KENT HUBBELL: Well, here we are in the southwest corner of the Arts Quad at Cornell's first building.
JOHN ULLBERG: Morrill Hall.
KENT HUBBELL: Built in 1868-- 1868.
Well, it's a rough and ready building, isn't it? It was quarried and built from stone just on Libe Slope, just down the hill from here, and in an architectural style that was borrowed from a variety of buildings that AD White and Ezra must have seen at Yale and at Harvard.
Rustic is probably a way of characterizing it, heavy corners. The whole body of the building is heavily rusticated stone. Certainly a building appropriate to the pragmatism that Ezra Cornell brought to the early years of the university.
JOHN ULLBERG: Soon after the university was established, a local farmer volunteered to provide elm trees to the campus, and there was a double row of elms that came down along the avenue here that established into a fantastic allee eventually. And then they eventually succumbed to Dutch elm disease.
KENT HUBBELL: And so as the vegetation has developed and then redeveloped, many of the important landscape features that were defined by vegetation have lapsed. So the Ezra Cornell walk that led from our bench to AD White's house has been lost now that trees have grown up more or less in the space that was the allee. One would hope that sometime in the future that might change.
JOHN ULLBERG: It's also important to remember that this was the first of a triptych of buildings that really established the foundation for the Arts Quad. And it took a while for that all to develop, probably 150 years. But without these three buildings, it could have taken quite a different form.
KENT HUBBELL: Many works of architecture, they're often built during a certain stylistic and only become valued and loved as part of the architectural legacy of a campus 100 years hence, and I think that's probably true for these buildings. They are relatively simple and undistinguished works if you view them in their time. But of course, now they're the essential legacy and foundation-- architectural foundation-- of the university. And so we really love them in ways that transcend their style.
JOHN ULLBERG: And this is very apparent in our interviews with students as well. They treasure these buildings, and in some ways mistake their tradition for excellence in architecture. They are not excellent architectural examples, but they are very important to the community of Cornell.
KENT HUBBELL: So as we go on from Morrill on to McGraw and White, we'll start to look at these three buildings comparatively. While they were built more or less in the same period, they are nevertheless buildings that benefited from sequential sophistication, if you will, as the skilled trades became more capable of producing refined buildings, I guess you could say, for the campus. So as we go on to Morrill and White, we'll start looking at some of those detailed distinctions.
Well, here we are at White Hall. As you can see from the archway, it was completed in 1868 and is Cornell's third building-- actually, second of the three stone quad buildings-- McGraw comes later. And, John, were you telling me a story about this altercation between Ezra and AD White?
JOHN ULLBERG: Yes. In fact, it's typical of a lot of discussions that take place when architecture comes into play. And that is that when White Hall was designed, Ezra saw an opportunity to save some money here. And rather than make it a twin of Morrill Hall, there was discussion about actually lowering the cornice lines and floor to floor heights so that we could save a few bucks.
Andrew Dickson White appealed to Ezra with the help of Frederick Law Olmsted, saying that we need to be thinking about the long haul here and that these buildings need to be working together. And he in fact did prevail. And so the building was built as originally designed.
KENT HUBBELL: And from what we can gather from critical writings of the time, it was well-received as a work of architecture along the lines of something you might see in Florence. And with that, why don't we go inside?
JOHN ULLBERG: Thanks.
KENT HUBBELL: Well, here we are the fourth floor of White Hall. It's really exciting for me to be here, to be honest with you, because as a student of architecture at Cornell, I spent five years at Sibley. But until the late '50s, this was actually the studio space for architecture.
And in the process of renovating the building, as they are currently-- you can hear in the background all the noise-- they uncover all kinds of interesting mementos from years gone by when architecture lived here and this became, I guess you could say, arguably the playpen for a number of young architects, probably among them Richard Meier and others.
But it's exciting for a variety of reasons, not least because we can see the construction. We can discover how these were built.
JOHN ULLBERG: And yet, looking around, you can also see attention to detailing of the structural timbers and so forth to really give it a special character.
KENT HUBBELL: It's basically a masonry bearing wall building. All this stone was quarried from just down the hill, as we understand it. And as you look around, you can see how the sills are laid up on the masonry walls.
And these large rooms up here where the central instructional space is, as we investigate the early years of this building-- as we understand it, the ends of the building were the dormitories where the students were given their bucket of coal and water each day so they could stay warm and healthy.
JOHN ULLBERG: And live a student life. Yeah.
And this building, of course, is the twin of Morrill Hall, which is two buildings down. So consider getting inside this building the same as getting inside Morrill. Although we're told that this has a more refined masonry construction to it in so far as Goldwin Smith, when he was connected with the university, brought some masons from England to participate in the construction of this building, unlike Morrill Hall.
KENT HUBBELL: And some of the things we've learned today as we've walked around are, for example, where Morrill Hall was entirely gutted and the interior structure was replaced with a steel structure, here in 2001 the preservation architects involved have kept the party walls-- the sheer walls that are behind me and John here-- intact so as to somehow preserve one of the essential structural elements of the original building, which I think is all to the good.
So, John, this is one of the dormitory ends of the building, right? You can see there's a lowered ceiling. So while that central space is a high-vaulted classroom space with skylights, these were divided up into smaller rooms for students to live in. Do you remember that?
JOHN ULLBERG: Yeah, it was double rooms, two students to a room with a common space shared, and-- I guess-- a fireplace nearby. But there was no running water, no electricity. It was pretty basic shelter.
