, but they were all at Tech in a sweet spot - a time when it was possible to both stay for years, be predominantly professors, rather than professor-researchers, meaning they had to teach a lot of classes, and, by that nature and Tech’s smaller, more intimate size, but big enough reputation and student body, they could become lionized as Mount Rushmore, or, dare I say, building-worthy men.

Tech was growing like a weed, probably faster than they could bring in private money. This was, after all, the first time Tech saw anything more than subsistence funding from the state legislature, let alone the federal money pouring in to research grants. Add in multi-decade legends all retiring at once, and, well, it was a recipe fit for a spike in honorific titles.

Oh, and Clark Howell, the founder of the campus radio station WGST (short for Georgia School of Technology), William Perry, another English professor, and John Hanson, one founding father of Tech, joined Nathaniel Harris, the other founding father, and William Glenn, the creator of the Alumni Association, in having dorms named in their honor.

Nearly president has been honored in some form or another, be it through a freshman dorm (Hopkins, Matheson), chemistry building-turned-office (Hall), dining hall and street (Brittain), instructional building (Van Leer, Clough), square (Harrison), or apartments (Crecine). But, the question remains, is the Krone, Stamps, Callaway, or Pettit trend recent?

Ever heard of the Leslie Pate Whitehead Evans Administration Building?

Yes, you have. And though it did have a different original name - Academic Building - the building named after her in 1998 is more famously called Tech Tower. Though her $340 million dollar gift was by no means recent by that time, she is Tech’s greatest benefactor. But still, 1998 is a recent year.

How about the Swann Building? Or the A. French Building? Those are both named after weather benefactors, one in honor of his wife, and the other, well, after himself. Textile barons are going to do what they please, I suppose. Same with Daniel Guggenheim and the entire Aerospace Engineering school. Grant Field was named thanks to a donation from a generous donor, as well. So was the Price Gilbert Library, and the Joseph Whitehead infirmary. If it seems like there are more benefactor buildings now, it’s probably a bit because of the trend, but also because there are more buildings in general.

We have the Love Building nowadays, across the street from the Roe Stamps Field, but we also have the McAuley Aquatic Center. There’s Russ Chandler Stadium and Ken Byers Tennis Complex, but also the George Griffin Track and the Homer Rice Sports Performance Center. We replaced the Alexander Memorial Coliseum with the Zelnak Building and McCamish Pavilion, but the Luck Building remains. Oh, and there’s also Bobby Dodd Stadium.

I suppose I only really have one sort-of concluding thought, and that’s that there’s a couple notable absences. And this isn’t where I call for a building named after the other D. M. Smith, the notable present-day computer science professor, or his young counterpart Kantwon Rogers, who is perhaps one of the few instructors today that could actually be considered to have a cult following. Dr. Whiteman in the mechanical engineering department, with his statics, dynamics, and deformable bodies videos and the quotable Dr. Greco in the physics department are perhaps the only two well-known enough across multiple majors for that to even be considered. And don’t you dare suggest the Four Horsemen.

Counting the entrance plaza still named after him as tribute - an inadequate tribute, but still an existing one, at that - William Alexander is accounted for. And of course, this hasn’t been an exhaustive list, so there are certainly buildings I haven’t mentioned. There are also buildings yet to be named. The G. P. “Bud” Peterson West Village Dining Commons, anyone? The Paul C. Johnson “Whole Team of Brad Stewarts” Manufacturing Related Disciplines Complex? But who’s the biggest name we haven’t seen yet?

John Heisman.

I was digging around my old stuff when I found the Heisman Gym article from winter break of 2017:

“Tech’s tradition of exceptionally-named basketball venues, from the Crystal Palace, the Armory, and the Alexander Memorial Coliseum, to McCamish Pavilion skipped the blandly-appended “Gym.” The football seating that replaced it undoubtedly makes more money, the offices fit more people, and the support facilities better house our student-athletes, but one glaring absence remains from the demolition of the old building: a memorial structure worthy of one of the greatest coaches in college football history, John William Heisman.”

I think I said it well back then. Tech needs to honor the man that put it on the sporting map, and into a place in the national consciousness, rather than slog on through the backwater of a relatively pedestrian school on a hill outside a minor American city.

Why was I looking back through everything I ever wrote? That’s a story for another time. In the meantime, it’s well past time we re-eract something to honor the grandest football coach-turned-athletic director-turned-baseball and basketball coach and part time thespian Tech has every known: John Heisman.

A special thanks to Dress Her in White and Gold, Engineering the New South, and the Georgia Tech Archives for the background information and images used in writing this column.

If you have any events or ideas you would like to see investigated, leave a comment below and I will be sure to look into adding it to the schedule. What is old is new again, or at least liable to be featured in the future. Thank you for reading this latest edition of From the Rumble Seat’s Rearview Mirror.