Hunter Conservatory
This undated photo collage captures the charm, both inside and out, of the newly constructed Conservatory of Music.

Whitman College’s Hunter Conservatory is located on the site of the original Seminary Building (1866), which, after expansion, became Ladies Hall (1884-1902) and was later renamed Prentiss Hall (1902-1909). In 1909 the building was moved across College Creek to make way for the construction of the Conservatory of Music in 1910. Designed by Portland architect Ellis F. Lawrence, the conservatory is an elegant example of Neo-Classical style and Georgian Revival detailing. Distinctive interior features include leaded stained-glass skylights over the atrium and the recital hall, detailing of wood pilasters and railings, and a mosaic tile floor set with a Greek Key pattern.

The original conservatory housed Whitman’s music department until it moved into a new facility in 1985. The conservatory contained classrooms, teachers’ studios, a beautifully designed foyer, administrative offices, practice rooms, and a “concert hall” named for American composer Edward MacDowell.

From 1985 to 1997, the building was used as office and storage space, and the college considered many options for its use. A May 24, 1997, ceremony on campus officially launched the immense restoration and renovation project, which would transform the facility into the Center for Communications Arts and Technology. Richard Hunter ’65 and his wife, Janet Green Hunter ’67, provided the lead gift of $2 million for the renovation project. The facility was named in honor of Richard’s mother, Frances Geiger Hunter, in recognition of her lifelong interest in music and her devotion to Whitman College. Frances received a scholarship to attend Whitman during the 1930s, but due to the Great Depression found it necessary to forego her education and to stay at home to help raise her younger siblings. Later, she encouraged her own children to attend Whitman.

When Hunter Conservatory opened in 1998, Whitman was the first college in the Pacific Northwest, and possibly in the nation, to combine under one roof classrooms and labs for writing, speech, debate, public address, multimedia and emerging technology. The facility housed Whitman’s writing center, the rhetoric and public address department, the college’s nationally-ranked competitive debate programs, a video editing lab, video conference facilities, a multimedia lab and audiovisual facilities. The restored 120-seat recital and lecture hall was named in honor of Ruth Baker Kimball ’31, who served the college as a distinguished volunteer for many years.

The blending of the old with the new was showcased during the inaugural Whitman Undergraduate Conference on April 6, 1999, when Hunter’s Kimball Theatre offered students a remarkable new venue in which to present their research projects in what became a signature program of Whitman’s liberal arts education. Today’s Multimedia Development Lab, housed in the basement of Hunter, provides a strong foundation in cutting-edge computer technology and resources for students, staff and faculty to create video, audio, graphic design and web-based projects.

Other programming keeps Hunter Conservatory true to its musical roots. Premiering in 2000, the popular Fridays at Four concert series, held in Kimball Theatre, offers a stage on which students, faculty members and staff members perform musical works.

The legacy of Frances Geiger Hunter, who passed away on Dec. 10, 2013, lives on in her Whitman family, whose members include her son Richard ’65, daughter-in-law Janet Green Hunter ’67, daughter Ann Hunter-Welborn ’68 and granddaughter Emily Welborn Guevara ’05. Hunter Conservatory is a lasting gift to the Whitman campus – a masterpiece of 20th century classical architecture in whose halls 21st century students can thrive in this multi-disciplinary educational experience.

— Chris Bishop ’79