Point Park facility names steeped in university history

Written By Dara Collins

The names of Point Park’s facilities appear engraved in the concrete walls and printed across the flags along the buildings. Students walk through and past these buildings without thinking twice about these names, although the buildings that stand today on campus hold a history.

The dance complex, known as the George Rowland White Performance Center, and the GRW Theater in the University Center reveals the story of George Rowland White. With a Ph.D. under his belt, he worked as a physicist, taught at Harvard University and became the vice president of the Xerox Corporation and the vice president of the University of Pittsburgh, according to his obituary published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. While working in Pittsburgh, White and his wife, Kathleen M. White, fell in love with the arts, according to Access Service and Archival Coordinator Phillip Harrity.

“The person he worked under at Pitt got him into the arts in Pittsburgh because the person he worked for was a philanthropist for the Pittsburgh Opera,” Harrity said. “George and his wife saw Point Park as a center for the arts so they started giving a lot of money to the school for different things.”

After a third retirement, White served on the university’s board of trustees from 1995-2005. White passed away in 2012, and the university decided to commemorate him by officially naming the George Rowland White Performance Center and the GRW Theater after him, according to Harrity.

“He was an amazing man,” Assistant Dean of Students Keith Paylo said. “It was like being in the presence of a genius. I’ve sat in meetings with him, and when he talked, people listened. I always appreciated that when he had a comment, the room stopped. Whatever he had to say always had meaning and impact.”

In addition to the conservatory facilities, the dormitories of Point Park possess a hidden past as well.

Lawrence Hall was built in 1928 and was named after David L. Lawrence when Point Park bought the building. He served as the 51st mayor of Pittsburgh from 1946-1959, and became the 37th governor of Pennsylvania from 1959-1963. In relation to Point Park, he appeared on the original board of trustees, according to Harrity.

“He was under the first renaissance of Pittsburgh which was around the time our school started so the building was named after him,” Harrity said.

Thayer Hall holds a history of its own as the first dormitory on campus. The university built the facility from the ground up. Dorms, offices, computer labs and study lounges exist in the current building. Clara Thayer Rockwell is the name behind the title.

The Rockwells were major benefactors to the university. Willard F. Rockwell Jr. became a name to the university in the 1960s when he started putting money towards the school, according to Harrity.

Aside from the buildings, other attractions on Point Park’s campus are named in dedication to prominent figures.

The JVH Auditorium is named after Dr. John V. Hopkins, a former Point Park University president. During his service from 1973-1986, Hopkins opened up the first Saturday college and attempted to get rid of the university’s sports teams due to financial issues. The former president passed away in 1987, according to Harrity.

F. Tracy Henderson Alumni Park is dedicated to the husband of another Point Park President, Dr. Katherine Henderson. During the 1990s, a combination of turmoil within the school and a damaged economy doomed the university. As Henderson became president, changes and renovations ensued, enrollment increased and Point Park officially became a university, according to Paylo.

“She is credited with saving the university in many ways,” Paylo said.

The history attached to these ordinary buildings proved to be a surprise to uninformed students.

“I never really thought of the buildings being named after anyone,” freshman sports, arts and entertainment management student Kara Sayers said. “I always thought the school just picked a name randomly, but I never looked into the history of it.”