Filed Under Education

Thomas L. Martin Classroom Building (MARB)

Although today it is notorious for its windowless walls and congested design, the MARB was once part of a commodious two-building complex for BYU’s life sciences. Its namesake is Thomas L. Martin, dean of BYU’s College of Applied Sciences in the early twentieth century.

As enrollment for programs in BYU’s College of Biological and Agricultural Sciences swelled in the mid-1960s, the college was strapped for classrooms. Dean Rudger H. Walker called on the university to provide a new building designed with life science in mind, and the Board of Trustees drew up plans during the 1966 to 1967 academic year.

Around the same time, six BYU stakes reached out to the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints requesting that BYU design the new building to accommodate eight wards (original plans made the building large enough for four). In order to meet this request, BYU administration decided to split the planned building into two: one for laboratories and faculty offices, the other for lecture halls suitable for both classroom instruction and Sunday worship. Walkways at multiple levels connected the buildings. The laboratory building became the Widtsoe Building, and the other was named the Thomas L. Martin Classroom Building.

The name was a happy triumph for Walker. Thomas L. Martin was an English immigrant and internationally-renowned agronomist, and he was an agricultural science professor at BYU from 1921 to 1958. During that period he also served for a time as dean of the College of Applied Sciences, later renamed the College of Agricultural and Biological Sciences, making him a predecessor to Walker. However, their connection was even more personal: Martin had taught Walker while at BYU, and Walker was Martin’s first student to enroll in a PhD program. In total, about 110 of Martin’s students went on to earn PhDs, for which the American Society of Agronomy cited him as “teacher of the year” in 1950.

Central Utah Architects designed the edifice, and BYU contracted Tolboe Construction for building. Tolboe began construction in July 1968 and finished in 1969.

Throughout the Martin Classroom Building’s three stories (one underground, two aboveground), there are about 40,000 square feet of floor, twenty-four lecture rooms, and enough seating for over 2,000 students. Because the university planned to use the building for science lectures with slide projections, the classrooms have no windows, ensuring sunlight never interferes with projection visibility.

BYU remodeled the Martin Building in 2000, and in 2014 it added an elevator. (Previously, the only elevator access was through the Widtsoe, which BYU razed in 2015.)

In the twenty-first century, the Martin Classroom Building—typically nicknamed the MARB for its building code—hosts classes in many subjects, not just life science. Unfortunately, the MARB is not as beloved as its namesake was. Students often lament the windowless rooms, originally designed as a feature, for being dispiriting. And without the old walkways into the Widtsoe Building, the MARB’s single stairwell is frequently crowded. A satirical website declared the MARB one of the “BYU buildings no one cares about” and suggested “the highest priority” for any campus improvement should “be to fix the MARB so it is not absolutely terrible to get in and out” by adding “entrances for each level,” unwittingly hearkening back to the days when the Martin Classroom Building did have exits at multiple levels into the Widtsoe Building.

Students may not appreciate the MARB as much as their forebears admired Dr. Martin, but with so many lectures assigned to his Classroom Building, it will continue affecting their lives.

