Skip to main content
Michigan State UniversityMichigan State UniversityInfrastructure Planning and Facilities
The lanterns line the streets of MSU providing light for students and visitors of MSU as they travel through campus.

The lanterns line the streets of MSU providing light for students and visitors of MSU as they travel through campus.

Lanterns shed light on history

Contact(s):

Oct. 29, 2010 

An old framed copy of what appeared to be the original shop drawing for the MSU lanterns surfaced earlier this year at the MSU Surplus Store. The lanterns used to line the streets of campus. Peter Green of John E. Green Company gave it to MSU, and said his grandfather, Robert Zannoth, designed the fixtures and drew the rendering.

The picture was brought back to the Physical Plant* by Estimating Planner/Inspector/Analyst III/S Monte Pride. The finding of this picture sparked interest in the lanterns and the historical significance they hold to the campus of MSU.

The original lanterns were built in approximately 1929 and lasted through the 1980s, when it became obvious that the lanterns were in disrepair and needed to be replaced, Assistant Vice President for the Physical Plant Ron Flinn said.

Although the Physical Plant had the option to replace the lanterns with modern lamps, the crew working on the lantern replacements decided to create an exact replica of the old lanterns.

“Many people don’t realize, but the lanterns may be the third most recognizable symbol at MSU after the Beaumont Tower and Sparty,” Flinn said. “They are a part of the history that I feel needs to be preserved.”

When word got out about the lanterns being replaced, there was a great deal of interest in obtaining one of the old lanterns. A successful auction was held in October 1989, and the proceeds were designated for the maintenance of the newly replaced lanterns.

When designing the lanterns, Duke Colegrove, construction planner/analyst/inspector I, was in charge of coordinating all of the different departments involved in creating the lantern replicas.

“It was a team effort,” Colegrove said. “We looked and asked ‘How are these lanterns going to be maintenance-friendly?’”

The old lanterns had rotted posts, broken doors and had been bashed in by snowballs and other objects. They were full of bird nests as well. In order to avoid these problems for the new lanterns, the Physical Plant manufactured one single hexagon pane of Lexan glass to be installed inside the copper frame. Instead of using a door to change out the light bulb, the bottom now screws off.

The pole was made of fiberglass and is the color of the fountainhead green that the copper lantern will achieve after years of aging. If the pole chips, it is all the same color underneath so it eliminates the problem of having to be repainted. The lanterns were also placed 2 feet higher to keep them out of harm’s way, Flinn said.

“The reason for this project was to replace a highly recognized symbol of campus and to do it so the new lanterns are low maintenance and highly indestructible,” Flinn said.

The drawing discovered by Pride at the Surplus Store will be hung in Energy and Environmental Engineer Lynda Boomer’s office once it is finished. The lanterns continue to be a symbol of MSU and the Physical Plant played a large role in maintaining that important part of the University’s history.

“The symbol continues,” Flinn said. “The way these lanterns are built, they will last indefinitely.”

September/October 2010

*Prior to the creation of Infrastructure Planning and Facilities in January 2013, several IPF departments were a part of the now-dissolved MSU Physical Plant. Some historical articles on this website reference that former unit.