Auditorium Plaza Debrief

Recently, a construction project began in the small plaza between the MSU Auditorium and the Kresge Art Center, which meant that we Campus Archaeologists got to go in first and see what (if any) historic materials were hidden beneath the topsoil. The plaza is an unassuming space really, and without much in the way of benches, shade, or activity space,  the little grass and concrete clearing doesn’t receive much foot traffic despite facing the relatively busy auditorium road sidewalk. As such, one of the goals of the construction project is to rebuild the plaza into a more comfortable and habitable outdoor space.

Kresge Art Center 1959, courtesy MSU Archives
Kresge Art Center 1959, courtesy MSU Archives

With the construction of the MSU Auditorium in 1940, and the later opening of the Kresge Art Center/Museum nearly two decades later in 1959, the Auditorium Plaza was created. As such, while the plaza has not had as substantial of a history as other parts of MSU, its location in the older section of campus maintains the possibility that this construction project will disturb cultural materials from the earlier period of campus history, necessitating that we survey the area prior to its disturbance.

With a large portion of the plaza covered by concrete sidewalk however, we needed to wait until the construction crew had used their excavators and backhoes to break up and haul out the massive pieces of pavement. Once we were able to get to work though, we quickly found that our test pits were coming up empty. As we shovel-tested the area by digging 40-60cm deep holes in a 5 x 5 m grid, one after another each successive pit was turning up nothing.

Auditorium C. 1950, courtesy MSU Archives
Auditorium C. 1950, courtesy MSU Archives

Aside from a sparse few nails (both modern and historic), pieces of brick, and a fragment of ceramic electrical conduit, the whole plaza seemed largely devoid of any cultural materials. Supporting the theory that the plaza was most likely highly modified before construction, wiping away all previous occupation/use debris. The plaza had several tiers, indicating the space was built, and rebuilt, leaving no original stratigraphy. With this in mind, the construction crews were able to proceed with their work to renovate the plaza knowing that they would not unknowingly damage any historic materials. When the project is finished and if these renovations are successful such that the space becomes more heavily used, who knows what future generations of MSU students will leave in the plaza’s archaeological record.

Also, with the 4th of July holiday coming up, take a look at this picture of an MSU student taking part in her hometown independence day parade C. 1949 that we found in the MSU online archives.



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