As soon as the purchase of Lloyd Frank’s Fir Acres Estate by Albany College was completed in the summer of 1942, the Board of Directors began planning renovations. Transforming an extravagant single-family estate into a college campus was no small task, and every building that once served a purpose for the Frank family was adapted into something that could be used by the college.
The gatehouse became the President’s House. The 35-room mansion, now the Frank Manor House, became administrative offices, the women’s dorm, the college commons and housed three classrooms. Albany Quadrangle, formerly the estate garage, was set aside for the library, physics and math departments, and another three classrooms. Rooms in the garage that once housed four of the Frank’s chauffeurs were converted into two apartments for faculty.
The south wing of the quadrangle was a greenhouse and reserved for future library expansion, but the north wing was set aside for a building the campus planners deemed especially important: the campus chapel. As this wing of the garage had previously served as a shed, its dirt floor was not conducive to the plans for a chapel, so students were employed to excavate the previous foundation to the proper level and pour new concrete for the floor of the new chapel.
In 1943, the Presbyterian Church showed interest in Lewis & Clark due to their respect for then President Morgan Odell, and wanted the school to be a representative of the church. Though the college did not commit to representing the Presbyterians, religion did play an increasingly important role in campus life.
In the 1950s, LC began the tradition of an annual “religion-in-life” week, in which religious leaders, local pastors and other spiritual figures would come to campus for lectures and services, all sponsored by the college. Associations on campus also held an optional weekly chapel, and student Christian associations became a prime social gathering place for students.
In 1954, under the guidance and instruction of music professor John Stark Evans, a new music building was built on campus. This $410,000 building was used for convocation, lectures, practice rooms for music students and local productions, and was also the new site of the campus chapel. That same year, all of the student Christian associations on campus combined into the Palatinian Society, an organization founded in Christianity that held services in the new chapel and organized three religious retreats for students each year.
In 1965, the Board of Directors decided that the construction of a campus chapel was necessary and put Dr. Freeda Hartzfeld, a longtime trustee, in charge of plans and fundraising. Hartzfeld’s team hired architect Paul Thiry, who had designed the Aubrey R. Watzek Library some years earlier. Thiry set the groundbreaking date for May 21, 1967, when the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church would be holding their annual meeting in Portland.
The trustees named the chapel in honor of Mrs. Agnes Flanagan of Medford, who they said “(had) given much time and counsel to the religious affairs committee of the trustees. She … made generous gifts to many projects of the college, including the chapel, and has provided yearly scholarships to Lewis & Clark for people in her own area,” according to “Lewis and Clark 1867-1967.” The plans for the chapel included a large main chapel seating 750 and a smaller attached meditation chapel to seat 100, and would cost a total of $600,000.
Some students and faculty members believed this was an exorbitant amount of money to spend on a building they deemed unnecessary, and that money would better be spent doing the work of the church in the world. These dissenters, numbering close to 200, protested the groundbreaking ceremony with a silent picket line, but despite their protests, ground was broken on May 21, 1967 as planned, on the site of what would become the Agnes Flanagan Chapel.