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The Rise and Fall of Clemson House created by Susan G. Hiott, Curator, Special Collections and Archives

Clemson House officially opened on November 1, 1950.

It was one third of a massive project that developed out of the need for additional housing for Clemson College faculty and staff, as well as a place for campus visitors to eat and spend the night.

Eventually, the building became a dormitory. Four decades of students, sharing space with the last remaining permanent residents.

Throughout, Clemson House was a public facility where the campus, local community and visitors relaxed, ate, socialized, conducted business, exchanged ideas and celebrated.

Background

In the first half of the 20th century, there was limited housing in the town of Calhoun (re-named Clemson in 1943) and the mostly rural area surrounding Clemson College. Many faculty and staff members lived on campus in college-owned houses.

Others lived in the college hotel (built c 1895) and its two annexes (built c 1908). The hotel served mostly as a rooming house or boarding house. The majority of the residents were single male professors. But some married couples and families lived there until they could find permanent homes. In later years, some single women who worked on campus or taught in the local schools also lived there.

The Clemson Hotel

With the end of World War II and the implementation of the GI Bill, enrollment at Clemson College increased rapidly. Additional faculty and staff also were needed. Many of the veteran students were married and needed housing beyond Clemson's traditional barracks.

The town of Clemson also was growing. But not quickly enough to meet the college's housing needs. There also were few restaurants and no overnight accommodations despite travel becoming more popular as roads improved in the post-war years.

Clemson was one of the first colleges in the country to provide living quarters for married veterans by acquiring war-surplus pre-fabricated single and duplex houses known as "Pre-Fabs." Some faculty members also lived in "Pre-Fabs" until permanent housing was available.

Veteran students living in the Field House (Fike), c 1948
Pre-Fab houses, c1948

In 1948, at the suggestion of the Board of Trustees, President Robert F. Poole appointed twelve faculty members to the Clemson Housing Committee led by John H. Gates, head of the School of Architecture. The committee was charged with investigating a solution to the campus housing shortage.

The Tiger newspaper reported: "Formation of the Clemson Housing Committee was inevitable in the face of the phenomenal growth of the college during the war years. Enrollment has increased until facilities that were designed for fifteen hundred are now servicing three times that many. Along with an increased student body there must be a corresponding increase in the faculty. These new faculty members and married veterans brought a housing problem that the college has almost been unable to cope with!" (September 23, 1948)

The Clemson House Project

Out of the Housing Committee report developed a large building project that included the Clemson House hotel for both temporary visitors and permanent residents, as well as two groups of apartment buildings -- Clemson Homes and Tom Littlejohn Homes.

Clemson Homes

Clemson Homes comprised one hundred two-bedroom and three-bedroom apartments spread through fifty buildings, mostly duplexes. Originally housing faculty members and their families, Clemson Homes eventually became married student housing, later called graduate student housing.

photos from the early 1960s

In 1981, the Board of Trustees named the Clemson Homes buildings Douthit Hills for Joe B. Douthit, Jr. Douthit was a former member of the Board of Trustees who sold his farm to the University to be part of the Simpson Experiment Station. He lived his later years in a house near the area named for him.

The remaining Clemson Homes / Douthit Hills homes were closed in 2006 because of the cost of maintaining them. A few were moved. The rest were torn down in preparation for the Douthit Hills housing, dining, recreation and parking complex scheduled to open in 2018.

Tom Littlejohn Homes

Tom Littlejohn Homes was a group of eleven buildings containing two-bedroom apartments. It was named for a man who worked as a cook at Clemson for nearly 30 years.

Tom Littlejohn

The apartments were intended to be rented by the campus’ African American staff who primarily worked as janitors, groundskeepers, in the laundry or in the dining hall kitchen. South Carolina was a racially segregated state in 1950. There were no African American students at Clemson until Harvey Gantt’s successful lawsuit to integrate the school in 1963 and no African American faculty until about a decade later.

Tom Littlejohn Homes ended up not being affordable enough to entice the college's African American employees to move there. Littlejohn Apartments eventually became married student housing / graduate student housing. They were sold in 1989 and later torn down.

photos from the early 1960s

Construction of Clemson House began in late 1949 on "Hotel Hill" across from Bowman Field.

