Moving further into the history of the University of Connecticut, today’s edition of the Buildings of Storrs will look at the William Benton Museum of Art.
The Benton was originally constructed in 1920 as the first dining hall in UConn history, then called the Beanery. The project was expensive, totaling $495,000, or $6.4 million when adjusted for inflation.
According to Betsy Pittman, a university archivist, the name “The Beanery” was chosen due to the large number of students who came to the dining hall solely for coffee. The Beanery remained UConn’s main dining hall until Whitney Residence Hall opened in 1939.
According to the Benton Museum website, the first pieces of art came to the Benton in 1933, when former UConn president Charles Beach bequeathed his art collection to the college upon his death. A large trust fund was also created for acquiring further pieces of art. While these were put on display, the Benton was still considered a dining hall, with part of the building renovated into a small art gallery.
In 1965, another large donation of art was given to the university. Genetics professor Dr. Walter Landauer gave over 100 paintings to the college, and in 1966, the building was officially renamed the Connecticut Museum of Art, according to the book “Red Brick in the Land of Steady Habits.”
All dining facilities were removed under president Homer Babbidge, and the building was renamed again as the William Benton Museum of Art in 1972, with renovations to modernize the interior of the building to give it the sense of an art gallery. William Benton was a UConn alum and Connecticut senator, whose family provided many donations of art for the museum.
The final expansions to the museum were done in 2004, when the Evelyn Simon Gallery was added onto the museum. Additionally, the Beanery returned after nearly 40 years, though it’s now a cafe for students that sits adjacent to the museum.
According to the museum’s website, the Benton has exhibited over 6,500 works from across the world, though most of the art held by the university is from American artists such as Gustav Klimt, Reginald Marsh and Kathe Kollwitz.
Samuel Katz is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached at email@example.com.