Washington State University’s Ensminger Pavilion, a former livestock-judging barn turned events center, gets an upgrade to its historic cupola this summer.
The 1933 pavilion’s aging wooden cupola and weathervane pennant will be renovated with modern materials. The $13,000 project will wrap by autumn.
Prior to renovations in the early 2000s, the former Livestock Judging Pavilion was the oldest original building still used for its original purpose on the WSU campus.
Designed by university architect Stanley Smith, who also designed the Smith Gym and White Hall, it was part of an agricultural complex that included the beef barn that became the Lewis Alumni Centre in the 1980s.
Over seven decades, thousands of animal science students took classes in the pavilion, learning how to judge the meat quality of pigs, sheep and cattle. Archaeology students once practiced excavation techniques in its dirt floor. The WSU marching band practiced inside, and the student horticulture club sold plants on Mom’s Weekend from the pavilion’s wooden bleachers.
More than a classroom, the pavilion was a gathering place for farmers, ranchers and educators. Annual field days and Livestock Feeder’s Days welcomed up to 800 people to the pavilion. Land Grant Day dances and auctions were held every autumn. Crooner Bing Crosby once attended a livestock judging event at the pavilion, when his sons studied at WSU in the early 1950s.
Dr. M.E. Ensminger, who was head of the animal sciences department at WSU from 1941 until 1962, welcomed farmers from across the country to the big Feeders’ and Field Days.
“Farmers would drive up in pickup trucks,” said Everett Martin, a retired WSU animal sciences professor. “Ensminger pulled people in from everywhere… He would always get the president of the university to come.”
Martin, who taught meat science from 1970 to 2006, was the last professor to hold classes inside the judging pavilion.
“It was perfect,” he said. Long and spacious, with plenty of light, the pavilion was a short walk from Clark Hall, the animal sciences building. Martin’s students could get hands-on training without the five-mile trek to the university’s barns.
Over the years, the pavilion aged and changed. A meat laboratory with overhead rails and freezers was built on the south side. On the north side, the main entrance was closed and replaced with windows when Wilson Road was elevated.
By 2001, the pavilion’s interior was beat up. Outside, it was covered in ugly, yellow lead paint.
“It was considered an eyesore,” said Pete Jacoby, a Crops and Soil Sciences professor and, at the time, associate dean of the then-College of Agriculture and Home Economics (CAHE), renamed the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences in 2003.
The university was leaning toward demolition, but some students and faculty had other ideas.
Several CAHE students started a campaign, first dubbed “Save Our Building,” or S.O.B., later “Save The Old Pavilion,” or S.T.O.P., to give the pavilion a new life.
Thanks to the efforts of Martin, CAHE students and faculty, the campus historic preservation committee, and university administrators, in 2002 the pavilion was saved from demolition. Steve Mallory, the senior architect with WSU’s Facilities Operations, worked with Martin, Jacoby and other staff on a plan to turn it into an events center, paired with Lewis Alumni Centre.
Key funding came from Audrey Ensminger (Class of 1943), widow of Dr. Ensminger. Her memorial led to the building’s new name, Ensminger Pavilion.
M.E. Ensminger had left an important legacy at WSU. As department chair for 21 years, his efforts made the college’s animal sciences department one of the best in the country. He was instrumental in the construction of the Cattle Feeding Laboratory and Hilltop Stables. Both he and Audrey were internationally known textbook authors.
Restoration and upgrade
In the 2002 restoration, contractors blasted off the original lead paint and added new metal siding. Old windows were replaced, and on the south wall, the former meat lab was removed, adding a bank of large doors and bringing the barn back to its original shape. Later, a concrete floor was added, and inside bleachers were moved and reduced. The college’s Horticulture Club added attractive, decorative planters to the new entrance.
Last summer, when workers replaced Ensminger’s roof, they noticed dry rot in the cupola. The university approved funding for a restoration that will match the look of Ensminger’s historic cupola, but with modern materials. The top pennant will be replaced by a larger weathervane with crimson highlights.
Today, the pavilion remains well used by groups from across the WSU campus.
“It serves a really fine purpose,” said Jacoby. “The lesson learned from this is the meaning of team: Together, everyone accomplishes more.”
• Learn more about the WSU Department of Animal Sciences
• Learn more about the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences
• Photos in this article are from Manuscripts, Archives & Special Collections, WSU Libraries