Some want Taylor Hall to become a National Historic Landmark

Trent Pheifer

Near the parking lot by Taylor Hall a National Historic Landmark plaque denotes the historical significance of the Kent State May 4 area, protecting the area for future generations.

Despite the efforts of various people around Kent State over the past 30 years, the May 4 area has not been recognized on the National Registry of Historic Places.

One reason is because the National Registry of Historical Places usually won’t consider a site for landmark statues, unless the site is of “exceptional importance” or if it’s been 50 years since it’s creation. This is the 35th year.

“(We) sent queries to the Ohio Historical Society in 2002 and 2003 to look into declaring the site a historical site,” said Sarah Lund-Goldstein, co-chair of the May 4 Task Force. “However, because 50 years have not yet passed, it was suggested that if we wanted to pursue this, it would have to be a large-scale professional application process — this is not something that the Task Force has expertise in.”

Alan Canfora, one of the students shot on May 4, 1970, said he believes until something comes along to spur the public’s interest like a film, book or “other things that would draw attention to the issue, we might have to wait for that 50 years to expire.”

Jerry Lewis, emeritus sociology professor whom was present when the shootings took place, said he thinks by default the grounds have become a “solidified historic site.”

“I can still go out there with a class and tell the story of what happened,” Lewis said. “I certainly think the building of the memorial and markers legitimated the site, so that part will never change.”

Where It All Began

Lewis said the push to get the site protected came in the mid-1970s. He and the local Ohio House Representative, John Begala, went to the site to see where the proposed Gym Annex would be.

University administration told Lewis the Annex would be small, but Begala pointed out its real size.

“I was shocked at how large it was going to be and how I had been misled,” Lewis said. “So I began to talk to some people that we needed to get this site protected, and then the Task Force really took it over and began to campaign for it.”

The building of the Annex, which was publicly announced in 1976, spurred the students and faculty to push for preservation.

The original plan according to Kent State and May 4th: A Social Science Perspective, was to have the gym built at the corner of Allerton and Summit streets; however. Just weeks before the shootings the site was moved to north of the Memorial Gym, which is now the M.A.C. Center.

The Kent State Board of Trustees refused to move the Annex.

“You had a small group of decision makers who were under tremendous stress and pressure and misperceived the situation very, very badly,” said Thomas Hensley, emeritus professor of political science. “They saw issues at stake that really weren’t the issues in terms of radical students taking over the university.”

Besides that, money was the main mutilator for why the Board of Trustees would not move the Annex, Lewis said.

“As you have probably found out, money drives this place,” Lewis said.

The board considered rotating the Annex so less of it was on Blanket Hill, but decided against it because the cost outweighed the benefits. It was also cheaper to get essential utilities to the Annex if it was centrally located.

Former Kent State President Glenn Olds said, at the May 12, 1977, Board of Trustees meeting, a decision to build the Gym on Blanket Hill had to be made soon.

“The $6 million allocation (for the Annex) would be in jeopardy — with the real prospect of being preempted permanently — if indeed it is not committed by the end of this biennium (on June 30,1977),” Olds said.

According to Kent State and May 4th, Kent State Vice President Richard Dunn was also contacting legislative leaders “(to see) the possibility of securing additional funds to alter the site of the facility.” He soon received indications that no money would be given for that purpose.

Canfora said there was another reason they wanted to preserve the site in 1977: as evidence in a court case involving the May 4 shootings.

The criminal case against the National Guardsmen was dismissed in 1974 because the prosecution failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the guardsmen’s guilt, according to Four Dead in Ohio. Therefore, the families of the slain and the survivors filed a civil suit.

At the civil suit, the families and survivors were not awarded any damages, so they filed an appeal.

“Kent State University’s student government joined with the families of the victims because the Court of Appeals was still hearing the appeal,” Canfora said. “And that land out there was a valuable piece of evidence. We needed to keep it exactly like it was so we could bring the jury down, like we did for the first trial.”

They were granted the appeal, but no second trial happened. An out-of-court settlement was reached between the families, survivors and Ohio.

The controversy with the Annex

Hensley said the commemoration on May 4, 1977, gave rise to a sit-in at Rockwell Hall.

“That led to a series of demands and a meeting with the trustees. The trustees didn’t respond to most of the demands and on May 12, 1977, ‘Tent City’ was established,” Hensley said.

“Tent City” was a group of protesters who set up tents on Blanket Hill to try and stop construction of the Annex.

University officials hoped the weather would drive them out, but it did not, Hensley said.

Over the course of the summer, people from all over the country came to the many rallies held at “Tent City.”

In July 1977, several members of the May 4 Coalition, an offshoot of the Task Force, and the Board of Trustees were invited to the White House.

“There were hundreds of arrests going on. It was in the national news quite often, and Jimmy Carter, to his credit, and his administration thought they could mediate,” Canfora said.

Canfora said in the end, the Board of Trustees “took a hard line” and the negotiations failed. However, after this meeting the Department of Interior decided it would research designating the May 4 area a National Historic Landmark.

The Board of Trustees supported the Department of Interiors directive to look at Kent State. George Janik, the chairman of the Board of Trustees, said, “This planned action on the part of the Department of Interior carried with it a clear statement that it does not impact on the decision with regard to (the Annex).”

