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The rise and fall of the Frieze Building

BY JESSICA VOSGERCHIAN
Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 9, 2007

The Frieze Building, long one of campus's most complained about but beloved structures, is slated for demolition today. It was 99 years old.

Jessica Boullion
Crews having already been removing hazardous materials from the 99-year-old building. (BENJI DELL/Daily)
Jessica Boullion
A fence outside of the Frieze Building, on which demolition begins today. (BENJI DELL/Daily)

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The Frieze is being leveled to make room for a younger, flashier building - a residence hall called North Quad. It will remain standing in the memories of the community members and alumni who loved it, though.

"It will always be in my memory as it is now," University alum Jacqueline Wood said. "It was flawed, rusty and falling apart - and there was the asbestos thing - but for me it was perfect."

Last April, Wood organized "Frieze Frame," a presentation of images, videos and audio clips about the events and people connected to the building since it was built in 1907.

Wood decided to create the project after she heard the Frieze would be demolished. A film and video studies major, Wood had spent much of her four years at the University in the Frieze's classrooms and studios.

The University bought the building in 1956 and named it after Henry Frieze, who served as interim president in 1880 and 1887 while then-President James Angell was on diplomatic missions. The building's original tenant was Ann Arbor Public High School.

Walking through the courtyard of the soon-to-be demolished Frieze, it's hard to imagine that it once rang with the chatter of high school students. There's no echo of the applause that once met performances in the building's theaters and production studios.

In recent years, the Frieze has garnered a reputation of being cold and uncomfortable among students in concentrations like communications as well as theater and drama, both of which held many of their classes in the building.

In the months leading up to its demolition, the Frieze was a gutted, dilapidated frame of its former self.

The construction crew has already started chipping away at the building's outer walls, removing the asbestos-ridden caulking and lead-based paint from the Frieze's windowsills and walls.

The large-scale demolition isn't sending the Frieze out with a bang, though. Instead of using a wrecking ball, workers will bring the building down in sections over several weeks, said Diane Brown, University facilities and operations spokeswoman.

Leveling the Frieze will involve an "excavator with scissor-like claws chewing away at the building," Brown said.

The only part of the building left standing will be the set of majestic columns that forms the front facade of the Carnegie Library on Huron Street. The columns will be incorporated into North Quad's architecture.

Some community members, though, said that isn't good enough.

When the University began publicly discussing a plan to demolish the Frieze in 2004, some Ann Arbor residents said the building's history and architecture should be preserved.

University alum Susan Wineberg said she thinks the University's decision was cavalier.

"They don't have the imagination to see what it could be," she said.

Brown said the Frieze's high ceilings and wide hallways would make the building too hard to transform into a joint center of academics and student residence like the University hopes to create with North Quad.

"The old high school structure does not lend itself to being able to be renovated and meet the programmatic needs of a world class university," she said.