Morton Hall

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Morton Hall, 2009

Built:

Opened: 1972

Named for: Richard Lee Morton

Map it for me

Morton Hall located at 100 Ukrop Way at the intersection of Ukrop Way (formerly Campus Drive or Botetourt Drive) and Jamestown Road, southeast of Jones Hall at the [[College of William and Mary. It opened for use in 1972 and housed the Marshall-Wythe Institute, the John Marshall Papers, and the Departments of History, Sociology, Government, and Economics. It was renamed Richard Lee Morton Hall in 1973 to honor the long-time College of William and Mary professor and designated the Social Science Building. The Religion Department moved out of Morton Hall in the summer of 1980. Morton Hall underwent asbestos removal in 1981.

According to legend, Morton Hall was built on a sinkhole and has been sinking into the ground for several years.[1] The Department of Government has paid homage to Morton Hall on its webpage including a photo page named The Glory that is Morton!, {http://www.wm.edu/as/government/about/morton/index.php Morton the Movie], A Tribute to Morton Powerpoint to mark its 30th birthday, and the Government Update of selected items from the department's alumni newsletter (included below).

Morton Notes

The following are taken from the Government Update of selected items from the department's alumni newsletter.

1998 Morton Notes

The conversion of room 5 (formerly grad student carrels) and room 36 into offices has lured Professors Smith, Grayson and Ward into new digs off the main hallway of the first floor...

Room 1 is now carpeted and Room 3, formerly assigned to the Classics Department, is now a carpeted Government seminar room...

Newly-padded hall-walls lend a softer, gray, fuzzy aura to the building's decor--and double as bulletin boards...

As one alum enthused after seeing these improvements in Morton, "At least now it looks like a minimum security prison..."

1999 Morton Notes

Shrink Swell: As Morton’s east wing settles into the ooze, some doors jam shut, including one to the chair’s office and another to a small “interrogation room” where thesis defenses take place (nervous Honors students fear being trapped in this building the rest of their lives) ...

Wise Crack: Shrink-swell is also creating cracks in the wall between faculty offices, permitting the occupants to eavesdrop on one another more easily. Facilities Management has attached small plastic seismographs to detect any further movement (of the walls, not the professors)....

Military Solution: During the height of air attacks on Serbia, one faculty member suggested notifying NATO headquarters in Norfolk that the Yugoslav army had taken control of Morton, in hopes that it might prompt a cruise missile attack over night....

Historical Twist: Brent Colburn, ‘98, theorizes that Ronald Reagan’s famous 1987 Berlin speech was supposed to include the words “Tear down Morton Hall!,” but he mistakenly declared “Tear Down this Wall” instead--another historic missed opportunity (though confusing what looks like a Soviet architectural monstrosity with what actually was one is understandable)....

2000 Morton Notes

Morton Hall: Architectural Landmark, Or “How I learned to Stop Whining and Love Morton Hall “

Brent Colburn, BA 1998, MPP 2000

It is a debate that has raged eternal in field of architecture: which takes precedent, form or function? Is it better for a structure to meet the practical needs of its users in an eloquently simple manner, or should a measure of usefulness be sacrificed for the sake of art and the flourish of physical beauty?

On December 5, 1973 a building was dedicated here on the campus of The College of William and Mary that served to silence those on both sides of the debate. Morton Hall, was designed by a firm of three architects (yes, it took three of them) who dared to think outside the box by subjecting themselves to neither form nor function. These visionaries, whose names are remembered only on a simple plaque just inside Morton’s front entrance, were brave enough to dare to make a building which was ugly and a real pain to work and learn in. “A tall building in a ditch,” they said, “we will build a tall building in a ditch.” And they did.

Windows where only the bottom third or so opens. Multiple “first floors”. The absence of proper drainage around the building. Staircases that seem suck the life out of those walking up them. The simple form of cinder block. A very suspect elevator. Just enough natural light to tease the eye and highlight the drabness. These, and numerous other groundbreaking concepts, were brought to the classroom in a way unparalleled before or since. From where did such ideas spring? What muse could conjure such a combination of ugliness and dysfunction? It may be worth noting that Morton Hall is rumored to have been the firm’s first architectural contract not from the Department of Corrections.

Hints of the style embodied in Morton Hall can be seen throughout W&M’s “new” campus. The style, though, did not catch on in other academic settings, as architects continued to hold on to their antiquated views that a building should be functional, well built, and at least a little pleasant on the eye.

So, as I close my six year stay at Morton Hall, I salute those who made this crumbling ivory tower of scholarship possible. Your work will last through the ages, or at least until this structure you placed upon the earth finally sinks into the soft ground upon which you set it (perhaps not too long from now...). I will miss your masterpiece, your opus, your Morton Hall. Of course, they say that even those imprisoned in Soviet Gulags for long enough grew to miss their cells upon release


2001 Morton Update

It must be admitted that 2000-2001 was in fact not one of Morton’s worst years, in large part due to the upgrading of several classrooms, including on Government’s floor: they now contain built-in computer modules and ceiling-mounted projectors for web or Powerpoint presentations–thus bringing us into the 1990s as far as high-tech instructional technology.

As for the lower-tech side.... Not that George Grayson’s students needed waking up, but the exploding neon light-bulbs did enliven things a bit. Meanwhile, leaky steam pipes provided not only a more musty odor than usual last winter, but for a change meant that there was more moisture collecting on the inside of window panes than on the outside. And summer humidity caused the carpet (on the floors, not the walls) to “bubble,” testing faculty agility.

But never fear: possible renovation of Morton is scheduled for sometime around 2010, and we all know just how reliable long-term budget projections are in Virginia....

