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An illustration of Howard Dwight Smith as he appeared in 1921 with Ohio Stadium in the foreground
Spirit & Sports

Imagining an icon 

Dedicated to the university and inspired by Europe’s ancient landmarks, 1907 graduate Howard Dwight Smith designed Ohio Stadium, an architectural marvel that has served for 100 years.

Dedicated to the university and inspired by Europe’s ancient landmarks, 1907 graduate Howard Dwight Smith designed Ohio Stadium, an architectural marvel that has served for 100 years.

Howard Dwight Smith was an Ohio State scholarship student and worked as an assistant in the Department of Architecture as a senior. He earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 1907 and a bachelor’s in architecture from Columbia University three years later. In 1911, he was awarded a Perkins Traveling Fellowship that enabled him to spend a year in Europe, where he was captivated by architectural marvels that would inspire his career.

Smith was an artist at heart, and he depicted some of Europe’s seminal landmarks in watercolor paintings and charcoal drawings, granddaughter Kathie Roig says. When it came time to imagine Ohio Stadium, Smith’s fascination with the built wonders of Rome led him to reflect in its design the archways of the Colosseum and the rotunda of the Pantheon. 

“Taking his paints out on location or working from sketches later, he painted places that inspired him,” says Roig, who is organizing her grandfather’s work for an Upper Arlington Historical Society exhibit in October.

Smith returned from Europe in 1912 and married Myrna Cott. The couple made their home in New York, where Smith worked for John Russell Pope, an acclaimed architect of the time.

Over a six-year span, Smith was first a draftsman and then a designer of mansions for wealthy industrialists. There’s no telling how much fame and money he could have earned had he remained tethered to Pope, whose firm designed the Jefferson Memorial, the National Archives and Records Administration, and the National Gallery of Art’s West Building.

But Smith, who supported Socialist Party candidates for president, was not driven by income. A biography accompanying his 2009 induction to the Upper Arlington Wall of Honor reads: “He believed that money did not signify a person’s worth and that no one needs more than a certain amount of money to live comfortably.”

An offer to serve his land-grant alma mater as an architect and professor of architecture drew Smith back to Ohio State in 1918. Soon he was tapped to design Ohio Stadium.

“He could have made much more money working in New York City, but he had strong connections to Ohio State,” says Bob Long ’73, a retired civil engineer and Horseshoe historian. “He gave up a pile of money, came back to Columbus and designed a stadium like the one he saw in Rome.”


A watershed year in America, 1920 was the first in which more than half of the population was urban. Ohio State enrollment for 1919–20 was listed at 7,817 students, and Long believes university leaders wanted to change the narrative.

“Ohio State had a reputation it wanted to shake,” Long says. “It was known as ‘the college in the cornfield.’”

The Buckeyes had joined the Western Conference, a forerunner to the Big Ten, in 1912. That, along with Harley’s prowess, was raising the profile of Ohio State football. Plus, French was able to facilitate change. An 1895 graduate, he was president of the Athletic Board and an esteemed professor of mechanical engineering. 

French knew that Ohio Field, built in 1898 with a seating capacity of about 14,000, could no longer accommodate the huge crowds coming to see Harley and his teammates. As early as 1915, he told the Columbus Chamber of Commerce he envisioned a new venue that could hold 50,000 fans. French and Thompson believed a new stadium — the likes of which only schools such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton had — could raise the university’s stature.

When the time came to select an architecture team for the ambitious project, the obvious choice was up the road in Cleveland. Osborn Engineering already had designed Detroit’s Tiger Stadium and had started work on the original Yankee Stadium. French opted to keep the job in-house, demonstrating his faith in Smith and civil engineer Clyde T. Morris, an 1898 graduate.

“They wanted to show Ohio State had technical degrees as well as agricultural degrees,” Long says. “The company to hire would have been Osborn, but French felt he already had his dream team.”

Both in cap and gown, a father and daughter proudly pose in front of Ohio Stadium.

