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Tales from Utah Valley: Farewell, old friend — a goodbye to the HFAC

By Laura Giles - Herald Correspondent | Jan 14, 2023

Laura Giles, Special to the Daily Herald

The Harris Fine Arts Center is photographed on a recent visit to the building.

Saying goodbye is never easy. And saying goodbye to a beloved building is no exception. At the end of last semester, the Franklin S. Harris Fine Arts Center at Brigham Young University was closed to the public and will be demolished in the near future.

Why so many tender feelings about a building? To me and many other former students along with current students, arts enthusiasts and concertgoers, the building — lovingly referred to as the HFAC — represents enjoyment, peace and special memories.

As a young student, I often sat in the lobby/gallery of the HFAC to do homework or eat lunch between classes. I loved the artsiness of the structure and its inhabitants, and there was always a feeling of peace to be found there. Since then, I have visited often with family members, friends and students to look at the visual art, listening to the musical art or watch one of many shows performed in the building each year.

First built in 1965, the HFAC housed the university’s School of Music, Department of Theatre and Media Arts and the Department of Visual Arts. It has five performance spaces: the de Jong Concert Hall, Madsen Recital Hall, Pardoe Drama Theatre, Margetts Theatre and the Nelke Theatre. More than 300 performances and exhibits were held there each year.

A stroll through the lobby was actually a stroll through an art gallery — the B.F. Larsen Gallery. The gallery’s exhibits changed periodically and if you happened to visit the gallery at the right time, you were treated to some of the best musical talent that the university has to offer. Many people performed in the gallery as students and other passersby stopped to listen.

Laura Giles, Special to the Daily Herald

The Harris Fine Arts Center is photographed on a recent visit to the building. "The Merry Widow" was one of the last performances in the HFAC and was treated as somewhat of a farewell to the building.

One December, as I was walking into the building to attend a concert, a chorus of men’s voices began singing. The gallery full of people froze to listen to the beautiful Christmas songs performed, seemingly spontaneously, by the BYU Men’s Chorus. The vocalists were lined along the balconies overseeing the gallery. Nobody moved, except to lift their phones to record, until the music stopped.

A recent social media post by Brigham Young University included some fun facts about the HFAC. There were 499,320 total hours of music, dance, theatre and art performed, created and appreciated in the HFAC. The number of secret passages in the building is eight –approximately — and the number of students who have gotten lost there? All of us.

The demolition of the HFAC won’t leave university students and community members without a place to learn and enjoy the arts. A new arts building will be constructed, beginning this year, and is set to be completed by the fall of 2025.

Will the new building capture our hearts like the HFAC did? Will students find a peaceful, arts-filled space to eat their vending machine sandwiches while studying for their next exams? Oh, probably. But we will miss the HFAC just the same.

Fun Facts about the HFAC:

  • The building was named after Franklin Stewart Harris, the longest-serving president of BYU. His tenure lasted 24 years from 1921-1945.
  • The B.F. Larsen Gallery was sometimes used for dances.
  • The building had art and animation labs, painting studios and a costume studio.
  • The building included a second art gallery, Gallery 303.
  • The Henry E. Giles Museum of Musical Instruments housed a collection of antique instruments in the building.
  • The building housed ten pipe organs, a piano lab and an organ lab.
  • It had an extremely large, roomy elevator.
  • Students claim there are hidden staircases and secret windows in the building.

Laura Giles, Special to the Daily Herald

The Harris Fine Arts Center is photographed on a recent visit to the building.


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