Top of the Morning, April 28, 2014: From the archives

Top of the Morning, April 28, 2014: From the archives

I was here when the Beckmans gave the University of Illinois millions to build the Beckman Institute. I've watched all four corners of Neil and Main undergo total change in downtown Champaign. Seen a structure built from scratch to house the world's fastest (for a time) computer.

Heck, I worked through college at the McDonald's on campus, which went away years ago, and now it makes me nostalgic to know that one is coming back to Green Street.

Virtually that entire block is different from when I arrived as a freshman at the UI. But when you live in a place for a while, change — even big change — can seem so gradual that it's not nearly as jarring as it would be to someone returning for the first time in decades.

Which is how I felt about the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts after I dug into our files.

I've played softball at the old Illinois baseball field that was moved to make way for Beckman, but I had never seen the rows of houses that occupied the blocks where Krannert is now. The center's website says it took two years to acquire all the land, and it's easy to see why from the photos.

I never knew about the three men who were injured in a 45-foot fall while building one of the theaters there. (It occurs to me that there was at least one serious injury while Beckman was under construction, too.) They fell from a roof where they were pouring concrete on Aug. 1, 1967. The hospitals they were taken to no longer exist: Two went to Burnham City Hospital and one to Mercy.

Two days after the incident, workers at the site walked off the job. A union official at the time declined to comment.

That was years after Herman and Ellnora Krannert decided, in 1962, to make a donation for the construction of a performing arts center, four years after a committee was formed to finalize plans, a year after the groundbreaking and well into the construction of the facility, which opened in April 1969.

So, as Krannert inches closer to eligibility for AARP membership, we have photos that document virtually every stage of the construction, from a crane digging in snowy earth to the skeleton of the Great Hall to the virtually finished building, shiny and new.

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