With the ’Shoe as a backdrop, Smith and his daughter Myrna Smith Dupler ’43, ’67, ’74 MA document her graduation day in 1943. Smith had five children with his first wife, Myrna Cott Smith, who died 13 years before this photo was taken. (Photo courtesy of Kathie Roig)

Adopting Thompson’s “think big” mentality, French and St. John prodded Smith to expand his double-deck horseshoe composition until it could hold 63,000 seats. Laid in a line, the wooden bleachers would have stretched 21 miles.

Critics said stadium planners overreached and complained that a 40,000-seat venue would have been sufficient. It wasn’t until after World War II that the Buckeyes regularly sold out, leading some to mock the structure as “Smith’s Folly.” While it took several decades for stadium visionaries to be vindicated, few offered a cross word about the architect’s award-winning design.

“At the time, most stadium projects were done by structural engineers,” says Jack Krebs, Osborn’s director of sports engineering, who worked on the 2019–21 renovation of Ohio Stadium. “Mr. Smith was an architect, and being an architect, he utilized concepts that weren’t really being used at the time in stadium venues.”

In the hands of a lesser architect, all that concrete could have led to an uninspiring design, Greene says, but Smith’s stunning archways and rotunda added artistry. “The Horseshoe remains beloved in large part because of its physical presence,” Greene adds. “This is unique in our culture, which favors new over the enduring.”


Smith, the man, reflected none of the grandeur evident in his most widely known design. Ever the teacher, he served Ohio State as a professor of architecture during two stretches: from 1918 to 1921 and again from 1929 to 1956, when he was university architect.

Smith immersed students in the work of his office. In a faculty report he wrote in the ’40s, he states: “By placing three qualified students from the Department of Architecture on the drafting room staff in the University Architect’s Office (at regular hourly wages for part-time staff), practical experience is afforded these students during their university course.”

The late Dan Milosevich ’51 was a student of Smith’s, and he recalled his professor as a taskmaster, albeit a generous and humble one.

“He did have very high expectations of his students, but there’s no doubt we all learned a lot because of it,” said Milosevich, who passed away in late August at age 99. “He assigned quite a bit of homework. In fact, I remember one classmate complaining about that to Professor Smith and his reply was, ‘There are 24 hours in a day and how you choose to use them is entirely up to you.’

“One thing I really appreciated was the in-depth feedback he gave his students. It was obvious he spent a lot of time grading our work,” Milosevich added. “Although he was renowned, he did not have an ego and seemed to genuinely enjoy helping us prepare for our own careers.”

Smith maintained his duties as a professor and architect even in the face of family tragedy. In 1930, his wife died unexpectedly at age 44.

“The death of Myrna Cott was a very instrumental moment in his life,” Beverly D’Angelo says. “Think about that for a moment. He’s suddenly a widower with five kids to raise.”

Smith arranged for his sister, Minnie, to come from Dayton to help with the children. In 1936, he married Mary Edith Gramlich, a widow with two daughters.

Family members describe Smith as stern but attentive. Jeff D’Angelo recalls his grandfather taking him to campus in the 1950s to watch the construction of French Field House.

The humility that was so important to him manifested in many ways, including in his practice of never taking more than four tickets for a football game in the stadium he designed, according to a Columbus Dispatch report. His idea of celebrity was sitting near his old family friend from Dayton, Orville Wright.

“I don’t think a lot of people recognize Smith’s [altruism],” says historian Doreen Uhas Sauer, co-author of Forgotten Landmarks of Columbus. “He’s not shouting his name from the rooftops.”

A man with white hair, weaing a button-down and tie, works at a drafting table on an architectural drawing. The photographer seems to have caught him off-guard but in a good mood.

Smith is 72 in this photo, taken shortly before his death in 1958. Besides Ohio Stadium, he designed more than 100 structures during his career, including Poindexter Village and schools throughout Columbus. (Photo from University Archives) 

Sauer cites Smith as a key figure in the building boom that transformed Columbus in the 1920s, when he served as architect for Columbus City Schools. Armed with a $10 million budget for an eight-year building project, Smith conceived schools and learning centers throughout the city. He designed an open-air school with heated floors to help combat tuberculosis outbreaks. Indianola Junior High School, another Smith project, became one of the first schools of its kind in America, offering a bridge between elementary and high schools.

