Cupola repairs planned for historic Ensminger Pavilion

By Seth Truscott, College of Agricultural, Human & Natural Resource Sciences

PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University’s Ensminger Pavilion, a livestock-judging barn turned events center, will get an upgrade to its historic cupola this summer.

The 1933 pavilion’s wooden cupola and weathervane pennant will be renovated with modern materials. The $13,000 project will wrap by autumn.

Prior to renovations in the early 2000s, the pavilion was the oldest building on campus still used for its original purpose. Designed by university architect Stanley Smith, who also designed Smith Gym and White Hall, it was part of an agriculture complex that included the beef barn that became the Lewis Alumni Centre in the 1980s.

Over seven decades, thousands of animal science students took classes in the pavilion, learning how to judge the meat quality of pigs, sheep and cattle. Archaeology students once practiced excavation techniques in the dirt floor.

The WSU marching band practiced inside, and the student horticulture club sold plants on Mom’s Weekend from the pavilion’s wooden bleachers.

Heyday highlights include Bing Crosby

More than a classroom, the pavilion was a gathering place for farmers, ranchers and educators. Annual field days and livestock feeders’ days welcomed up to 800 people. Land Grant Day dances and auctions were held every autumn.

Bing Crosby, fourth from right, examines a bull during a judging event at the pavilion in the 1950s.

Crooner Bing Crosby once attended a livestock judging event at the pavilion when his sons studied at WSU in the early 1950s.

M.E. Ensminger, head of the animal sciences department 1941-62, welcomed farmers from across the country to feeders’ and field days.

“Farmers would drive up in pickup trucks,” said Everett Martin, a retired animal sciences professor. “Ensminger pulled people in from everywhere… He would always get the president of the university to come.”

Martin, who taught meat science 1970-2006, was the last professor to hold classes inside the judging pavilion.

“It was perfect,” he said. Long and spacious, with plenty of light, the pavilion was a short walk from Clark Hall, the animal sciences building. Martin’s students could get hands-on training without the five-mile trek to the university’s barns.

Deterioration, lead paint

Over the years, the pavilion aged and changed. A meat lab with overhead rails and freezers was built on the south side. The main north entrance was closed and replaced with windows when Wilson Road was elevated.

By 2001, the pavilion’s interior was beat up. Outside, it was covered in ugly, yellow lead paint.

“It was considered an eyesore,” said Pete Jacoby, a crop and soil sciences professor and, at the time, associate dean of the College of Agriculture and Home Economics (CAHE), renamed the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences ( in 2003.

The university was leaning toward demolition, but some students and faculty had other ideas.

Rescue and namesake support

Several CAHE students started a campaign – first dubbed “Save Our Building,” or S.O.B., later “Save the Old Pavilion,” or S.T.O.P. – to give the pavilion a new life.

Thanks to the efforts of Martin, CAHE students and faculty, the campus historic preservation committee and university administrators, in 2002 the pavilion was saved from demolition. Steve Mallory, senior architect with WSU Facilities Operations, worked with Martin, Jacoby and others on a plan to turn the building into an events center, paired with Lewis Alumni Centre.

M.E. Ensminger, 1942.

Key funding came from Audrey Ensminger (1943 alumna), widow of M.E. Ensminger who left an important legacy at WSU and for whom the building is named.

As chair for 21 years, his efforts made the animal sciences department ( one of the best in the country. He was instrumental in construction of the cattle feeding laboratory and Hilltop Stables. Both M.E. and Audrey Ensminger were internationally known textbook authors.

Restoration and upgrade

In the 2002 restoration, contractors blasted off the lead paint and added metal siding. Old windows were replaced. The south side meat lab was replaced with a bank of large doors, bringing the barn back to its original shape.

Later, a concrete floor was added and indoor bleachers were moved and reduced. Horticulture club students added attractive, decorative planters to the new entrance.

Last summer, when workers replaced Ensminger’s roof, they noticed dry rot in the cupola. WSU approved funding for a restoration that will match the look of the historic cupola. The top pennant will be replaced by a larger weathervane with crimson highlights.

Today, the pavilion remains well used by groups from across the WSU campus and beyond.

“It serves a really fine purpose,” said Jacoby. “The lesson learned from this is the meaning of team: Together, everyone accomplishes more.”


Everett Martin, retired professor, WSU animal sciences, 509-332-4289
Pete Jacoby, WSU crop and soil sciences, 509-335-3495,
Seth Truscott, WSU CAHNRS communications, 509-335-8164,