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Forty Years of Lighting the Lights

By Amy L. Marr '96

Lens and Lights head projectionist Zac Mouneimneh '01 shows off the club's modern-day projection facilities in Fuller Laboratories.

Hundreds of student organizations have come and gone since WPI's founding. Only a few can measure their histories in decades. Among them is Lens and Lights, which hit the 40-year mark in 2001.

The Worcester Tech Lens and Lights Club was formed in 1961 by James A. Day '62, who borrowed the organization's name from his high-school AV club. With Robert Gardner '62, Stephen Noble '64, John Schmidt '64 and William Swiger '64, Day founded the club on the model of an audio-visual services business, providing lighting, audio and film projection services to the campus community, and funding repairs and equipment purchases by collecting fees.

The club's early projects focused on making improvements to the performance and film projection facilities in Alden Memorial. A 1961 document outlines more than a dozen projects in progress, including repairs to permanent lighting fixtures, ways to address fire protection issues in the main hall, and a complete overhaul of Alden's 16mm projection system.

By April 1962, the club had assumed responsibility for the Alden projection booth, which at that time housed a pair of 35mm Simplex projectors left to WPI in the 1940s by the U.S. Navy, which had used them to show recruitment films. The club cleaned and repaired the projectors and returned them to service. It also started a weekly film series and a program for projectionists.

Some things have changed since those early days. About a decade ago, the projection booth moved to Fuller Laboratories, and the Alden booth was closed permanently. The Simplex projectors have been taken out of service; one is on permanent display on the main floor of Gordon Library, part of an exhibit celebrating the club's history. The WPI Social Committee now sponsors the film series started by Lens and Lights, but club members man the projectors behind the scenes. In 2001, the club moved its base of oper-ations from Alden to the new Campus Center.

But Lens and Lights still provides lighting, audio and projection services to the community, as it did 40 years ago. What's the secret of its success? In a letter to the club some years ago, Kent Multer '75 summed it up: "I have many fond memories of the time I spent with L & L. It had (and I imagine it still has) the distinction of being more than a typical student club; it's more like a business that takes responsibility for serving the community, as well as providing its members with a lot of good times and neat techno-toys to play with."

With the advent of DVDs and digital projection technologies, the club should have no shortage of neat toys to play with or new services to offer the community. Though the technology may change, the club will likely remain true to the vision that has kept it going strong for four decades.

Marr, who holds a bachelor's degree in technical communications and a master's in marketing from WPI, is manager of Web development for the university and advisor to Lens and Lights. You can reach her at trek@wpi.edu.

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