No doubt about it, as Langton Hall celebrates its 100th birthday, its layout remains as baffling as its history is distinguished.
Where is Room 030? How do I get to the pool? Where is the Faculty Staff Fitness office? How do I get to the cage? What, exactly, is the cage?
I have worked in Langton since arriving at OSU some 18 years ago, and I and my building mates have heard and seen it all.
Outside the men’s locker room located downstairs on the east end of the building, it’s easy to miss the small, faded, official “Men’s Locker Room” sign and the additional, makeshift “Men Only” signs, which can lead to women inadvertently wandering through as they search in vain for their destination.
People also search in vain for the non-existent elevator that would take them to the upper gym on the third floor. Stymied, they stand and wonder: “How do I get up there?” as they stare blankly down the main floor hallway. Given the numbering scheme in the building and discontinuity of the second floor, there can seem to be hidden “floors between floors” in the building.
These are just some of Langton’s mysteries.
For all of its peculiarities, the building is part of OSU’s Historic District, which was approved by the National Park Service in 2008 (read about the designation). The oldest building in the historic district is Benton Hall, which was constructed in 1889, making it 126 years old in 2015. A complete listing of buildings in the district is available in PDF format. Although 2015 is Langton’s centenary year, 17 buildings in the district are older.
Designed — as are many of Oregon State’s landmark buildings — by Portland architect John Virginius Bennes, Langton’s brick construction and fine details make it an excellent example of the look Bennes cultivated in his work on campus.
In front of the building is “The Competitor,” a 1920 bronze casting by Robert Tate McKenzie, which was one of the first pieces of public art to decorate the campus. (Over the decades, countless photography and photojournalism students were assigned to prepare photo studies of the sculpture, which depicts an athlete tying his shoe.)
Langton Hall was used for men’s basketball games and Commencement until Gill Coliseum opened in 1950. Indeed, it was overcrowding during basketball games and the annual graduation ceremony that galvanized public support for Gill’s construction. Because of a record number of graduates in 1948, two commencements were held, at 10 am and 2:30 pm. Three ceremonies were held in 1949.
As for basketball, here’s an account by the late Alex Petersen, ’49, who played varsity basketball in Langton, and George Edmonston, longtime editor of the Oregon Stater:
“The Men’s Gymnasium could not handle the crowds that wanted to see the 1947 men’s basketball team, the ‘Thrill Kids.’ Students were limited to attending every other game according to their student body card number, and a large part of the general public was left out.
“A growing student population, many returning from the war to continue their studies, was part of the equation. A tie for the Northern Division crown in 1948 (losing a playoff game to Washington) and another Pacific Coast championship and a fourth place finish in 1949 kept up the pressure. But by then, the coliseum was under construction and a final win over UCLA was the last game played in the old gym.”
Today, Langton is home to the Kinesiology degree program within the School of Biological and Population Health Sciences in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences, and is used for physical education and other classes.
The oddest question I have been asked in Langton came from a distressed and anxious student who had been told to go to “Jim Nasium” in Langton and wanted to know where Professor Nasium might be. Upon closer examination of the student’s course schedule, I respectfully indicated, “Down these stairs, through the double doors by the drinking fountain, up the stairs, through the steel door and you’ll be there,” which was the quickest route to the gymnasium.
But I also thought to myself, “Oh my!”
I was taught as an undergraduate that there is no such thing as a stupid question. That one made me temporarily ponder the truth of that lesson, but it also gave me a funny story to share with others over the years.
In 1973, the building’s generic name — Men’s Gymnasium — gave way as it was renamed for Clair V. Langton, head of health and physical education from 1928 to 1964.
Langton was born in Canada and joined Oregon State’s faculty after earning his doctorate in public health from the University of Michigan. He also earned a doctorate in education from the University of Oregon in 1938.
Prior to his appointment at Oregon State, he was assistant director of intramural athletics and taught physical education and hygiene at Michigan from 1923 until 1928. Michigan’s intramural sports program is the oldest in the nation. Langton brought that heritage with him from Ann Arbor to Corvallis, where OSU students still enjoy one of the most robust intramural programs in the nation.
Langton accumulated many accolades over his long career. His 1964 Quest journal article, “Man and His Environment,” displays his profound sense of the evolution and complexities of human health and wellness:
“It is apparent to the casual observer that through science, technology and automation, we as a nation are leading an increasingly sedentary existence … Health and fitness cannot be stored. They are the product of a day to day habituated way of life … There will always be things one must do for oneself … Physical activity has great potential in accommodating the human being to rapidly changing conditions but it cannot be purchased over the counter. It must be practiced by the individual. He (sic) has but one body.”
Professor Langton died in 1973, and those words written half a century ago still ring true. He would surely be thrilled to see the continuing activities in his namesake building, and he would be proud to learn that “Improving Human Health and Wellness” is one of OSU’s campus-wide “Signature Areas of Distinction.”
Learn more about the building’s history.
This story originally appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of the Oregon Stater, which is published by the OSU Alumni Association.