Students collect Clemson House memories, artifacts for book about the building
If we are a Clemson family, then Clemson house was our dinner table.
It was a place for memory making and memory sharing.
It was a place to sink down into your chair and relax.
It was a place of tradition and love.
It was a part of a home.
The Clemson House succumbed to 150 pounds of dynamite and gravity in less than a minute. The building had been an ornament on the campus for more than 60 years and was an iconic symbol to many community members, alumni, faculty and students. But it wasn’t feasible to bring it up to today’s building standard and make it usable, so it had to be torn down.
Alan Grubb, a history professor with 50 years of Clemson teaching experience, is one of the many sad to see it go. To memorialize the history of the building, Grubb started a Creative Inquiry group to gather memories and pictures of artifacts for a book.
“Once something disappears, people don’t know that it existed,” said Grubb. “It was a focal point of the community and something so many people really loved.”
Creative Inquiry is an investigative program that allows faculty-led small teams of undergraduate students to explore topics interesting to them.
Grubb started the project last spring, shortly after the announcement that the building would be demolished. The group took tours of the building and began reaching out to alumni and community members for their memories of the building.
“I was stunned by the outpour of sentiment we received and continue to receive,” said Grubb.
As the building demolition began, the students’ project became more research-based. Each member of the team is assigned a chapter of the book to work on.
After the introduction, the book will begin with the building’s construction in 1950 by the late Charles E. Daniel, a life trustee of Clemson and co-founder of Daniel Construction.
The building had seven floors of rooms and apartments and a three-bedroom penthouse. Its several ballrooms, restaurant, workout room, barber shop, burger tavern and giant art deco-inspired neon orange sign helped the building stand apart from others of its time.
“It was really a Clemson building. It was made by Clemson people and loved by the community,” Grubb said. “Even the mural inside of the restaurant in the building was designed by a faculty member, Gilmer Petroff.”
His abstract mural, dubbed the largest painting in all of South Carolina, provided a lively topic of conversation for Clemson House diners for many years.
The book will be divided into sections based on the dates of recollections about the property.
Early memories of Clemson House are that it was the newest and “smartest” hotel in the Carolinas. It hosted celebrities like Bob Hope, Groucho Marx, Burt Lancaster and more.
The building slowly transitioned into a dormitory for students; some particularly remember it as the dorm with the best dining hall on campus.
The barber shop originally was used by the cadet students when Clemson was a military college. The shop remained open for faculty and student use until May 2017.
Some reminisce about the stainless steel Tiger mascot surrounded by a reflecting pool that once stood in front of the building. Others recall the free laundry service, the basketball courts and creating friendships at the burger joint located in the basement.
The Creative Inquiry students continue to meet with local groups for interviews and sort through the multitude of stories they’ve received. They also have artifacts that will be photographed throughout the book.
“It’s been a way to preserve these memories that people didn’t even realize they had. We’re finding stories that may otherwise be lost,” said Grubb. “You don’t usually think of buildings as having personalities, but they do, and they affect people.”
“The project gives us this way to connect with people,” said senior history major Polly Goss. “I didn’t live there, but I can feel peoples’ bonds to it.”
Other members of the Creative Inquiry team are Tyler Bates, Cal Bedenbaugh, Glenn Bertram, Mark Davidson, Margaret Grace Gregory, Ann Carter Herbert, Hannah Elizabeth Meller and Mary Melton.
Grubb helped start Creative Inquiry at Clemson and is a member of the faculty advisory committee.
“I know many people think Creative Inquiry is all about engineering or science, and don’t get me wrong, most are, but there is a place for everyone. It’s valuable for all areas. You can see the enthusiasm students show when they are a part of an application they can relate to personally,” said Grubb.
“It’s exploration and student-driven,” said Goss. “As a student, you feel like you bring something to it and you get to see an outcome.”
While it pains so many to see Clemson House go, this book will serve as an eternal time capsule for generations to come.
Memories of Clemson House can be sent to Alan Grubb
118 Hardin Hall, Department of History
Clemson University, 29634