An iconic structure of Florida State’s campus, the gothic-styled Westcott Building was once threatened by a massive blaze on April 27, 1969. The fire started in the roof above the fourth floor, spreading beneath the sheetrock ceiling and causing intense damage throughout the fourth floor. The Westcott Building housed the University’s administration as well as the art department at the time and attention turned to not only saving the building and human lives, but the innumerable valuable documents and pieces of art stored within the structure.
As the April 28, 1969 edition of the Florida Flambeau notes, the art department was deemed a total loss but a painting by Reubens valued at $30,000 dollars, as well as work by FSU faculty member Dr. Karl Zerbe, valued at $50,000 were safely extracted from the inferno by brave students. Florida Flambeau editor Sam Miller details some of the more memorable moments from the scene:
“After the fire was out, students again poured in to try to salvage the paintings from the third floor. Perhaps the first comic relief of the evening came when two students carried out a bigger-than-life painting of a psychedelic nude.”
For those interested in taking a step into the University’s past, we invite you to view the linked 13 minute video that includes a variety of moments from FSU in 1969, including the Westcott Fire (skip ahead to 3:25). You can check it out here.
Florida State administration building has changed often since the founding of the University in 1851. Originally, the administration building was known as “College Hall” and was built in the same spot where the current administration building is today.
College Hall at Florida State College – Tallahassee, Florida. 1901. Black & white photoprint. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. Accessed 9 Aug. 2017.
However, in 1910, because “College hall” was deemed structurally unsafe, it was knocked down and rebuilt into the administration building we know today and named “Florida State College’s Administration building” until 1936, where it was named after James D. Westcott, Jr. Westcott was a former student and Florida Supreme Court justice who left a large sum of his estate to the university and declared that the profits only be used towards teacher’s salaries.
Harper, Alvan S., 1847-1911. Portrait of Supreme Court Justice James D. Westcott, III – Tallahassee, Florida. Between 1868 and 1885. Black & white photoprint. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. Accessed 9 Aug. 2017.
In 1969, the Westcott administration building suffered severe interior damage, due to a fire. Although much of the interior was destroyed, the university was able to preserve the original collegiate gothic exterior that we know today. Renovations on the building were not completed until 1973 and Westcott is now deemed as an exemplary element of the university.
View showing TFD personnel fighting fire at the Westcott Building from an aerial ladder – Tallahassee, Florida. 1969. Black & white photonegative. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. Accessed 9 Aug. 2017.