After the meeting was over, on a hot humid late afternoon, I took some pictures of our campus with its distinguished architecture. Except for a few historical pictures, these are all my photos.
Our campus is the old main campus of New York University, built on land donated by one of robber baron Jay Gould's daughters, on the highest natural point in New York City.
The University moved here in 1894 under the chancellorship of Henry Mitchell McCracken, who also dreamed up the idea of a "Hall of Fame of Great Americans" to be a major feature of the campus. NYU's Washington Square campus became an adjunct school for night courses. By the 1960s, most of NYU's schools had returned to the Washington Square campus, and the Bronx campus housed science and engineering schools.
In 1973, NYU sold the campus to the City University of New York which gave it as a permanent home to Bronx Community College, founded in 1957, and wandering from rented building to rented building since its beginning.
Perhaps unique among community colleges anywhere, our campus is a major architectural landmark with buildings designed by at least two major architects, Stanford White and Marcel Breuer.
The Hall of Fame
I've posted on the Hall of Fame of Great Americans before. This is the original Hall of Fame, from which all other Halls of Fame are derived. In 1776, British forces occupied the hill where the campus now stands, and used it as a vantage point to shell Fort Tryon across the Harlem River in northernmost Manhattan. NYU Chancellor Henry Mitchell McCracken decided to create a monument to the "greatest Americans," to permanently occupy a site that once played a role in defeating American forces in the Revolutionary War. The Hall of Fame and Gould Library were the centerpieces of the campus, all designed by Stanford White. This was one of his last building projects before White's untimely death. He finished the Hall, the Library, and one of the flanking buildings before he was murdered in 1906 in a sensational crime.
This was once one of the most famous and visited landmarks in New York City. Induction ceremonies into the Hall of Fame attracted thousands of people, and featured speeches by national office holders, including the President of the United States. Today, in a twist of irony, The Hall of Fame is almost entirely forgotten. Few people visit it. It remains unknown even to most of the students who travel to the campus daily.
Among these very establishment sculptors with work in the Hall are a surprisingly large number of women, now mostly forgotten. Among the women artists whose work is in the Hall are Helen Farnsworth Mears, Elizabeth Gordon Chandler, Ema Brigham, Anna Hyatt Huntington, Eleanor Platt, Brenda Putnam, and Frances Grimes.
The sad thing about the Hall of Fame is that it was built with an eye to the future, and it is now a kind of sepulchral monument to a long ago consensus that is no more. Even the list of 19th and early 20th century notables in the Hall is, by our standards, incomplete. Names that to us mean a lot from those times, Frederick Douglas, Amelia Bloomer, William Jennings Bryan, WEB DuBois, John Muir, Thomas Eakins, Herman Melville among others are conspicuously absent. Others in the Hall we might question such as Grover Cleveland and Stonewall Jackson. These issues play a central role in discussions over what to do with the Hall. The college that owns it now reflects a cosmopolitan democracy that would have horrified many of those represented in the Hall (though it would have thrilled others like Mark Twain and Booker T. Washington).
There is talk of bringing the Hall back as a tourist attraction, of reviving the whole institution of the Hall -- it never really ended, it just petered out; the last inductees into the Hall, Justice Louis Brandeis and Martin Luther King Jr., have yet to be represented with busts and plaques decades after their induction. The committees and funds for keeping the Hall going are long gone. Some people talk of making the whole campus an extension of the Hall of Fame. Students and faculty created alternative online Halls of Fame, some of them critical of the old Hall, all of them very creative. There are other people, especially off campus in the Bronx, who love the Hall, and would like to see it come back as a landmark and as an institution, though perhaps with a new and different purpose.
The Hall remains a magnificent anachronism in the midst of a new world where fame has a completely different meaning.
Gould Memorial Library
Gould Memorial Library was the centerpiece of the old NYU campus. It was one of Stanford White's last and once most acclaimed works. For all of its splendor, it is not very big. The total height of the building, dome and everything is 80 feet. Today it is mostly vacant with a few odd offices here and there. When it was built, it was considered a state of the art library.
Evelyn Nesbit, shot Stanford White to death in his office next to the rooftop garden of the old Madison Square Garden, designed by White (the New York Life Building stands there now). Thaw's trial was the first of many "Trials of the Century," and foretold much more truly the coming nature of fame and celebrity than the Hall of Fame ever imagined.
Inscriptions around the Gould Memorial Library rotunda:
But where shall wisdom be found? and where is the place of understanding? Man knoweth not the price thereof; neither is it found in the land of the living.The depth saith, It is not in me: and the sea saith, It is not with me.Destruction and death say, We have heard the fame thereof with our ears.--From Job 28
Thou O Spirit that dost prefer before all temples the upright heart and pure, instruct me for Thou knowest what in me is dark, what is low raise and support.
--From Milton's Paradise Lost
Marcel Breuer On Campus
Stanford White was not the only major architect to build on our campus. Marcel Breuer, the old Bauhaus veteran, designed three buildings on our campus in the early to mid 1960s. He was the preferred architect for a number of academic institutions at the time. He designed and built buildings for NYU and for CUNY, especially at Lehman College in the Bronx, and at City College.
Bobst Library next to Washington Square, and still the preferred look in more recent and future university buildings. NYU's newer buildings have all of Breuer's brutality and none of his form sense.
Wassily chair. German furniture companies at the time wouldn't touch Breuer's design, the very first for tubular steel furniture. A bicycle manufacturer eventually agreed to produce these chairs.
The Art Student Mural
There is a lot of construction on the campus right now. The campus physical plant is being completely rebuilt with an entirely new heating system for the whole campus. Big holes with huge pipes and conduits are dug all over.
Around these holes and construction sites are stretches of construction fencing. Our students saw an opportunity here and took advantage of it. They created a mural entirely on their own initiative with the college's blessing.
None of this is painted. This is all a computer graphic construction that is printed out on canvas panels and attached to the fence.
A group of students designed the mural, and a larger group of students did the execution.
Our New Library
Another big construction project on campus is our new library, the first major new building on this campus in almost 50 years.
Boston Public Library to harmonize with Stanford White's buildings on campus. Local Bronx artist Daniel Hauben painted a series of murals for the new library's central reading room, the biggest public painting project in the Bronx since the WPA. It will be a state of the art library, perhaps the best among CUNY's community colleges.
It is so interesting, and so telling, that the college consensus is to extend the design legacy of Stanford White and not Marcel Breuer.
What a comeback! I can remember when our poor library was missing so many volumes permanently, and couldn't afford adequate security, or to replace the lost books.
Bronx Community College serves one of the poorest counties in the USA. For a long time, the rest of CUNY overlooked it and it suffered from underfunding and neglect. Today, it is going through a massive renewal, the culmination of more than a decade of reform and rebuilding.
And Finally, Where I Spend Most of My Time
Bliss Hall, built in 1936