University Libraries to Open 40th Anniversary Exhibit

Posted: September 23, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Laura Jeffrey

The earliest known films of the original George Mason campus are among the artifacts featured in an exhibit to commemorate the university’s 40th anniversary. “Simplicity, Permanence, and Economy: The Origins of George Mason University’s Fairfax Campus” opens on Sept. 27 in the Johnson Center Gallery and runs through Oct 16.

“The title of the exhibit comes from a specification in the original master plan for the Fairfax Campus,” says Bob Vay, the exhibit’s curator. “The University of Virginia, our parent institution, wanted the Fairfax Campus to be inexpensive but truly functional.”

Vay’s official title is dissertation, thesis, and electronic texts coordinator in the University Libraries. But for the past year or so, he’s also tackled much of the work for the exhibit. With two graduate assistants and various library staff members assisting at times, Vay spent hours combing the University Archives in the Special Collections and Archives department.

“Probably the most exciting part is when we finally got to see what was on the original 16mm film reels, both of which came from the George Mason College Public Relations Office,” Vay says. “One film is of the former location of the campus in Bailey’s Crossroads, and the other is of the Fairfax Campus just as the construction crews are completing it.”

Fairfax Campus ca 1964
The Fairfax Campus circa 1964

The story of the university goes like this: In 1949, the University of Virginia (UVA) started the Northern Virginia Center, which offered evening classes at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington. By 1956, the Virginia General Assembly authorized a branch college of UVA in Northern Virginia. The new branch, called University College, opened in 1957 in the former Bailey’s Crossroads Elementary School on Columbia Pike with an initial student body of 17. Enrollment steadily grew, and by 1960, the school was renamed George Mason College. In 1959, a 150-acre tract of land that had been purchased by the Town of Fairfax was officially deeded to UVA for a permanent home for Mason, and work on the master plan began in 1960.

Construction commenced in 1963, and by August 1964, four buildings were completed. The Fairfax Campus was formally dedicated in November 1964; Mason became a university and a separate entity from UVA in 1972.

John Zenelis, university librarian, says many of the photographs in the anniversary exhibit have never been publicly viewed. “They are quite remarkable,” he says. “All of the reproductions of original materials in the exhibit were rendered digitally so as to incorporate the latest technology while exploring topics of the past.”

Zenelis and Vay say that anyone curious about the history of the Fairfax Campus will find the exhibit intriguing. The exhibit, including a PDF version of a limited-edition commemorative catalog, will be accessible via a University Libraries’ web site that will become available when the exhibit opens.

“We have been working on this project since the summer of 2003,” says Vay. “We do many small exhibits each year and a few electronic exhibits as well, but this is certainly the biggest.”

The anniversary exhibit is free and open to the public; Johnson Center Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Friday. For more information, contact Vay at 703-993-2222 or

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