KENT HUBBELL: But you can imagine that during the '40s and the '50s, the students who are up here as architecture students consider this to be their own personal playpen from all the graffiti and so forth that's around here, all the murals and such that have been painted on down--
JOHN ULLBERG: Some are overhead here.
[? Planting ?] owes Mr.--
KENT HUBBELL: Yeah
JOHN ULLBERG: [INAUDIBLE] $5.
SPEAKER 3: They told us the story behind that one last time we were here.
JOHN ULLBERG: 1945. And then over painted on it is "paid in full."
KENT HUBBELL: But see, there are some of the barn beams that have come out, these sills that were in an old barn. And I just think it's incredible to think that you're producing one of the very first and very important builds in the university and you still want to make sure you don't spend too much if you can help it. That's part of the Cornell way, right?
JOHN ULLBERG: Yeah.
KENT HUBBELL: Don't quote me on that.
JOHN ULLBERG: Getting a start.
It was 1866. This is probably Morrill Hall, but this is about the same. So you can see the distribution of two doubles with a shared space, and looks like a fireplace there, and then a big common space in the middle.
KENT HUBBELL: So this became a living room. It was a suite, basically--
JOHN ULLBERG: Exactly.
KENT HUBBELL: --suite arrangement.
JOHN ULLBERG: Yeah.
KENT HUBBELL: I wonder if they pulled--
GARY WILHELM: [INAUDIBLE].
KENT HUBBELL: Hey, how are you? So, do you have any stories to tell? It's our first guest.
GARY WILHELM: No. I have nothing to say.
KENT HUBBELL: Gary Wilhelm.
GARY WILHELM: Nothing to say.
KENT HUBBELL: Gary Wilhelm.
GARY WILHELM: Nothing to say.
KENT HUBBELL: Graduated from Yale. He's not a Cornellian. He did not live up here.
JOHN ULLBERG: But an architect nevertheless.
GARY WILHELM: That's right.
JOHN ULLBERG: A kindred spirit.
KENT HUBBELL: So you haven't heard you good stories we can put on this tape?
GARY WILHELM: No.
KENT HUBBELL: Remember that university buildings have a very long life and they wind up being adapted to a variety of uses down through the centuries. And interestingly enough, John uncovered a passage in [? Casey's ?] book regarding this matter. And AD White and Ezra were cognizant of that fact when they built these and didn't want to be viewed 100 years hence as fools for the construction they created during their lives. Good advice for those of us who build today.
Well, John, that's pretty funny. Gary Wilhelm tells us that there were no plans for White Hall. It was actually a copy of Morrill.
JOHN ULLBERG: Yeah
KENT HUBBELL: And he hired his brother to be the contractor.
JOHN ULLBERG: Yeah. Good way to save a buck.
KENT HUBBELL: Yeah.
JOHN ULLBERG: Yeah.
KENT HUBBELL: No architect, no contractor. What could--
JOHN ULLBERG: Economy. And Gary also says that there was a fair amount of student help in the construction. They knew how to do things in those days.
KENT HUBBELL: Yup. We still do, as a matter of fact. Thank you.
MIKE: You're welcome.
JOHN ULLBERG: Thanks, Mike.
MIKE: Yup, thank you.
JOHN ULLBERG: So now we'll go over and take a look at McGraw Hall.
So we have these two buildings, White and Morrill, are both under construction, just about finished, and then McGraw comes on the scene. It's worth noting that both Sibley Hall and McGraw Hall were being built at exactly the same time. And things were pretty tight here on campus at that point. And they were drawing their materials from the same quarry, which, as we've said before, happened to be at the bottom of Libe Slope, and was having trouble keeping up. So in fact, McGraw Hall was put on hold for a while so that Sibley could get finished.
KENT HUBBELL: It houses, among other things, a museum, science collection, library and lecture halls at the outset. And also, after several years out in the rain, it became a place for Jennie McGraw's chimes to finally come indoors and reside.
It was also intended that this site was going to be reserved for a chapel. Of course, that didn't happen. So, instead, we have Sage, and later, of course, Anabel Taylor as chapels for the university.
John, why don't you tell us about Frederick Law Olmsted's plans for a terrace-- a great terrace-- to yoke these three buildings together with?
JOHN ULLBERG: Actually, I think we've talked a little bit about Olmsted's connection with the university. He met Andrew Dickson White and became interested in the campus. Ironically, his first piece of advice was don't build a quad, build in more informal setup. But once he was told, thanks but you're too late, he came back and delivered on helping the quad become established as a major feature of the landscape at Cornell.
And the feature that he advised that would bring it all together is a terrace that overlooked Libe Slope and the valley below. And that idea re-emerges periodically through the life of the university. It has never found realization, but it was definitely something that was high on Olmsted's list.
Well, this is one of my favorite pieces. It isn't exactly architecture, but, like anything old on campus, it's full of stories. And the story I like most about it is all in its timing, that here's this piece of hand-carved Carrara marble that appears on this rusticated farm site in 1873.
It was put here as a drinking fountain by the class of 1873, five years after the first building was dedicated, at a time when there was no running water on the campus. Water came here by way of a horse-drawn wagon. But here you have this gesture of confidence in the future and a marvelous piece. And again, one of those commemorative pieces that Andrew White loved so much and wanted to see more of on the Cornell campus.
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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 2 of 7 in the Ezra's Farmstead series.