In mid-July, the university obtained a court order forcing those living in “Tent City” off the site. Many protesters refused to leave and the mass arrests soon began.

“That dissipated to movement of ‘Tent City’ because they were now worried about their own legal problems and their energy and money was going into solving their legal problems,” Lewis said.

Construction of the Gym Annex began in September 1977.

“I think the gym altered the site significantly,” Lewis said. “It gives the impression that the National Guard were surrounded by buildings where they walked, and they clearly weren’t; it was an open field. They could have gone any place they wanted.”

In January 1978, the first attempt to get the site preserved and stop the Annex from being built was dealt its final blow. The Department of Interior released the Sheire Report on Kent State.

In the report Sheire said, “As of 1977, there’s no indication that Kent State was of important political significance in the War in Vietnam or in the history of domestic opposition to the war.”

After the release of the Sheire Report, it was beginning to look like those who wanted the site to be preserved would have to wait for the 50-year time frame to come up.

Times Have Changed

Many of those involved with the tragedy agree the university has improved its stance on preserving the site since the 1970s.

Canfora said he believes the change in campus attitude is because of current President Carol Cartwright.

“I think Carol Cartwright is much better than all of her predecessors about the May 4 issue,” Canfora said. “The fact that she’s a mother causes her to perhaps be more sensitive to the parents of the victim’s from 1970.”

Canfora said the memorial markers are just one example of Cartwright’s sensitivity.

“In 1998, when we had a protest to demand the closing of the four parking spaces (where the students were killed) in the parking lot,” Canfora said. “President Cartwright studied the issue for two months, and she agreed. That’s why those spots are closed off.”

Thomas Euclide, Kent State director of architecture and engineering, said the university takes special consideration when dealing with the area around Taylor Hall.

“Whenever we are working in and around the May 4 site, we make sure that we talk to people to see if it would raise a level of concern and look at how we do things in that way,” Euclide said.

Hensley said the university has improved its May 4 stance since the Gym Annex Controversy.

“Rather than make the mistake they made previously by just making a decision and not warning anybody, I think they checked with everybody they thought was possibly interested and involved and let them know what was going on,” he said.

Although the university may have improved in some respects, some members of the May 4 Task Force also believe there is room for improvement.

“We are disappointed about some of those changes to the May 4 site,” Canfora said. “One thing we are concerned about is the sidewalk coming out of Taylor Hall that goes straight down by a tree, which is the tree that I hid behind after I got shot. Some people believe that that sidewalk should be removed along with the shrubs they planted along the sidewalk. I personally think it should not be removed.”

The Future and Beyond

What the future holds for the site is not exactly known.

“I think (it is) likely there will be some debate on eliminating it as a parking lot. I think that will be a pretty serious debate,” Lewis said.

Lewis also said he is worried about changes or extensions to Taylor Hall.

“Taylor Hall is way inadequate now in terms of where modern journalism and architecture are going,” he said.

Lewis said it will be “a real fight” if the university tries to extend Taylor Hall in any direction. They are limited to which way they can build an addition — the only real option would be to extend southwest towards Johnson Hall, he said.

Other say even without the designation, the May 4 site will be preserved.

“I would certainly like to see it designated,” Hensley said. “But I don’t think it would have any real effect in terms of preservation because I think the way things are now are going to be preserved beyond any doubt.”

Lewis looks at it differently.

“It is important; they’re rebuilding buildings there now. Johnson Hall is being rebuilt, Taylor Hall will be rebuilt, Prentice Hall will be rebuilt. They‘ve already blocked where I walked (to get first aid on May 4) with the Centennial Buildings,” he said. “To that extent they have distorted the site.”

The Task Force has some plans it hopes will become reality.

“We would like to see the creation of a May 4 Visitors Center to be able to better help with interpreting the site for future generations,” Lund-Goldstein said. “Such a center could bring together many of the resources which are tucked away in various corners of the university to help current students to better understand the scope of the events of May 4, 1970.”

Canfora said the center would be helpful for visitors all over the world.

“(Visitors) could go in there and take a break, maybe look at photos or hear audiotapes or see video tapes,” he said.

The Meaning of It All

Lewis believes the preservation of the site is important for various reasons.

“First of all it represents a microcosm of the conflict against the war, war protests and also the failure of the government, the Johnson and Nixon administrations particularly, to tell the truth to the American people and the students stood up for it,” he said. “I think secondly that it is sort of ironic that the Mary Vecchio picture is such a powerful image, and it represents the tragedy of the Vietnam experience, but it can’t be important unless you take into account the Kent State shootings.”

The May 4 shootings are an integral part of Kent State University, Lewis said

“I would like to see a permanent site because whether they like it or not, Kent State is known primarily for the shootings,” he said. “I mean it’s an excellent university, but to the general public and the national public, it’s known by May 4.”

The 50th anniversary of the shootings is 15 years away.

“A lot of the people around now will not be around at the 50 year mark to carry the fight,” Lewis said.

Lewis believes the sooner the site is protected the better.

“I think this is an issue that all Kent (State) students should be concerned about,” Canfora said. “I think that we have a duty and an obligation to our fallen Kent State students, to not only pay our respects to their memories, but also we need to preserve the area where they died for future generations.”

Contact news correspondent Trent Pheifer at [email protected].