A Lost Tradition

For many alumni, the name Crescent Hill evokes memories of sunny afternoons, Frisbee, walking dogs, sunbathing beauties, concerts and film exhibitions. For almost 30 years, it was the epicenter of student life and recreation, and the beating heart of USF’s student culture. Today, the hill is a sparse area of campus with a dry, rusty fountain and empty sidewalks, all hemmed in by buzzing traffic on all sides. Gone are the frolics of students and staff. In their place is the looming, cavernous structure of the Special Events Center.

Former USF President John Allen is said to have named the hill after the symbol of his fraternity. Countless rock concerts and dances took place on the hill. Pan-Hellenic groups used it for stepping, a show filled with dancing and entertainment to foster black unity. Students staged protests and celebrations there. In the 1980s, live bands played on the hill once a week.

Early in 1987, USF planners announced their decision to build the 2,000-seat Special Events Center on Crescent Hill for $3.3 million. The plan for the SEC was part of widespread renovations to the University Center (today the Marshall Center) that included a new air conditioning system, electrical wiring, plumbing, fire code improvements, bank, travel agency, expanded ballroom, Student Government offices, computer center and a new roof.

Predictably, students reacted to the plan with shock and disdain. They did not feel that SG would be of any help — SG welcomed the SEC plan with open arms, as it would provide additional office space for organizations like themselves.

Students felt they had to take matters into their own hands. After a few false starts by others, mathematics graduate student David Kaplan spearheaded a petition drive to prevent construction on the hill.

“We’re saying the hill has value, the trees on the hill have value, the tradition has value, and we don’t think they’re taking that into account,” Kaplan said.

Planners tried to soothe student fears, saying that only four trees would be cut down and the new building would only occupy a fraction of the hill. The planners also played on administrators by claiming that moving the site would cost USF as much as $500,000 and six months of extra construction time. The elevated walkway projected to link the University Center and SEC would provide eight meeting rooms, none of which would be feasible on any other site.

Planners also argued that the SEC was specially designed to enhance the hill. While continuing to gather signatures for his petition, Kaplan suggested an attractive alternative site west of MLK plaza that would satisfy USF’s master plan. It soon became apparent that planners held firmly to the Crescent Hill site.

Phyllis Marshall, who ran the University Center, showed Kaplan and some other students the plan for the site, hoping to convince them of its value. Marshall also said it was too late to make any changes to the proposed construction. Students, in turn, tried to impress upon Marshall the intangible value of the hill for student morale. She agreed to mark the proposed site with stakes and ribbons so students could see how much space the SEC would occupy.

Kaplan needed 5 percent of the enrolled population, or 1,450 signatures, to put the issue to a student referendum. By the time of the SG elections in December, Kaplan had met that requirement. Just before the referendum, the SG Senate approved a resolution supporting construction of the SEC on Crescent Hill.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people, and they really don’t seem to understand the situation. The building’s going to be one of the most beautiful on campus,” said SG Sen. Bill Norton.

Students disagreed. Ten percent of the student body voted on the referendum (while only 4 percent had voted for their SG representatives), and they opposed construction on Crescent hill by two to one.

On Jan. 12, 1988, USF planners announced they would build the SEC on Crescent Hill despite student objections and the decisive referendum.

“It didn’t seem worth it (to move the site),” said Vice President for Student Affairs Daniel Walbolt.

Kaplan said he was disappointed.

“We thought the hill had a tradition, a beauty, and a lot of aesthetic quality worth preserving. Other valid alternatives were not pursued,” Kaplan said.

Ironically, the SEC was built with student fees through the Capital Investment Trust Fund.

Subsequent events illustrated the value of the hill for students. Constance Werking and Alan Wynn exchanged wedding vows there March 1, 1988. Werking said they chose the site because, “It’s the prettiest place on campus, and half of the hill might be torn down soon.”

SG Productions appropriately scheduled rock band Cheap Trick to play a “Goodbye Crescent Hill” festival. Scheduling conflicts forced them to move the show to the Sun Dome. Ska band the dB’s played the final concert on Crescent Hill March 25, 1988. A variety of students, “hippies, punks, skinheads, and yuppies” gathered to relish the sunshine and music.

Almost 15 years later, there is still sunshine on the hill, but little else: crisscrossing sidewalks, empty benches and a fountain gone dry. Today, a new plan has been offered, in which USF will replace the cavernous, bland SEC with a new facility elsewhere. The Marshall Center will be expanded to the tune of $50 million. And Crescent Hill languishes as a symbol of good intentions and lost traditions.

Want to share a memory or suggest an idea for a column? Send an e-mail to Andrew Huse at usfhistory@lib.usf.edu or call 974-7622.

Want to know more? Check out the Florida Studies Center’s Web site at www.lib.usf.edu/flasc or call Director Mark I. Greenberg at 974-4141.

Check out USF History 101 again on April 2.