Campus icon takes new role
Renowned American architect Jens Frederick Larson designed Parker Auditorium in the early 1940s as a “commanding presence at the eastern terminus” of Hanover’s campus quadrangle. Since its completion in 1947, the beloved campus symbol has brought the joys of theatre to thousands of students and spectators. Its 650-seat auditorium has also hosted chapel services, commencement, convocations and musical performances, among many other events.
More than 75 years after its construction, Parker Auditorium is poised to add another role to its repertoire. The storied building is slated to become the heart of Hanover’s burgeoning business and entrepreneurship program.
The Hanover College Center for Business and Entrepreneurship has been established through the generosity of Vance Patterson ’72 and his wife, Mary Jo Cody Patterson ’75. The couple’s seven-figure gift will renovate the ground floor of the iconic edifice and serve as a catalyst to the revitalization of the entire structure. The building was removed from service almost 10 years ago due to the need to modernize safety features.
“The transformative gift from Vance and Mary Jo is a game-changer for the enhancement of student services within our core program and the expansion of experiential business programs such as entrepreneurship and sports management,” said John Riddick ‘87, executive director and professor of the Business Scholars Program. “We are exceedingly grateful to the Pattersons for their vision and generosity.”
The creation of the Center for Business and Entrepreneurship marks the first phase of Parker Auditorium’s renewal, which has been designed by SPGB Architects, LLC (SPGB). The company created the 2013-14 makeover of Lynn Hall, which turned the vintage gymnasium into one of the nation’s most unique residence halls. SPGB’s award-winning design created distinct housing and academic spaces while maintaining the legendary building’s history and character. The architectural firm has taken the same approach with its designs for Parker Auditorium.
“Imagine walking across campus, down the Quad, with brick, three-story buildings of classrooms on both sides. You walk up to Parker Auditorium, open the two wooden doors on the ground floor and, immediately, you are transformed from an academic atmosphere to a state-of-the-art business environment,” stated Patterson.
While the building will retain the Parker Auditorium name, the Center for Business and Entrepreneurship will encompass the entire lower level. Construction will begin later this summer and is expected to be finished by fall 2024. Once completed, the space will include classrooms, faculty and staff offices, and conference rooms. Additionally, dedicated areas are planned for ideation, graphic design, social media and audio-visual recording studios.
“This needs to be a fun, active area attracting not only the best students, but also outstanding professors who want to be a part of the effort,” noted Patterson. “The idea is not to just teach about business, but to teach how to do business and let [students] experience the environment of a business office or workspace.”
Since the early 1980s, Patterson has launched 23 companies and the nonprofit organization, Foundation Forward. His global experience includes joint ventures in North America, Europe, Asia and South America. He currently serves as president of eight of his North Carolina- and South Carolina-based entities.
“Few people know how to do business or set up a company,” said Patterson, who has taught entrepreneurial and small-business operations at Oxford University. “I have come to realize most people don’t know how to negotiate simple matters, much less deal with threats of lawsuits, the [Internal Revenue Service], a concerned banker, the importance of hiring the right employees, [how to] fire someone without getting sued, retaining your good employees, sharing the wealth or when to engage attorneys for legal action. I would like to provide a platform to teach these things, in addition to general business practices, accounting, basic legal actions, money and banking.”
In addition to Hanover’s business-oriented students, the Center for Business and Entrepreneurship and its resources will also be available for other academic disciplines. Riddick noted, “The new space will help facilitate interdisciplinary cooperation across the campus that sets business students up for success. We look forward to striking partnerships that combine rigorous liberal arts study with practical, hands-on business education.”
While the business program will reside within the ground-level space, plans are simultaneously taking shape so that Hanover’s theatre department will, one day, thrive again within the upper floors. SPGB has created a new vision for the auditorium and its adjacent spaces.
“The College has never lost sight of the importance of Parker [Auditorium] as a facility, as an image, as an icon,” said Tom Evans, professor emeritus of theatre. “The hope has always been, I believe, in the heart of the administration, to get Parker back online as a theatre. Instead of marking Parker off as a lost cause, they have always kept it on the radar. And that is to their credit.”
Once donor funding is procured, the interior of the auditorium will be renovated to feature a new stage and rehearsal spaces with reimagined tiered and balcony seating. Plans also include an expansion of set-building and wardrobe shops, as well as prop storage, an elevator and handicap-accessible entrances.
“After nearly a decade since it was closed to theatre performances, I am ecstatic to see Parker being revitalized and once again becoming the center point of the historic quad,” stated Gabriel Vanover, assistant professor of theatre and department chair. “While the new theatre spaces will benefit the department in unimaginable ways, the entire campus will reap these benefits when it allows us to host events that connect us to the greater Hanover community in new ways.”
Thoughts of Parker Auditorium’s revival create an outpouring of memories for Evans, who taught thousands of students and crafted an extensive volume and range of productions while serving as a member of the College’s faculty from 1967-99.
Evans, who remains a mentor to many Hanoverians, exclaimed, “Parker is not just the theatre. Parker is an iconic symbol of Hanover College. When you stand on the other end of the quad and look at Parker, it has magnitude. It has an emotional feeling about it that is wonderful. Anyone who loves Hanover has to be excited and pleased that someone like Vance and Mary Jo have been so generous to help the College with a need.”
“This is not to be considered ‘giving back,’” stated Patterson. “This is giving, which is much more. We all remember what it was like to come out of Hanover and begin our lives away from home and Hanover. We all learned so much of what was important. Think about it and see if there is not a way to pass along the important things to those heading out now.”