Heritage: NMSU’s Oldest Building on Campus is Conroy Honors Center

January 20, 2019 pixelmark

old building | Conroy Honors Center

Exterior of 111-year-old Y.M.C.A. building,
now NMSU’s William B. Conroy Honors

Written and photography by BUD RUSSO

It’s an unprepossessing building, sitting just south of NMSU’s Center for the Arts. It doesn’t even look old, yet it’s the oldest building on campus.

The building in question is now 111 years old and still going strong. In the late 1800s, New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts commissioned southwestern architect Henry C. Trost to design a plan. He created the well-known horseshoe around which 13 buildings were to form the core of the school — six on each side and the administration building in the center, giving the appearance of unity and harmony.

The college was to have an east-west orientation and be open-ended in the west at its entrance. Buildings were to be executed in what Trost called Spanish Renaissance architectural style, with hipped tile roofs and domed towers. Arches would connect the buildings to form a complex resembling some of the historic California missions.

Over the next 30 years, seven Trost buildings were completed. Five remain, of which four have been renovated. The fifth is Nason House, once the president’s residence done in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie Style.

The historic building of this story is now the William B. Conroy Honors Center, located on the northwest corner of the horseshoe. Originally the Y.M.C.A. (Young Men’s Chris-tian today’s currency, still quite a bargain considering the visual arts building now under construction is slated to cost $22.5 million. The cornerstone was laid in 1907, and construction was completed 1909.

The Y.M.C.A. building was a meeting and boarding house for members. In 1964, the university purchased the building. It had been used by the music department from 1929 to 1965. Then, until 1982, it was used by the Air Force ROTC program.

It remained vacant until 2002, when it was renovated at a cost of $1,980,000. Renovation included an addition on the east side, bringing available space to 9,468 square feet and incorporating offices, a commons area, seminar rooms, an art exhibit area, and an elevator to accommodate people with disabilities.

Commons area in the Conroy Center features original lighting and the iconic half-circle windows.

William Eamon, who was director of the Honors College/Crimson Scholar Program, said he liked the idea the Honors Program was in the oldest academic building on campus.

old building |  Y.M.C.A. insignia replica
Replica of Y.M.C.A. insignia still marks the entrance to the historic building.

Conroy served as NMSU executive vice president from 1985 to 1987, when he became the university’s 19th president. He retired in 2000. At the building dedication, Conroy said, “It’s one of the greatest thrills on my life to have my name on this historic building at this university which will always be so close to my heart.”

In giving the building a face-lift, designers maintained its unique windows and hipped roof with its terra cotta tiel. Over the entrance to the building is a replica of the original Y.M.C.A. insignia. The replica was made from a mold of the original, principally because the terra cotta insignia was crumbling too badly to be saved.

old building | life-size replica of a warrior

The Conroy Honors Center was placed on the State of New Mexico Cultural Properties register in 1983 and on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

As you drive the horseshoe, you’ll find the other three remaining Trost buildings: Goddard Hall, Young Hall, and the music center adjacent to Atkinson recital hall. Along with the 1890 cornerstone of McFie Hall, they represent the cultural legacy of Henry Trost

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