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Jeff Byers: What's in a Name When it Comes to Building a New Future?

by on April 07, 2012 11:00 AM

Should the Fraser Center Plaza become the Martin Luther King Plaza? Should we change Park Avenue to Paterno Way? Should State College change its name to something that would be easier to identify?

Names have become a hot topic locally, and I was disappointed to learn how few students and alumni know the history behind the names of streets and buildings already established. So, I thought I’d take this opportunity to provide some context and background on the buildings and streets we already have in the State College area and on the Penn State campus.

Naming controversies are nothing new.

Not many people realize that Penn State was established by Princess Nittany in 1855. The princess had tired of eating maize and turkeys all the time and she hired a couple of fellas named Ben and Jerry to invent a new concoction and the Creamery Brothers came up with ice cream, which is still enjoyed on campus today.

The princess also wanted to find a use for the only part of the pig that was going unused at the time and a bunch of kids started handing off the skin to one another, and sometimes they’d kick it around and so football was born at Penn State. (It wasn’t until 1994 when Kerry Collins came to Penn State that the Nittany Lions, as they came to be known, would start throwing the pigskin as well).

After the princess passed, the folks of State College wanted to honor her. There was great controversy when Mount Happy was renamed to honor her, but a concession was made that the valley would be named after Happy instead.

Her name would later be used to name a medical center – although not an urgent care facility because she was always careful about avoiding confusion – along with apartments, lions, embroidery and orchestras among many other things.

Of course, over the years, we’ve seen many presidents, governors and other distinguished members of Centre County and the Keystone State recognized with naming opportunities.

Ridge Avenue was named after the country’s first director of homeland security, former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge. For a while, the traffic lights on Ridge Avenue were only orange, indicating a high likelihood of oncoming traffic but eventually this was phased out.

General Mitchell had an avenue named after him in College Heights. Borough council went the extra mile in honoring the always-guarded military man, who proved elusive to his enemies by putting in diverters to trick people trying to get to his avenue. 

President Fraternity was honored with a Row in his name, and of course General George University got a Drive named after him.

When it came time to name the football field, Penn State students insisted it be named after its favorite rodent rather than any person. While rats were quickly ruled out, a close battle developed between the beaver and the squirrel ensued with the beaver winning out in a very close election – dam close, in fact.

Of course, Penn State has many streets and buildings named after other famous people.

College Avenue was named after Joe College, who was deemed to be the coolest student ever to attend the University. Joe College was always seen attending frat parties with the ladies with his shades over his eyes and lamp shades on his head.

Allen Street was named after Woody Allen and was originally named Konigsberg Street. Allen wrote several movies with State College themes including "To Boalsburg with Love," "Midnight in Patton Township," "Bullets over Beaver Avenue," "The Purple Rose of Lemont" and "What’s New Nittany Lion?" -- all of which drew rave reviews.

Penn State has long enjoyed its cartoons, and Peppermint Pattee of Peanuts fame was recognized with a library in her honor.  

Meddler Field was named for the Scooby Doo cartoon characters, Fred, Shaggy, Velma and Daphne, otherwise known as those meddling kids.

Of course, Captain Lou Albano of professional wrestling and Cyndi Lauper video fame, was recognized with Lou Albano Park.

Penn Staters have long respected what Abraham Lincoln did for this country, and so Beard Field edged out Top Hat field for the new softball facility.    

Truth be told, the Penn State football practice facility was originally going to be used as an opportunity to diversity and offer hula dance lessons. But the big donor got a little tipsy on the mai tais and mispronounced Hula and so Holuba Hall remains today but is no longer used for luaus.

The HUB was named for Bobby Hubbard, a center on the football team in the early days. Bobby became known as the HUB and he was always the center of attention.               

Hugh Pugh had a street named after him. Pugh was long recognized as the best local farmer produced by Penn State, best known for his creative uses for cow manure.

The great comedian, Bobby “Bananas” Foster, also has a street named in his honor.

Students sometimes were very visionary, as when they voted to name the Chambers Building decades before the basketball coach arrived.

Gov. Rec was a big fan of wrestling, boxing, gymnastics and eventually volleyball, and so Penn State named Rec Hall after him back in the 1930s.      

Sometimes other sports teams inspired local names.

The Steel Curtain of the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers gave way to Curtin Road (they dropped the 'A' to get around legal matters). Of course, the loquacious Steelers linebacker, Joey Porter, had a road named after him that intersects with Curtin Road.    

And of course, there’s the Bryce Jordan Center, named after former Penn State President Joab Thomas.    

If I ever get something named after me, I think I’d want the dance team to be named after me. Sure, the Lionettes has a nice ring to it, but the Ironheadettes brings another level of gravitas – which is what you’re looking for in a dance team – to the fans.

There is a lot of history and tradition with a variety of other buildings and streets on campus, such as Old Main, and if you care to add your personal knowledge, I’d love to add to the historical records for future generations.

By the way, I’m a procrastinator by nature, but I did want to wish all of you a belated Happy April Fool’s Day.

Recent Columns:

Jeff Byers has been the wrestling team’s traveling announcer since 1990.
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