[P.S.: Conversation overheard between two undergrads in Morton: "Hey, what class you goin' to?" "Human Destructiveness...Genocide.” "Is it good?" "Yeah, it's fun."]

2002 Morton Update

As most of those who spent their four years within these walls know, Morton is not all it’s cracked up to be, but now we have proof. Enterprising Department staffers Valerie Trovato and Barbara Finocchio documented the gradual collapse of the building’s walls in a photo essay (one example below). As can be detected in the picture, Facilities Management is closely monitoring the situation with well-placed crackmographs. Each semester they send a wall expert over to check the progress of decay and he confirms that (pardon the complicated technical jargon here), “Yep, your cracks are gettin bigger.” But for those of you already caught up in the hoopla of Morton’s approaching 30th Jubilee in 2003 (much like the pre-Millenium buildup), never fear: top people are said to be working on this problem, and we are assured that the building will still be standing well into its fourth decade....

2003 Morton Turns Thirty!

Recently, while deep in the bowels of Swem Library, a faculty member stumbled across the artistic masterpiece shown above–an architect’s conception of the future Morton Hall, c. 1968. It was much like discovering an old parchment with Christopher Wren’s original plan for St. Paul’s Cathedral, or L’Enfant’s own blueprints for Washington DC, or Frank Lloyd Wright’s first sketches of Falling Water. Well, the Department shrewdly hoodwinked Swem out of this artistic find, and it now hangs proudly in our own East Wing Gallery, the xerox room.

And this discovery comes just in time for Morton’s gala thirtieth birthday celebration, scheduled for December 5, the last day of the coming semester–the very date on which this edifice was dedicated back in 1973. We will mark the day in style, with gifts for those faculty who have been here during the building’s entire history (“Thirty years in Morton and all I got was this lousy t-shirt”), and the launch of our “buy a cinder block” campaign for alumni donations (for that idea we have Government Secretary Valerie Trovato to thank).

Astonishingly, rumor has it that longterm College plans call for Morton’s destruction and the erection of a new building along Jamestown Road. But we give such talk little credence. For one, the administration recently installed automatic self-flushing toilets and touched up the lawn (see below)--major infrastructure investments that surely would not be undertaken for a building scheduled to be demolished. And even if the threat is serious, no doubt the Williamsburg community’s active historical preservationist lobby will rally to Morton’s defense.

2004 Morton 30th Celebrated

A great work of architecture deserves to be honored. And since Friday, December 5, 2003, marked the 30th anniversary of Morton Hall's dedication, this special birthday was celebrated in style by about 100 inmates of the building. After a slide show showing the lowlights of its history, faculty who have served 30 year terms in its cinder block cells were issued pardons, and tee-shirts for their service: Government professors so honored included three emereti–Alan Ward, Don Baxter and Roger Smith. Departmental staff prepared a special birthday cake shaped like Morton and accurate in every detail, with one “wing” caving in and surrounded by pools of mud (only in this case it was chocolate frosting, and thus much better tasting).

To avoid the customary post-celebration letdown (remember how dull things seemed right after January 1, 2000 for example?), Professor John Gilmour sustained the Morton mania by producing a superb bit of film noir about the building. It can be viewed on the Department’s website. We think you will agree that his camera work and choice of soundtrack have fully captured that sense of impending doom and horror that the building inspires.

As if the past year were not already hectic enough, Hurricane Isabel slammed into Morton last September, leaving the building unscathed–but after impact, the storm reportedly limped off, its winds and overall energy level seriously diminished.

2005 Morton Sinking

Just when we thought things were looking up in Morton, just when we were actually getting more and more fancy new technology (no, not just the self-flushing toilets, but ceiling-mounted projectors in every classroom!), just when these improvements were making us the envy of, well, Jones Hall--reality gave us a kick in the rear.

It appears that the accumulated weight of knowledge in these hallowed halls has pressed our building ever deeper into the slime upon which it rests–a swamp continually fed by a gurgling underground brook, ample natural precipitation, poor drainage, and even leakage from lavatory drain pipes. Yes, like the palazzi of Venice, Morton Hall is gradually sinking–albeit not into the Grand Canal, but into a mire that is–one must admit--partly of our own making.

That we have long known, of course, but the most recent manifestation of this structural problem is a serious gap between the relative elevation of Morton’s main corridor and its east wing–site of the Department’s main office, among other things. Thus, in December, our floor will be closed so that Government’s mailroom wall can be replaced by one of load-bearing strength–just to be sure that our colleagues in Economics don’t return from their winter vacations in Cabo and Monte Carlo to find their offices have fallen into the basement as ours plunge into the mire beneath.

Yes, that means all of the Holiday festivities routinely scheduled for Morton–concerts and caroling--will have to be moved to other venues, like the University Center or the Wren Building. On the bright side, since our offices will be off limits for at least several weeks, teachers will have an automatic excuse for failing to complete fall grading on time or doing those letters of recommendation requested in the last week of class. Even in Morton, there are silver linings.

In an unrelated item, organizers of the College’s Capital Campaign report that they could still use several large pledges to reach our goal half a billion dollars. The amount still needed is what it would take to fund construction of, for example, a new social science building.

References

  • University Archives Buildings File (2007), Morton Hall, Earl Gregg Swem Library, The College of William and Mary.
  • The Flat Hat
  • Department of Government, Morton!, accessed 7 May 2009.

External Links


Need help?

To search for further material, see Finding Materials in the SCRC for an introduction to the SCRC Collections Database, card catalogs, Flat Hat-William & Mary News-Alumni Gazette index, etc.

Questions? Contact the SCRC at spcoll@wm.edu or 221-3090, or visit the Special Collections Research Center in the Earl Gregg Swem Library at the College of William and Mary (hours).

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