The project to build a modern bandstand was begun by President Starr and was carried initially by his enthusiasm for placing a bandstand on the square for the first time since 1907. An advisory committee was established in 1983, grant proposals to the National Endowment for the Arts were drawn up, and the decision to solicit designs in a competitive format was made based “on the desire to create a situation that would provide for an exciting and innovative structure,” according to Mary Durling, project director for the NEA Bandstand grant.
In 1985, 30,000 posters were sent out to architects and schools of architecture announcing The Great Bandstand Design Competition. Nearly 400 registration fees were sent in, and ultimately 149 designs were received.
The winning entry of architect Julian Smith, a 1969 Oberlin Graduate, was chosen unanimously by the nine distinguished jurors. One of those jurors, History Professor Geoffrey Blodgett, spoke of the two most important criteria for his selection process... “that the design did not violate the Oberlin tradition of relative simplicity and modesty,” and “that the structure would have simultaneous appeal to both the town and college constituencies.”
The bandstand has been called everything from “a sheer delight,” to “simply an eyesore.” But Julian Smith’s winning design offers a great deal more to the community than simply its aesthetic modesty and unconventional imagery. On the surface, the result of the completion may seem to be an extraordinary coincidence, but upon closer examination the result seems most logical and appropriate.
Perhaps the most significant description of the bandstand comes from the architect himself who declares that the design is “unrestricted by European imagery.” The bandstand is certainly in keeping with Oberlin’s social pursuits. “These pursuits, particularly today, are not confined to those based on classical European precedent,” writes Smith. This comment taken from the architect’s statement in which he describes the attraction of “exploring how a long-overlooked medium might be used to open new channels for community expression and integration.”
Brochin, Nathaniel. "The Oberlin Bandstand: An Appropriate Addition." The Oberlin Review [Oberlin] 22 May 1987: 14. Print.