Campus News

Bowdoin Receives 5.3 Million to Support Theater Renovation and Construction Project

Story posted March 15, 1998

BRUNSWICK, Maine -- Barry and Oblio Wish of Palm Beach, Fla., have donated $5.3 million to Bowdoin College to support a planned renovation and expansion of Bowdoin's theater facilities. Barry Wish is a member of Bowdoin's Board of Trustees and its Class of 1963.

All but $100,000 of the $5.3 million gift will be used to support a planned renovation of Memorial Hall -- a 116-year-old facility that houses Pickard Theater -- and the construction of a new 150-seat experimental theater adjacent and connected to Memorial Hall. The remaining $100,000 has been designated for the College's Alumni Fund which supports Bowdoin's current operations.

The Memorial Hall/Pickard Theater project, with a total estimated budget of $9.5 million, currently in the design phase, will totally renovate the existing Pickard Theater, establish a new laboratory theater and unite the structures with an interior courtyard.

"This is an extraordinary act of generosity by Barry and Oblio Wish for a vital need of the College," said Bowdoin President Robert H. Edwards. "With this gift, Bowdoin is now within sight of achieving a long-held goal: to provide our students and faculty with first-rate theater and dance space for performance, rehearsal and offices -- space that can also be used by visiting artists and the Maine State Music Theatre. We couldn't be more grateful to Barry and Oblio. They are making a wonderful gift to both Bowdoin and Brunswick."

Barry Wish is chairman emeritus of Ocwen Financial Corp., a West Palm Beach, Fla.-based, publicly held financial services company. He has been a member of the Bowdoin Board of Trustees since 1994, and served as a member of the College's Board of Overseers from 1989 to 1994. Wish was chair of Bowdoin's Investment Committee from 1992 to 1997 and remains actively involved in the management of Bowdoin's investments as a member of that committee. Wish began his career in the securities field, first at Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. and later as a partner and shareholder at Kidder, Peabody & Co. In 1979 he formed Walsh Greenwood Wish & Co., a New York investment arbitrage firm. In 1983 he sold the firm and founded the Oxford Financial Group, also of New York City. The successor company, Ocwen Financial Corp., went public in September 1996, at which time Wish became chairman emeritus and a director.

"It means a lot to me and Oblio to be able to support Bowdoin's efforts to provide quality space for instruction and performance, something I know to be a very high priority at the College," Wish said. "It is our hope that under the guidance of Bowdoin's excellent faculty these new and improved facilities will inspire many future generations of students to learn, create, and express themselves and their works."

Pickard Theater is used by Bowdoin for theatrical classes and productions, music performances and lectures. The theater is also the home of the Maine State Music Theatre, which each summer stages a popular series of musicals there, attracting thousands of visitors to Brunswick and the region.

Memorial Hall was constructed over 17 years from 1866 to 1882. It was initially used for classroom and lecture hall space, and a second-floor meeting hall was used to host all-college meetings. In 1889 U.S. Army Gen. Thomas Hubbard, of the Class of 1857, donated several large bronze plaques that now hang in the building's ground-floor lobby in honor of those from Bowdoin who served in the Civil War, including such important figures as Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Class of 1852) and Oliver Otis Howard (Class of 1850).

In the 1950s, the building was converted to a theater. Frederick W. Pickard, of the Class of 1894, donated funds to finance the renovation of Memorial Hall and creation of the theater that bears his name. Pickard Theater was dedicated in 1955.

The gift from Barry and Oblio Wish is part of Bowdoin's five-year, $125 million New Century Campaign, a comprehensive fund-raising effort aimed at improving the College's science facilities, increasing financial aid and instructional endowments, and preserving the campus, among other goals. To date, the campaign has raised $123 million toward its $125 million goal. The campaign is scheduled to conclude on June 30.

Additional fund-raising for the $9.5 million Memorial Hall/Pickard Theater project is under way. Plans call for construction to begin on the project this fall with completion projected for the spring of 2000. The theater will not be used during the renovation. Preliminary plans for the Pickard Theater project call for reconstructed balcony seating, a complete renovation of the stage area, the addition of air conditioning, new rehearsal space for theater and dance, and new dressing rooms and bathrooms. The new 150-seat experimental theater, to be connected to the west side of Memorial Hall, will also include new offices for faculty and staff. Project architects are Grieves Worrall Wright & O'Hatnick Inc. of Baltimore. Among the firm's recent projects are Richardson Auditorium and McCarter Theatre at Princeton University and the Center Stage theater in Baltimore.

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