U. history embedded in gymnasium under Loree
Picture this — girls in uniform, gray dresses lined up in rows in front of a six-lane bowling alley and barefoot dancers analyzing their form in front of a wall-sized mirror in a brightly lit dance studio.
This is not a scene that students and faculty would associate with Loree Hall on Douglass campus, but during the 1960s, it was a common one.
The abandoned bowling alley and gymnasium in the basement of Loree Hall are standing reminders of cultural changes at the University since the founding of Douglass College.
Left over from a period when physical education was a requirement for Douglass College women, Loree Hall with its unused gym is a small building commemorating a huge figure in the school’s history, Leonor Fresnel Loree.
Loree was chairman of the Board of Trustees committee responsible for establishing the New Jersey College for Women. Founded in 1918, the college later became Douglass College — now Douglass Residential College.
“It’s sort of a shame that [for] someone who did so much for the University, the only recognition he got was [Loree Hall,] this little building,” said Elizabeth Reeves, assistant facilities planner. “He did so much for the University.”
Reeves said bowling was a popular activity among the elitists of post-World War II society. Those with summer estates in the Adirondacks built bowling alleys into their homes, she said.
“Loree was a big advocate of physical fitness for women. He made sure that they had athletic training to keep the mind active,” she said.
With few sports available to women at the time, Loree bought into a national trend, said Diane Bonanno, executive director of Recreation.
“The [attitude] across the country was that you shouldn’t just study, you should be involved with some kind of physical activity,” Bonanno said. “It’s that mind-body-spirit philosophy.”
The push was for “lifetime” sports like swimming, golf and sailing to promote a healthy lifestyle in the social settings students face after college, Bonanno said.
The Loree Hall gymnasium was built in 1963 at a time when young people across the country began rejecting such ideologies, so the physical education department grew outdated, she said.
“When you require people to do anything and they don’t want to, it makes it a lot less useful,” Bonanno said. “When Rutgers College did away with its [physical education] requirement, what happened was the program expanded.”
The Douglass and Rutgers College physical education departments merged in the 1980s and so did its staff, she said.
“A portion of the faculty broke away and started a leisure studies program,” Bonanno said. “Most of those faculty decided to start a recreation department. … I was one of those faculty members.”
The gymnasium in Loree Hall, now unused and outdated, was a weak, late attempt to capture Loree’s legacy, Reeves said.
“The building is typical of academic design in the 1960s, but it doesn’t seem to capture [Loree’s] spirit,” she said. “I have a feeling no one ever dug into his biography, or as commonly happens around here, the building was built, and they decided to put his name on it.”
Loree was a railroad baron who worked his way up from track leveler for the Mexican National Railway to president of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company from 1901 to 1904. He became president of the Delaware and Hudson Railway in 1906, according to a document from the University archives.
Loree earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in 1877 and 1880, respectively, from the University before earning his law degree in 1917, Reeves said. His contributions include funding Antilles Field and massive donations to establish Douglass College.
“He and James Neilson, who we usually give all the credit to … really pushed the Board of Trustees to establish Douglass,” Reeves said. “[Loree] donated money and his business expertise to keep the school solvent. He was a very frugal man but a really terrific business man.”
Loree Hall stands adjacent to the Woodlawn property, where Neilson and Loree both lived, Reeves said. The New Jersey Folk Festival also takes place at this site.
“It’s an interesting building because it’s multipurpose,” said Angus Gillespie, a professor in the Department of American Studies, who organizes the New Jersey Folk Festival. “I use the auditoriums in conjunction with [the festival], held on the Eagleton lawn.”