JOHN ULLBERG: So we're walking towards Sibley now and pausing to take a look at the oak grove behind us. That is a grouping of some of the only original trees that continue to exist on the Cornell campus and has assumed a character of almost a sacred grove with its informality and freedom from the designer's touch, so to speak.
KENT HUBBELL: AD White, I think, has to be prominently credited for the vegetation here. When I was a young faculty member at Michigan, I was told a great story of how AD White was known to wander around in the early 20th century in Ann Arbor on The Diag, their quadrangle, admiring, at that point, his largely-full-grown trees, which he planted as a young professor there prior to coming to Cornell. So I guess trees at Cornell figured very prominently as one of the wonderful, shall we say, ornaments of the campus and this landscape.
So, John, shall we move on to the next interesting tidbit of early Cornell-- namely, Ezra Cornell, while AD White was in Europe, rapidly built a wood science building here right in the midst of the Arts Quad. And it was one of several threats, if you will, made to the integrity of the Arts Quad down through the last 100 years. It lasted for something a little less than 20 years before it came to an unceremonious end by being burned down by some accident, I suppose, in the chemistry lab.
JOHN ULLBERG: That's right. Keep in mind that it had already been determined that the quad was going to be 1,000 feet on a side, so it was no secret that this was going to be in the middle of the quad, and much to Andrew Dickson White's dismay.
KENT HUBBELL: So, following on that, during the '70s, Cornell found himself in a rather contingent financial condition. It was not clear at that point whether the university was going to make a go out of it or not. Hence, there was no considerable construction activity during that period.
In 1880, the next significant public work of infrastructure was the creation of a sidewalk that led from the Arts Quad down into Collegetown. And it turned out to be a rather incredible amenity, as you can imagine, after having slogged through the mud all those first 10 years. And it must have added a great deal to the civility of the campus at that time. So, John, should we go over and start to take a look at Sibley?
JOHN ULLBERG: Yes.
KENT HUBBELL: Today we're going to talk about Sibley Hall, which was 30 years in the building, and to me is the closest monumental building that was built like a New England farmhouse-- that is to say, as though you start with a little cabin, and then you add the barn, and then you add another barn, and then you add additions to the house, and before you know it you get this long thing that's strung out in the New England landscape.
Well, here something not dissimilar occurred. While Sibley School of Engineering began in a relatively modest stone building here in 1871, as things developed, and as Cornell became a very important science university-- in fact, it was featured on the cover of Scientific American-- it was added to around that central dormer with an addition.
And in addition, at the same time outbuildings to the north were set out as workshops. That was followed then by an east wing and a gap between the west and the east wing, that had something of a [? henhouse ?] coming out that represented all that went on behind. And only in 1902 was the dome completed for Sibley.
Since Sibley was built in a accreted way, you notice that the dome is really not centered on the Arts Quad. And it really is one of a whole series of misalignments, if you will, throughout the Arts Quad that give it a certain degree of vitality.
JOHN ULLBERG: An interesting thing, though, to note-- that is very important-- is that the building is consistent in materials, and massing, and size to the rest of the stone roll, and really turned the corner and set the stage for what was to follow going clockwise around the Arts Quad.
KENT HUBBELL: And as you can see from our discussion so far, Morrill, White, McGraw, and Sibley all share the basic family architectural resemblance to one another, with dormers in stone, heavily rusticated, half in the ground so that the basement can really be used for a variety of purposes-- since it isn't without sunlight, if you will. They're stone buildings, to say the least, and become anchors for the Arts Quad.
JOHN ULLBERG: And part of the original vision-- of Andrew Dickson White anyway and the founders of the university-- that this was to be a stone quadrangle.
We've now had four buildings built. There all of gray stone-- Morrill, McGraw, White and of course Sibley. Turning the corner on the quad, what's with this red building over in the corner here?
KENT HUBBELL: Well as far as the Franklin Hall, as it would come to be called, it was conceived of as a physics and chemistry building at first. As you can see, it is red stone. And there is an interesting story that goes on around that.
As you perhaps realize, we take our buildings at Cornell very seriously. And most of the buildings that you see sitting peacefully here on this campus are actually the byproduct of incredible battles that take place around their siting, their style, the materials they use. And Franklin was really one-- perhaps one of several in the early years-- that would be followed by many, many more up to the current day.
But suffice it to say, Babcock was a lover of brick and had done the Sage Chapel, Sage Women's Residence Hall, and Barnes Hall. And brick-- especially the highly-ornamented sort of brick of which they are designed-- were his preferred architecture, I guess you could say. In this case, when AD White coming home from Europe discovered that this building had been designed in brick--
JOHN ULLBERG: He hit the roof.
KENT HUBBELL: He hit the roof. There's no [INAUDIBLE].
He preferred the gray stone that was used in the first three buildings on this stone quadrangle and would want to insist that the rest of the quad, if at all possible, be done in the same stone that White, McGraw, Morrill, and Sibley had been done in to date.
So with White's insisting on gray stone and Babcock's preference for red brick, a compromise was struck, which in this case is none other than red stone.
JOHN ULLBERG: And later to be followed by Lincoln Hall, another Babcock building, which similarly the same battle was fought. And ultimately, it turned out to be red stone on the west side and brick on the east side.
KENT HUBBELL: All together, it's a rich, interesting work of architecture that supports the scientific enterprise of the late 19th century here at Cornell.
Now, Lincoln was built shortly thereafter as the engineering building. And once again, there was a debate about materials, whether it would be brick or stone. In the end, it was red brick once again. But the brick also prevailed on the east side for economic reasons.
I like Lincoln a lot by virtue of the fact that it does have a very dominant and interesting set of roof forms. You have dormers that are various sizes, you have centering of dormers over various parts of the building-- center, right, and left. And they tend to turn the corner and have a certain way of front on the Arts Quad but also having a response to East Avenue on the other side.
Nowadays of course, this is really the [INAUDIBLE] applied performing arts end, with the exception of the performing, which is, of course, in Collegetown. But you have music, architecture, planning, and art, and then the Johnson Museum. So it becomes an ensemble of buildings that are devoted to the arts programs of the campus.
JOHN ULLBERG: Well, one of the interesting developments here too is that, as we've said in the earlier parts of this room, Andrew Dickson White and Ezra Cornell were frequently at odds over style and quality of buildings, because Ezra was the practical side, White was the artistic side. When Ezra Cornell died, his role was replaced by Henry Sage. And Henry Sage became the voice of practicality and of much distraction to White.
The fact is that both of these personalities were reinforcing in some ways-- not reinforcing but complementary in that the conflict between them often resolved itself in the right answer. And you can't just have one without the other.
KENT HUBBELL: We call that the Cornell way.
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The story of the earliest days of Cornell University is about much more than the construction of buildings. The opinions and personalities of the men and women decision-makers, the political climate of the times, the financial health of the University, even the layout of the surrounding landscape all played a vital role in the formation of what we know today as the Cornell campus.
Join Kent Hubbell and John Ullberg as they relay some of the rich and fascinating stories behind the current day Arts Quad, home of Cornell's first structures, which today stand among a diverse collection of buildings representing many architectural styles.
This video is part 3 of 7 in the Ezra's Farmstead series.