He was especially pleased to be associated with Poindexter Village, for which he served as consulting architect. Named for the Rev. James Poindexter, a 19th century abolitionist and Columbus leader, the Near East Side neighborhood was one of the nation’s first public housing developments.

“I’m super proud of Poindexter Village,” granddaughter Roig says. “In a way, that says so much more about him than a lot of things. You know how they say ‘the dignity of work’? His motto was ‘the dignity of where you live and your surroundings.’ Service to others was an important part of his being.”

On Ohio State’s Columbus campus, dozens of building projects owe their success to Smith. He designed Pomerene Hall, the Faculty Club, Baker Hall, Smith Laboratory, Hughes Hall and on and on. Three of his buildings were named for the influential men who risked their reputations to back him as architect on the stadium project: William Oxley Thompson Memorial Library’s 11-story tower and two of his last projects, French Field House and St. John Arena.

In September 1958, shortly after Smith’s death following a stroke, the Board of Trustees named a new residence hall for him. In 2013, a renovation project connected Smith Hall and Steeb Hall, named for Smith’s friend and longtime campus administrator Carl Steeb, who was treasurer of the Ohio Stadium Committee.

By the time Smith retired in 1956, Ohio State enrollment had grown to 22,470 and the football program was on its way to becoming the juggernaut it is today. Ohio Stadium’s seating capacity is now listed at 102,780. One hundred years after critics deemed a 63,000-seat venue folly, the work — as Smith might say — speaks for itself.

“His structures are a reflection of his value system,” Beverly D’Angelo says. “His structures have historical references; they have a reverence for the past. They have a solidity and aspirations within them. They have a perspective that isn’t temporary, which speaks to who he was as a person. Things that you do and things that you leave behind are of value simply because that’s what one should do.”

A sketch vaguely illustrates people walking toward the south end of a more-detailed Ohio Stadium, during a time in which a fence stretched across that open end of the horseshoe. Flags wave in the wind.
In 1941, 21 years after Smith designed Ohio Stadium’s stunning archways and rotunda and turned concrete into art, he sketched this scene. The year was midway through his second stint serving as university architect. (Photo from University Archives)


 

Leaders who made it happen

William Oxley ThompsonA white man who is starting to bald stares just off camera. He wears a suit and a serious expression in this black and white portrait.

Ohio State’s fifth president believed athletics could raise an institution’s reputation, leading to his firm support for sports teams and facilities, including Ohio Stadium. He encouraged faculty to guide teams along ethical principles. During his 26-year presidency, enrollment grew more than ninefold, an increase attributed in part to Ohio State’s growing prowess in athletics.

 

Thomas FrenchA white man with neatly parted hair and a faint mustache looks just off camera. He wears a suit and an expression that says he’s considering something in this black and white portrait.

The first to envision Ohio Stadium, French served on the Athletic Board from 1912 until his death in 1944. He had earned a mechanical engineering degree from Ohio State in 1895 and joined the faculty three years later, rising to full professor and chair of engineering drawing. French Field House, one of the last buildings Howard Dwight Smith designed, is named for him.

 

Lynn St. JohnAn older, balding man smiles as if he is delighted by something. He’s wearing a suit but his tie is slightly crooked in this black and white photo.

St. John joined Ohio State in 1912 as manager of athletics, head basketball and baseball coach, and football line coach. He became director of athletics and head football coach the next year. His football teams won Western Conference championships in 1916, 1917 and 1920, fueling enthusiasm for Ohio Stadium. St. John Arena is named in his honor.

 

Clyde T. MorrisA man with waves styled into his hair and wearing a suit looks as if he is carefully posing for this old portrait.

Having earned his Ohio State degree in civil engineering in 1898, Morris joined the faculty in 1906. He rose to full professor and chair of civil engineering in 41 years with the university, which later awarded him an honorary doctorate of science. Morris served as the stadium project’s structural engineer and also was a member of the Athletic Board.

Let’s all celebrate

The university will mark Ohio Stadium’s 100 years at homecoming October 1. The football game kicks off at 3:30 p.m. 

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