Beautiful, inspiring, and incredible are words used by many to describe the memories of the Oscar A. Kirkham Building.
Named after a member of the Presidency of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Kirkham Building was built in the 1950s and hosted many famous people, including First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in 1959. In 1976, the community also used it as an aid distribution center for those affected by the Teton Dam failure.
“Oh, the history of this building is incredible,” said Kathleen Nelson, an alumna in music performance and education from Ricks College. “Yes, they said it at Extravadance, which was a wonderful program, that everybody chipped in. Well, they all donated to this building. So, they could all use it. It was the best facility. Anywhere.”
Nelson was visiting BYU-I with her granddaughter, Aubrey Nelson. Nelson wanted to show her granddaughter the offices of Robert Nelson, a retired BYU-I theater professor and Aubrey’s grandfather.
Nelson and her husband directed and performed shows on the Kirkham Auditorium stage during their time at Ricks from 1964 until about 1970.
Her favorite performance she participated in was Red Plush Parlor.
“That was an original play. It was about…” Nelson’s voice dropped into a whisper “Polygamy.”
Doug Smith, a retired BYU-I dance instructor, performed in The King and I and Kiss Me, Kate while a student at Ricks.
“There’s about nine years difference between us,” said Debra Smith, Doug Smith’s wife and a Rexburg native. “So, I was actually in the audience and watched The King and I that he danced in.”
Debra Smith went to many plays in the Kirkham with her mother.
“Good memories were made there,” she said. “That building was used a lot for the community. Even our daughter has used it for her dance studio for like eight years.”
When Doug Smith ended up back in Rexburg as an instructor, he started raising money to buy better costumes and equipment for the dance teams by charging $1 for the end of the year dance show held on the Kirkham stage.
“And after that, we went from one a year and we said, ‘Wow! This is great! Let’s do two a year. Let’s do one every semester,’” Smith said.
His wife maintains this was the beginning of Extravadance.
The Kirkham has been a hot spot for performances through its history and continued bringing students to the stage.
“We had all of our class showcases on that stage,” said Thea Disney, a senior studying theatre education. “My favorite memory is when myself and three other girls participated in Battle of the Dance and did a tap dance to “Harder, better, faster, stronger” by Daft Punk. We won third place. It was so much fun!”
Some audience members found beauty in more than the performances.
“Personally, I think the coolest thing about the Kirkham is the lovely lighting system around the stage,” said Joseph Hansen, a junior studying communication. “It’s a fabulous mix of modern and vintage that has brought a professional artistic touch to hundreds of events — especially Extravadance.”
Spencer Allen, a faculty member with A/V Services, chuckles when he thinks about the lighting in the Kirkham. Before coming to work at BYU-I, he had traveled with different performances as a lighting tech and ended up in the Kirkham for one night.
While preparing for the show, Allen began focusing the lights. As the cut-outs for the lights was small, he could only do one at a time even though the lights were in pairs.
“So, I pushed one off to the side, it was shining on — and I didn’t realize — it was wood, and it was really close,” Allen said. “I could smell something burning and I look over and it has started to char the wood! From then on, I started unplugging.”
Now, the cutouts for the lights are bigger.
Of course, the Kirkham doesn’t only hold the auditorium. There is also a ballroom, now used for art classes, which the Smiths said once held dances with live bands. Past the ballroom, the Art Department has ceramics and sculpture studios. In the maze of hallways, there are smaller classrooms and faculty offices.
“My favorite memories of the Kirkham are, surprisingly, connected to professors’ offices,” Hansen said. “To me, the Kirkham always represented the kind of caring, mentoring professor that makes BYU-I unique — where you can drop in and have a great chat with a person, not a ‘professor.’”
After the Spring 2019 Semester concludes, the Kirkham will be coming down. A new ceramics lab, new landscaping, university signage and parking will be constructed in its place.
Many are sad to see the building go.
“I remember sitting in the main lobby and listening to a girl playing the big grand piano that sat there for many years,” Allen said. “It’s just kind of sad to see what will happen because (the Kirkham) comes down.”
While still sad, Debra Smith feels hopeful about the change.
“Good memories were made there,” Debra Smith said. “But they’ll figure something out for the students that are coming to have good memories somewhere.”