Suspended in time: On a hunch, Kittredge Hall dedication 'capsule' rediscovered

A small crowd of curious staff members, students, and alumni gathered around the southwest corner of Kittredge Hall on Friday, August 12, to see if hints of a “time capsule” placed there on another Friday—Nov. 14, 1941—were based in fact.

Alex Israel ’06, ASUPS president, was cleaning out files in the student government offices when he came across an old envelope containing materials related to the dedication of Kittredge Hall. Israel knew that Kittredge was the original student union building and thought Associate Dean of Student Services Houston Dougharty ’83, who is a collector of historic UPS paraphernalia, might be interested in seeing the information.

After looking through the material, Dougharty was intrigued by a line on the dedication program: “Read the contents of the box.”

Box? What box? He called Facilities Services to see if the building’s cornerstone could be safely removed, and, in fateful fashion, masons were on campus making repairs to brickwork on the Jones Hall steps.

Closer inspection of the cornerstone and the way it was cemented into the Kittredge facade provided more evidence that something might be hidden there.

Facilities called in the masons.

Twenty minutes with a special saw and the cornerstone was out. It contained a sealed copper box fabricated by the Peck Furnace and Heating Company, the contents of which were perfectly preserved. Among the items: two copies of The Trail, a 1941 Tamanawas, President Todd’s personal copy of The New Testament, complete with hand-written notes filling its back pages, and a list of contributors to the building.

Kittredge construction was financed in part by a student-initiated project, which Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science Bob Matthews described in an early history of Kittredge he wrote recently:

“The university, under Dr. Todd’s direction, had a ‘pay as you go’ policy for new buildings, and construction was not to begin until all funds were in place. But the estimated cost of building Kittredge exceeded the lowest bid for construction.

“President Todd gave the student body the sad news. The student union project must be delayed, perhaps for as much as two years. With war in Europe and concerns of possible U.S. involvement, the students were concerned that it would not be built at all.

“The response of the student body was both immediate and surprising. On Tuesday, April 14, the student body met to install the student leadership for the following year. Philip Walesby, president elect of the 1942 senior class, delivered ‘a fiery speech on behalf of the project,’ in which he proposed that students solicit pledges from townspeople by ‘selling’ bricks over a two-day period. President Todd stated that he was ‘… pleased, yes, even surprised by this hearty response,’ and the faculty agreed to suspend classes on April 23 and 24. The mayor of Tacoma added his support, local businesses gave contributions, and the transit company provided buses for the students to use. The students organized themselves into teams, with the command center for what they called a ‘bricks-krieg’ placed downtown in the Hotel Winthrop. They were successful, and construction began in May. The building was completed on December 15, 1941.”

Documents found in the box will be recorded with the university archivist and displayed on campus. At a date to be determined, the box will be returned to the cornerstone, along with a note to future curiosity seekers about opening the box in 2005.