The untold history of Mendenhall

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dynamic, issue 10, Marcus Arman, Entertainment - By Marcus Arman on Thursday, November 11, 2010 - 05:18

How many students stop to ponder the history behind these halls of higher learning? It is likely that the answer is close to zero, despite the historical and cultural richness that permeates Whittier’s compact campus.

Most will continue to blissfully stroll around without a second thought but for those curious about the historical background of the college, you should start at 13406 East Philadelphia St.

The Mendenhall Building is one of the most frequented hubs of Whittier life on a daily basis. Whether it is to pick up a work-study check, visit the Greenleaf Art Gallery or meet with the President, students flock to Mendenhall during the weekdays to handle a variety of business.

However, Mendenhall did not always serve as the meeting place for students scurrying to change their class schedule or pleading for more work-study funding. Donated by Mrs. O.T. Mendenhall, the building used to house the College’s quickly expanding library.

Pause. Take a second to imagine works of leather-bound poetry from the likes of J.G Whittier and Walt Whitman, being hit by the sun that shines through the stained-glassed windows on the tucked away third level of Mendenhall.

If that mental image did not appeal to the inner nerd in you, then maybe this historical account is not for you.

Carrying on, Mendenhall served as the College’s library until 1964. At this time, the transition into making the building an administrative center came into fruition.

Following the Whittier Narrows earthquake in 1987, the College sought to restore Mendenhall to its original glory.

Although the earthquake was powerful enough to take eight lives and turn much of historical
Whittier into rubble, Mendenhall emerged as the new meeting ground for administrative activity.

Currently occupied by offices pertaining to Business, the Registrars, the President and Human Resources, Mendenhall is a relic of yesteryear that is just as important today. Unfortunately, the historical beauty that characterizes the building goes unnoticed by busy students. “I usually just go there to pick up my check and then leave,” senior Jay Armenta said, illustrating sentiments shared by most students around campus.

As you carefully ascend the creaky wooden stair-case of Mendenhall, you will see portraits of past Whittier College Presidents on both sides.

These images prepare you for what may be the most beautiful classroom on campus: Mendenhall 317 is a spacious and grandiose room littered with gold trimmings and stained glass windows.

Reminiscent more so of a church than a classroom, this space offers a look into Whittier’s rich—and well designed—history.

So, next time you pick up your work-study check, take a minute to explore the different levels of the buildings. It may not speak to your soul or ooze history from its walls, but at the very least, you will see something worthy of your attention.

Picture by Linda Park