To make way for the new hotel and housing complex, several existing houses and the old hotel and annexes were demolished.

from CU Archives Series 5 - R.F. Poole Presidential Correspondence

Clemson House was designed by Lyles, Bissett, Carlisle and Wolff, headquartered in Columbia, South Carolina. All four were graduates of Clemson's architecture program. Their firm later designed Clemson's R.M. Cooper Library.

Clemson House was built by Daniel Construction Company of Greenville, South Carolina. Charles Daniel served on Clemson's Board of Trustees from 1949-1958. Daniel Construction Company also built Sirrine Hall and Johnstone Hall on campus.

Early concept drawing for the Clemson House lounge.

Clemson House was the first mid-century modern style building on campus and one of the first in the upstate of South Carolina. With modern materials, clean lines and a simple, open form it represented a significant shift in architectural style for Clemson College.

Clemson House was very different from the Italian Renaissance Revival style that dominated campus in the early 20th century. The new design signaled that Clemson was an innovative and modern institution, growing and moving forward in the years after World War II.

A 2009 historic preservation report described the building's basic architectural features: "Clemson House is a rectangular . . . [building] of concrete-block construction. The flat roof . . . drains to internal drains. The building is set on a poured concrete foundation and sided with yellow brick in the front and rear, and exposed poured-in-place concrete on the sides.

Horizontality is emphasized on its front and rear facades, which feature contrasting horizontal bands of brick. Smooth bands of brick with flush joints are divided by projecting header belt courses of brick with recessed joints. Within the bands with recessed joints are rows of double and triple windows, with the same fenestration pattern on each floor. The end walls are exposed, poured-in-place concrete."

Clemson House originally was intended to be primarily an apartment building. After construction was underway, the Board of Trustees decided that there was a greater need for providing more rooms for temporary visitors to campus. The original Federal Housing Authority (FHA) loan was replaced by the sale of revenue bonds issued by the Board of Trustees. Two and a half million dollars worth of bonds were issued for the three-part housing project.

Future operation of Clemson House depended on room rents and profits from the hotel. But the initial funding was not enough to prepare the hotel for its first customers. As college officials scrambled to find funding, a campaign was launched to raise $250,000 from alumni and friends for already-ordered materials to furnish and equip the dining rooms, lobby, kitchen and hotel rooms. The prospectus reminded potential donors of the reason for the new hotel building:

from CU Archives Series 5 - R.F. Poole Presidential Correspondence

Several hundred alumni and friends contributed to the fundraiser, although a number of items were purchased by larger donors and companies.

from CU Archives Series 5 - R.F. Poole Presidential Correspondence

The first permanent residents moved into Clemson House in mid-October 1950.

The first guests stayed for the night of October 31st

The formal opening was on November 1st when the large "Clemson House" neon sign on the roof was turned on.

All the guest rooms were filled for that weekend's Homecoming activities and football game against Duquesne University. Opening weekend events also included a concert by the Clemson College Band on the terrace and a $1 luncheon in the dining room.

Rooms, Suites and Apartments

Although the exact numbers of each type of occupant changed through the years, on November 1, 1950 the eight-story Clemson House offered overnight guests 94 hotel rooms, 25 efficiency rooms, 5 one-bedroom suites and 1 two-bedroom suite.

All the rooms included bathrooms. The efficiencies had a kitchen area and the suites/apartments had a living room and kitchen. Single rooms cost $3 to $5 per night and double rooms were $5 to $8 per night.

Long-term residents could rent unfurnished 35 efficiency rooms, 24 one-bedroom apartments and 12 two-bedroom apartments on a monthly basis.

Clemson House also had a penthouse called The Farmers Club.

The penthouse included three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a kitchen, dining room, den and living room.

Public Spaces

Originally, the first floor of Clemson House included a loggia, a lounge, and a large dining room called The Saber Room (because Clemson operated under a military system in 1950). Two smaller dining rooms -- the Purple Room and the Gold Room – could be used for group meetings or banquets.

The first commercial tenants included a tailor, a beauty salon, a gift shop and a barber shop.

Original Floor Plan
First Floor Lobby
Front Desk and Elevators
First Floor Lounge

Hotel guests and residents could relax on the South Porch.

Or play a game of "clock golf" on the lawn.

The Saber Room main dining room had seating for 300 and "a polished slate floor suitable for dancing." It served "superb cuisine prepared from farm and dairy products of the famous Clemson Farm."

