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The University Magazine

Sign of the times

From the Archives 1968

Bill Destler
Bill Destler

After RIT relocated to the present campus in 1968, many of the buildings of the old downtown campus were demolished to make way for the Route 490 expressway. Before the Student Union was torn down, Jay Powell ’68 (electrical engineering) rescued the building sign, visible in this photo. Earlier this year, Powell returned it to the Archives and Special Collections, along with a story.

“This converted dwelling, complete with a sweeping staircase (with a stained glass window) had been a glorious home at one time. The remnants of a servant call system and a ‘back’ staircase to what had been rear bedrooms confirmed that the original owners had live-in help.

“When RIT used the building, the first-floor rooms had been established for meetings and also housed the first color television set on campus. There were always coffee, hot chocolate and peanut butter cracker snacks available. The religious affairs offices and WITR radio occupied the second floor.

“All the buildings associated with the school had display name signs made of machined aluminum letters on a framed background. Just as the bricks bring unity to the current campus, these signs, identical in style and presentation, identified and brought unity to the campus buildings.

“As the general manager of WITR, I had spent many happy hours in that building; it was sad to pass by outside and see this dark empty place still proudly displaying it’s proclamation of being the Student Union. Knowing what was to happen to the structure, and having no idea of the future of the sign, it was an easy decision to appoint myself as protector. One evening I quietly removed the four mounting screws and tucked it away for safety.

“The house next door was also vacated that summer, but when the home was emptied it appears that a natural gas line was damaged. An explosion destroyed that building and the blast weakened the Student Union to the point that demolition was carried out immediately. I was so glad that the sign had been preserved and not lost in the rubble that 90 Troup Street
had become.

“I eventually wound up marrying Mary Anne Voisine, a girl I had met in the Student Union. The sign now had extra special meaning to us as we went through life and served as a constant reminder of the fun and joyous times we spent there.

“Now, after close to 40 years in our possession, it is time to return this piece of RIT history to the school and allow it to serve as a physical reminder of the downtown days.”

Powell has held engineering positions at several television stations in the Northeast and is currently involved with writing in-house proprietary software for CBS television stations. The Powells live in Thornton, Pa.