Lawrence history through the archives:

Julia Stringfellow

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This year marks the centennial of the building of the Peabody Hall of Music, the home of the Lawrence Conservatory of Music from 1909 to 1959. The building stood where the downtown YMCA is today and cost about $15,000 to build. It was named in honor of George Peabody, a Lawrence trustee who died in 1909 and left in his will the funding to create the building.
Prior to Peabody Hall, Conservatory classes were held in Main Hall since the Conservatory’s founding in 1874. The new building contained offices, classrooms and practice rooms, and its principal feature was a recital hall that could seat about 400 people. Because of the growth of the Conservatory and Theatre Arts programs, the Music-Drama Center was constructed in 1959. Peabody Hall was razed that same year.
The total cost of the construction of the Music-Drama Center was over $1,400,000. The building was designed by Frank C. Shattuck Associates of Neenah and built by Oscar Boldt Construction Company of Appleton.
Five parts of the building were named in honor of Conservatory deans, a Lawrence alumna, a trustee, and a former professor of Theatre Arts.
Harper Hall was named in honor of William Harper, Conservatory dean from 1908 to 1913. During his tenure as dean, Harper created the Artist Series in 1908.
The Waterman Music Library was named in honor of Carl Waterman, a Conservatory professor for over 40 years and dean from 1920 through the 1930s. As announcements began being made of the dedication of the Music-Drama Center that was to take place June 5, 1959, it was noted that Waterman would be the only living person to have a part of the building named in his honor. Waterman died on the eve of the dedication, and while the next day was a joyful occasion for Lawrence in having a new building, people mourned the loss of a long-time Lawrence professor.
The Peabody wing of the building was named in honor of George Peabody, and Stansbury Theatre was named in honor of Mary Stansbury.
Stansbury was an 1859 graduate of Lawrence who was one of Lawrence’s first female graduates and went on to become one of its first female trustees in 1874. She wrote for The Appleton Post-Crescent and wrote poetry and short stories, including the book “A Path of Years.” She was also a faculty member at Lawrence and died in 1928.
When Peabody died in 1909, Stansbury wrote his obituary for The Appleton Post-Crescent. Peabody, Harper and Stansbury are all buried at Riverside Cemetery.
When the Music-Drama Center opened, it also contained an experimental, black-box theater. This theater was dedicated as the F. Theodore Cloak Experimental Theatre in 1973. Cloak taught Theatre Arts at Lawrence from 1929 to 1969 and went on to serve as director of both the Freshman Studies program and the London Centre in the 1970s.
Cloak is the founding father of the Lawrence Theatre Arts Department; he directed over 80 plays and taught thousands of aspiring actors and playwrights during his time at Lawrence. Cloak also founded Attic Theatre in 1950, a local community theater group that initially met in the attic of his home and continues to be active to this day. The photograph included in this article shows Cloak directing a group of students while construction on the Music-Drama Center is taking place in the background.
Thousands of musicians and actors have practiced, taught or attended class in the Music-Drama Center in its past 50 years. The building is well on its way to providing a rich history to celebrate when it reaches its centennial in 2059.

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