History Lessons: Classy Gifts

by Janet Max,’81 | July 2019

The Block M on the Diag and the Cube in Regents’ Plaza are just two of a number of gifts that classes have given the University as a way to leave something memorable behind. Michigan Alumnus samples just a few of the benches, fountains, sculptures, and other gifts on campus.

M&M’s

The iconic Block M, cast in bronze and set in granite in the center of the Diag, was a gift from the class of 1953 to President Harlan Hatcher. Before the 2008 Spring Commencement—held on the Diag because of construction at the Big House—the granite around the Block M was replaced. Of the 30,000 folding chairs on the Diag that April day, none sat atop the legendary Block M.

A short walk from the Diag at the loggia entrance to the Hatcher Graduate Library, one finds the class of 1966 gift: four bronze Block M’s set in granite around a commemorative square. The Block M near Lurie Tower on North Campus, a gift of the College of Engineering class of 2000, is also cast in bronze.

Photos courtesy of the Office of the Vice President for Communications

Rock and Roll

Though hard not to notice given their size, two historic boulders on Central Campus are often overlooked, unlike the iconic Rock on Washtenaw Avenue. Bearing the inscription “The Class of 1862,” the boulder on the front lawn of 1100 North University Ave. weighs nearly 8 tons. Horses and oxen, accompanied by a triumphal procession of students, originally brought it to campus.

The class of 1869 planted an American elm just west of the old University Hall. Thinking the tree looked lonely, the class later moved a boulder next to it. In 1922, when the tree and rock had to be moved to make way for Angell Hall, the class of 1869 raised funds and moved both to the west side of the new building. Sadly, the tree succumbed to Dutch elm disease 60 years later. Now it is the boulder that is lonely.

A Tree Grows on Campus

The class of 1858 named a massive tree on campus the “Tappan Oak” to honor Henry Philip Tappan, U-M’s first and then-current president. Class members also planted 48 maple trees in concentric circles around the century-old oak, one for each class member. Sometime after their 25th reunion in 1883, the alumni—known as the Tappan Boys—had a large stone placed under the oak. They followed through on their intention to attach a commemorative plaque a mere 21 years later, in 1904.

Big Art

In Regents’ Plaza, the iconic “Endover” presides. More commonly known as “the Cube,” the 15-by-15-by-15-foot, 2,400-pound steel sculpture defies expectations by being light on its axis. A hearty push sends it spinning. The Cube, designed by Tony Rosenthal, ’36, was a gift of the class of 1965 and the artist; it was installed on Regents’ Plaza in 1968. Similar Rosenthal cubes exist in New York and Miami, among other cities.

Cube, 1970s

“The Cube” as it appeared circa 1970. Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library

The orangey/red curvaceous abstract steel sculpture “Begob” brightens the east side of the Lurie Engineering Center on North Campus. Created by Russian-born American artist Alexander Liberman, it is a gift from a number of students: the College of Engineering class of 1945 and the 1942 through 1945 classes of U-M’s Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps.

Begob

Photo courtesy of the Office of the Vice President for Communications

Look Up and Down

In Angell Hall, the lovely, ornate ceiling fixtures in the lobby, lighting the way for countless students over decades, were a gift of the literary class of 1924.

Next time you take a seat on a campus bench, check its markings to see if it was a class gift. Many were, including the limestone bench west of the Hatcher Graduate Library (class of 1901) and the four wrought iron and wooden benches near the Lay Automotive Lab on North Campus. Gifts of the College of Engineering classes of 1909, 1911, 1913, and 1920, the benches were moved from Central Campus to North Campus in the 1980s.

Fountains of Knowledge

Dip your fingers into the reflecting pool, take in the pyramid of five fountains, and thank the engineering class of 1947 for providing a contemplative space on North Campus. On Central Campus, located between the Michigan Union and the LSA Building, the Class of 1956 Fountain, with its wide, bench-like rim, offers another opportunity for rest and introspection.

For a catalog of class gifts and other U-M attractions in Ann Arbor, visit the U-M Arts & Culture website.


Janet Max, ’81, is a freelance writer and editor based in Ann Arbor.

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