Images

The MARB
The MARB The Thomas L. Martin Building in the twenty-first century. The second floor has glass windows looking into the corridor, but, as the photograph demonstrates, all classrooms are entirely windowless. Source: “BYU Thomas L. Martin Building (MARB).” U8oL0 (pseud.), February 13, 2019. Via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0). https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BYU_Thomas_L._Martin_Building_(MARB).jpg.
The Martin and the Widtsoe
The Martin and the Widtsoe Before BYU demolished the Widtsoe Building in 2015, the Widtsoe and Martin were linked by multiple walkways, fusing the two buildings together into one life sciences building complex. Source: “[The Thomas L. Martin Building, 1969].” Brigham Young University Photo Studio, 1969. Brigham Young University: 1000 Views of 100 Years collection (UAP 2 Folder 246). Courtesy of the University Archives, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. https://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/digital/collection/BYUPhotos/id/703/rec/4.
Dr. Thomas L. Martin
Dr. Thomas L. Martin A renowned agronomist, Martin brought scientific and educational expertise to the table as a BYU professor. Source: Image 1, folder 2, Thomas L. Martin photographs (UA 1065). Courtesy of the University Archives, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. https://archives.lib.byu.edu/repositories/ltpsc/resources/upb_ua1065.
Dean Martin
Dean Martin Thomas L. Martin, at the time dean of the College of Applied Sciences, is visible seated on the far left. Franklin S. Harris, then president of BYU, can be seen third from the left. Source: [Deans Council meeting in the assembly room of the Maeser Memorial Building, 1943]. Brigham Young University: 1000 Views of 100 Years collection (UAP 2 Folder 137). Courtesy of the University Archives, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. https://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/digital/collection/BYUPhotos/id/418/rec/3.
“A friend to all students”
“A friend to all students” Two decades into his career at BYU, Martin was known and beloved for his keen interest in his students’ futures. Source: The Banyan of 1936. Provo, UT: Associated Students of Brigham Young University, 1936. 18. Via Internet Archive. https://archive.org/details/banyan1936brig/page/18.
The “Martin Boys”
The “Martin Boys” Thomas L. Martin is the second from the left. His students, such as Rudger H. Walker and Ezra Taft Benson, were nicknamed “Martin Boys.” Some 110 Martin Boys went on to earn PhDs after graduating from BYU. At Martin’s funeral, former BYU president Ernest L. Wilkinson said Martin “inspired more young men to go on to advanced degrees in soils,” or the agricultural sciences, “than any other teacher in the nation” (See “Go East Young Man”). Source: [Dr. Thomas L. Martin and his agronomy class, ca. 1931]. Brigham Young University: 1000 Views of 100 Years collection (UAP 2 Folder 101). Courtesy of the University Archives, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. https://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/digital/collection/BYUPhotos/id/318/rec/6.
Agronomy
Agronomy Martin’s field of speciality was agronomy and agriculture. His laboratory encompassed both sterilized beakers and clean countertops as well as soil, air, and the whole of planet earth. Source: Image 2, folder 3, Thomas L. Martin photographs (UA 1065). Courtesy of the University Archives, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. https://archives.lib.byu.edu/repositories/ltpsc/resources/upb_ua1065.
Singing scientist
Singing scientist Martin evidently also had some appreciation for the arts and dabbled in singing enough to form the Y Lyceum Quarter along with other officers of BYU’s Extension Division. Source: Image 3, folder 3, Thomas L. Martin photographs (UA 1065). Courtesy of the University Archives, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. https://archives.lib.byu.edu/repositories/ltpsc/resources/upb_ua1065.
Hattie Paxman Martin
Hattie Paxman Martin Martin’s wife, Hattie Paxman. Martin credited his ability to earn his PhD to her. While working as a school principal in Wyoming, Martin was considering accepting the contract for a fourth year and putting off graduate education again. In response, Hattie told him, “No! The first thing you know we will be living here permanently. We have sacrificed too much to give up on this PhD idea.” According to Martin, without Hattie, he never would have earned his PhD. Source: Image 4, folder 3, Thomas L. Martin photographs (UA 1065). Courtesy of the University Archives, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. https://archives.lib.byu.edu/repositories/ltpsc/resources/upb_ua1065.
Dean Rudger H. Walker
Dean Rudger H. Walker Walker had been a “Martin boy” and studied under Thomas L. Martin’s tutelage. Years later, when he was dean of the College of Biological and Agricultural Sciences at BYU, he advocated for naming the new life science classroom after his beloved mentor. Source: Image 1, folder 3, box 3, College of Biology and Agriculture photographs collection (UA 823). Courtesy of the University Archives, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. https://archives.lib.byu.edu/repositories/ltpsc/resources/upb_ua823.

Location

The Thomas L. Martin Classroom Building stands south of the Herald R. Clark Building (Kennedy Center) and north of the Life Sciences Building.

Metadata

Makoto Hunter, Brigham Young University, “Thomas L. Martin Classroom Building (MARB),” Intermountain Histories, accessed May 21, 2024, https://www.intermountainhistories.org/items/show/572.