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Francis Scott Key Auditorium and Mellon Hall

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1956–1958, Neutra and Alexander. St. John's St.

On May 22, 1959 President Dwight D. Eisenhower spoke at the dedication of Francis Scott Key Auditorium and Mellon Hall on the historic St. John’s College campus in Annapolis. The interconnected auditorium/classroom/planetarium building was designed by internationally renowned architect Richard Neutra, along with his partner, Robert E. Alexander. The low-slung, flat-roofed building is exemplary of Neutra’s unornamented and modular architectural vocabulary. Asymmetrical massing, glass walls, large areas of unadorned brick and limestone, and exposed concrete columns all signaled Neutra and Alexander’s International Style modernism. It was a drastic but sympathetically scaled departure from the red brick Georgian (and Georgian Revival) buildings on campus and in the adjacent Annapolis Historic District.

Francis Scott Key Memorial Auditorium is a 600-seat performance space with a glass-walled lobby entrance and adjacent “conversation room.” The Auditorium is located at the end of one wing of Mellon Hall, an L-shaped structure with a double-loaded corridor floor plan. The two perpendicular wings of Mellon Hall housed the music and science departments with additional spaces for classrooms, studios, and laboratories. A small domed planetarium—McKeldin Planetarium—is located at the end of the other Mellon Hall wing. Exposed aggregate concrete buttresses contrast with the aluminum-sheathed dome and exterior walls of the planetarium. McKeldin Planetarium is set in a shallow concrete pool (still extant but drained of water), another characteristic Neutra design feature.

The roughly U-shaped footprint formed by Francis Scott Key Auditorium, its lobby, and Mellon Hall created a sheltered courtyard facing the grassy campus quadrangle at the center of the block. In 1989 the three-sided courtyard was closed off with the addition of an administrative wing and art gallery. In spite of this alteration, the structure remains an unusual and well-preserved example of Neutra’s brand of International Style modernism in Maryland. The building was a rare East Coast commission for the Los Angeles-based architect. Neutra’s other major institutional commission on the East Coast, the Cyclorama Building at Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania, was demolished in 2013, leaving the St. John's building an even more significant survivor.

References

Hines, Thomas S. Richard Neutra and the Search for Modern Architecture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Triechmann, Laura, and Kim Williams. “Francis Scott Key Memorial Hall and Mellon Hall, St. John's College,” Anne Arundel County, Maryland. Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties Form, 2000. Maryland Historical Trust, Crownsville, MD.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Lisa P. Davidson
Coordinator: 
Lisa P. Davidson
Catherine C. Lavoie

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