A lot of ‘formerlies’ are stacked up in the history of the Magnuson Theatre. Formerly the Russell Theatre. Formerly Gonzaga’s gymnasium, where basketball teams played under coaching great Hank Anderson until 1965 when the Kennedy Pavillion (now the Martin Centre) opened, and where neighborhood boys sneaked in pickup games, thanks to the enormous heart of Brother Peter Buskens, S.J. Formerly the ROTC shooting range – way up on the top floor, where all four walls give bird’s eye views of campus, and an old chalk board is nearly gray with the scrawled names of past students.
Last summer, workers laid a new slate roof, good for the next hundred years. Other recent improvements have made the theatre arts gang happy – better heat, actual air conditioning, new seats, sound and lighting equipment and a beautifully refurbished lobby.
But underneath it all is a remarkable building, the features of which architect Mac McCandless can parse as effortlessly as a grammarian redlines a freshman’s first paper. McCandless calls his interest “forensic architecture” – deducing the original thinking behind a building’s design.
The bull’s-eye windows that most of us admire? McCandless explains the crucial work that those windows perform: built in 1904, the walls of the theatre were quite tall, for their day. The gymnasium needed that height, as it had two floors. The lower gym with a 12-foot ceiling served the younger boys, and the upper gym was for the older students. How to incorporate daylight? The engineering solution – one of the few solutions at the time – lay in the round windows, which distribute the weight of the building more equally around the openings.