The Saber Room featured a forty foot long by seven foot high mural by artist Gilmer Petroff. Petroff taught art at Clemson from 1947 until 1950 when he began working for Lyles, Bissett, Carlisle and Wolff and the Columbia (SC) Museum of Art.

Known as "South Carolina's largest mural," the abstract design represented the four years of the life of a Clemson cadet. It provided a lively topic of conversation for Clemson House diners for many years.

A stainless steel statue of the Tiger mascot by Charleston artist Willard Hirsch was installed in the middle of a reflecting pool in front the building. The water was removed from around the statue c1996.

A version of the tiger statue appeared on the cover of the 1955 cookbook by Clemson House food director Russie Paget.

IPTAY Tavern on the ground floor opened in mid-November 1950. It included a bar and "plenty of room to play cards, or just sit and smoke," according to an article in The Tiger.

The name was changed to Tiger Tavern about a year later. Despite the name, Tiger Tavern did not serve alcohol.

from The Tiger, May 5, 1959

Clemson House quickly became a center of social life for residents, students, campus visitors, and the local community. By 1954, the building already was too small for the number of requests to use it. An addition was built on the northeast rear corner.

On the first floor, the addition included an entrance lobby opening from the main lobby and the outside, a 2,300 sq ft meeting room that could be divided, and a coat check room. On the second floor was a 3,700 sq ft meeting room with a folding stage and adjacent serving kitchen, a coat room, restrooms and a storage room. The basement portion included a mechanical equipment room and storage areas.

A Destination

The newly enlarged Clemson House continued to be known for its dining, relaxation and hospitality through the 1950s and 1960s.

The hotel rooms were used by alumni, students' dates, parents and people just visiting the area.

The dining rooms and meeting rooms were used for alumni and family reunions, parties, banquets, wedding receptions, initiations, meetings and conventions.

postcards from CU Archives Series 313 - Dining Services
ad appeared in 1950s Clemson football programs

Even before the building opened, a newspaper article reported: "Beginning Sunday night and continuing every Sunday night thereafter, a buffet supper will be served at the Clemson House. This is expected to attract patronage from many miles around. Every person serves himself, takes all he wants of whatever he wants, at the price of $1.75" The article proved correct as the Clemson House Sunday buffet attracted visitors from throughout the Upstate and beyond for several decades.

At its most popular, over a hundred employees kept Clemson House operating. These included students and their spouses, as well as local residents. They worked as bellhops, front desk clerks, cooks, servers and housekeepers.

Important campus events also took place in Clemson House.

Such as the press conference held in Tiger Tavern on January 27, 1963, the night before Harvey Gantt enrolled as the first African American student at Clemson.

Clemson House was built with a modern radio broadcasting studio on the first floor. It was used for programs broadcast by the the College administration, the Cooperative Extension Service and the Athletic Department.

J.R. "Bob" Mattison broadcasting an agricultural program from Clemson House, c1958

In 1972, the studio became home to the the South Carolina Educational Radio Network’s first station. The award-winning WEPR (90.1) broadcast from Clemson House until 1981.

from the November 3, 1979 Clemson vs Wake Forest football program

A Hotel Becomes A Dormitory

Clemson House came into existence because of the rapid growth of Clemson College in the late 1940s. Likewise, a significant increase in enrollment at Clemson University in the late 1960s and early 1970s led to a major change in the building's use.

To alleviate a student housing shortage, approximately 240 women students moved into Clemson House for the Fall 1974 semester.

They lived in rooms on floors two through six that were not occupied by approximately fifty permanent residents. Regular rooms housed two students and efficiencies with kitchenettes housed three or four.

Permanent residents were allowed to remain as long as they wanted, but no new permanent residents would be accepted.

Clemson House was a dormitory for forty-two years

Clemson House housed only women students until Fall semester 1982. It became co-ed when the new Calhoun College honors program moved into the sixth floor.

By 1989, the Honors College occupied two and a half floors. It remained a part of Clemson House until 1994.

Other student groups also lived together in Clemson House at times over the years, including members of the Lady Tigers basketball team, international exchange students, the Civics and Service House and the Wellness Living-Learning Community. Throughout, students and permanent residents enjoyed sharing the building.

