In June 1966, a tornado ripped through Washburn University, damaging or completely pulverizing most of the buildings on campus. But later that year Washburn saw ground break on a new multi-million dollar facility, which became the first permanent building to open it’s doors to Washburn students after the disaster.
Early plans for the construction of a performing arts center were mentioned in an alumni newsletter in December 1962. The construction of the building was planned to coincide with Washburn’s 100th anniversary in 1965, but minor setbacks prevented the building from being built in time for the milestone. The building was designed by the firm of Van Doren, Hazard, Stallings and Schaake. The acoustics were designed by the famous acoustics designer Vern Knudsen from California.
Following a competitive bidding period, Bowers Construction Company was awarded the contract to build the new performing arts center and perform extensive renovations and additions to the student union. In December 1966 notable alumni, including many who made great financial contributions toward the project, joined Washburn President John Henderson and other school administrators for the ground-breaking ceremony.
After two years of work, Washburn’s new performing arts center was finally completed in the fall of 1968 with a price tag of 3.3 million dollars. The building was dedicated on Sunday Oct. 20, 1968, in a ceremony that coincided with homecoming festivities.
The ceremony featured the placement of a copper box containing items from the University’s first 102 years, which was placed in the exterior behind the stone, inscribed with the buildings name and year of completion. Later that fall the first play performed in the facility was Shakespeare’s classic “Romeo and Juliet.”
The new building provided a home for the school’s music, theater and philosophy departments. The building also served as the home of the art department prior to the completion of the art building in 2004. The center also features a theater with more than 300 seats as well as the 1,200- seat White Concert Hall, named for the brother of Olive White Garvey. Garvey, along with her husband Hugh, would not have their names associated with the building until a rededication ceremony seven years later.
In 1975, the Performing Arts Center was rededicated and the building’s name was changed to the Garvey Performing Arts Center. Olive White Garvey and her husband Ray Hugh Garvey both graduated from Washburn in 1914 with Ray also earning a degree from Washburn’s Law School a year later. The Garveys were enthusiastic supporters of Washburn as alumni, making many generous contributions to their alma mater, including donations toward the construction the building that now bears their name. Garvey’s daughter spoke at the event which featured the unveiling of two portraits of the Garveys that are placed on the back walls in the lobby of the White Concert Hall.
Garvey Performing Arts Center saw only minor changes for about 25 years. It was then that the Washburn Endowment association raised one million dollars to renovate parts of the building. Undoubtedly White Concert Hall saw the most change. New carpet was put down around the lobby and lounge area along with new furniture. A few seats in the hall were removed to provide better wheelchair access. Wood veneer was removed and fresh paint added to brighten up the place. One of the more interesting changes was the addition of moveable drapes, placed strategically in the hall that actually allows the acoustics to be tuned according to what type of performance the hall is featuring.
The renovation was completed in 2001, allowing the Garvey Performing Arts Center to be enjoyed by the University and the community for many years to come.