Visitors on University-related business, including members of the Board of Trustees, continued to use the twenty-eight remaining hotel rooms on the seventh floor. VIP guests, celebrities performing on campus, noted speakers and dignitaries stayed in the penthouse. The penthouse also was a popular rental space for parties celebrating weddings, retirements, anniversaries, birthdays and holidays.

Both President Bill Atchley (in 1979-80) and President James Clements (in 2014) and their families lived in the penthouse while the President's Home was being renovated.

view from the penthouse

Tiger Tavern closed in 1971, shortly after University administrators contracted with food service provider ARA-Slater to operate Clemson House's dining and catering operations. There were several unsuccessful attempts to create a Faculty Club in the Tiger Tavern space throughout the 1970s. Eventually the area became a lounge and exercise room for the student residents.

The Clemson House dining room became a student dining facility, but also was open to the general public. Local residents and visitors continued to enjoy the plentiful Sunday brunch.

Although primarily a dormitory, Clemson House also continued to serve as the University's hotel and conference center until the opening of the Madren Conference Center (1995) and the James F. Martin Inn (1998).

The public areas continued to be booked by University and outside groups for meetings, presentations, conferences, concerts, dances, proms, lunches and dinner banquets. People attending summer conferences stayed in the dorm rooms.

Beta Gamma Sigma Honors and Awards Induction ceremony in the Holmes Ballroom, 2011 (image from News Services)

A 1989 major renovation brought Clemson House to compliance with fire codes, improved energy conservation, increased accessibility and safety, and updated the public spaces. That same year, five Clemson House public rooms were re-named for people who made contributions to the University throughout its history.

Lila S. Holmes Ballroom (former Clemson Room). Holmes, the wife of a History professor, helped restore Fort Hill, the home of the Calhoun and Clemson families, in the 1920s and 1930s.

Virginia Poole Room (former Gold Room). Poole worked in various departments at Clemson from 1937-1972. She lived in the original Clemson Hotel and in the Clemson House.

Virginia Shanklin Room (former Purple Room). Shanklin was secretary to four Clemson presidents.

Bill Greenlee Room (former Blue Room). Greenlee worked for Thomas Clemson, Clemson College and the town of Clemson. He was over 100 years old when he died in 1972.

Fred L. Zink Dining Room. Zink was manager of the Clemson House from 1950 - 1970 and continued to live there after his retirement.

In 1990, the former South Lobby was converted into three seminar/meeting rooms. These later were used for campus offices, including the University Ombuds Office from c2002-2017.

On November 1, 2000 Clemson House's 50th anniversary was celebrated with a party. Attendees included architecture professor emeritus Joseph L. Young, the building's longest permanent resident. Young moved in when Clemson House opened and lived in room 705 for fifty years, hosting tailgating events before every home football game. The penthouse later was named the Joe Young Penthouse.

Architecture professor and Clemson House resident Joe Young (far left), c1950s
The End is Near

With the opening of the Core Campus housing and dining project in 2016, the decision was made to end Clemson House's life as a student dormitory. The last students moved out of Clemson House in May 2016. They covered a downstairs wall with goodbye messages.

images by Wesley Smith

In July 2016, the Board of Trustees approved demolition of Clemson House, citing the high cost of maintaining it or renovating it. Employees vacated their offices over the next year.

The Clemson House Barber Shop remained open until May 2017. It had been operating in Clemson House since the building opened in 1950.

Many generations of Clemson students, ROTC cadets, faculty, staff and community members enjoyed the convenience and camaraderie of the on-campus barber shop.

photos courtesy of Ken Scar

In July 2017, the Clemson House sign was removed from the top of the building and placed in storage.

photos courtesy of Clemson News Services

The building plaque and cornerstone were transferred to Clemson University Libraries' Special Collections and Archives.

Clemson House cornerstone

Over the next few months, workers removed asbestos and prepared the building for demolition.

early October 2017

The End

On [insert date here], Clemson House was demolished.

[insert video of demolition here]

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The Rise and Fall of Clemson House

created by Susan G. Hiott, Curator, Special Collections and Archives

Materials reproduced in this online exhibit are from the holdings of Clemson University Libraries Special Collections and Archives except where noted.
If you have materials related to Clemson House, please contact Brenda L. Burk, Head of Special Collections & Archives: bburk@clemson.edu or 864.656.5176

created September 2017; updated October 2017

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