SPEAKER: "The good she tried to do shall stand as if t'were done. God finishes the work by noble souls begun. In loving memory of Jennie McGraw Fiske, whose purpose to found a great library for Cornell University has been defeated. This house is built and endowed by her friend, Henry W. Sage." So John, tell us the tale, the romantic tale, the romantic mystery of this phrase.
JOHN: Jennie McGraw Fiske, the beautiful young heiress who dies prematurely and wills her fortune to Cornell to build a grand library, and then it gets all tangled up in battles over how the money is to be spent and so forth. And running parallel with this is several designers working on various sites on campus, and finally culminating in this building in 1891.
SPEAKER: It's a lovely building that has a degree of ornament. It isn't as encrusted with ornament as [INAUDIBLE] might have had it, probably because of economic reasons, which is all too often the case here at Cornell. But nevertheless, it has a wonderful way about it. The ornament that it does have seems to be quite beautiful and, at least in this time, sufficient to make the building alive and well and full of sort of vitalistic detail around the edges.
And if there's a 100% Corn-- or as I've heard you say, the bellybutton of Cornell, this is it, the very center of the heart and soul of the campus. And it becomes the icon of Cornell.
SPEAKER: Yeah. And McGraw tower, of course, sits right here next to the library and is on the Western end of Tower Road and on the southwest corner of the quad. So it becomes really the work of architecture that's sort of emblematic of the entire university.
JOHN: And one of the things that a lot of people don't realize is that there were two sites that were running neck and neck as possibilities for the location of this library. This site, which seems so obvious today, was counterbalanced by the possibility of locating the library at the site where Goldwin Smith is today. And that was a very strong contender until the final moments.
SPEAKER: In thinking about the building, I mean, William Henry Miller did have the advantage of a number of architects' early efforts. They were successful in the end in getting the commission to build. Van Brunt, a well-known Boston architect, along with Babcock, the first chair of the department-- each in their own way did preliminary work that provided Miller in the end with lots of things that could form the basis for his designs. And it's just truly an interesting building insofar as it's very light inside. The windows are generous. And it houses the collection in a very efficient way for the time.
JOHN: Well, here we are. We're in the Uris Library in the Andrew Dickson White collection. And it's full of memorabilia of Andrew Dickson White. And one thing that we've probably mentioned before is that he was an architectural historian and had a collection that was paralleled by none in the country when he was a professor and president of Cornell.
Well, there's some wonderful things illustrated about Miller's architecture in this space. The way he handled fenestration and playful detailing around fireplaces and things like that. The fireplace sort of catches you by surprise when you come in here. Because there's a window over it. The fact is, it's a working fireplace. Somewhere there's a chimney, but it's hard for me to figure out where. But I think that was Miller. He had a sense of humor, as well as a real skill at massing and detailing of buildings.
SPEAKER: You've got to make sure it's a fireplace, John.
JOHN: I looked up the chimney.
SPEAKER: You did.
[CHUCKLE] Truly a great place. Not to be missed if you're an undergraduate here, or even, for that matter, a graduate student. So here we are, standing in the midst of the original grove of trees that was part of Ezra Cornell's farm. And at the turn of the century, it almost became the southeast corner of a much, much smaller quadrangle than the arts quad we enjoy today. Right, John?
JOHN: Exactly. Where we're standing right now came very close to being the building site for a physics building, which ultimately became Goldwin Smith Hall. But there were several occasions over-- let's see. It was 1902. The spring of 1901 to the fall of 1902, there were many gestures toward subdividing the quad into smaller quads.
SPEAKER: One was an east-west building that was here. They created a quad that was more or less centered on the dome of Sibley Hall. Right? Then there was one that was a response to [INAUDIBLE] objections that went north-south here that divided the quad into two sort of sliver spaces east and west.
JOHN: And each of these proposals actually made it as far as approval by the Board of Trustees, and it wasn't until some discussion after the fact that they went back to the boards for further design.
SPEAKER: Thank goodness for that professor of electrical engineering who couldn't abide by the fact that the electrical trolley tracks were going to cause him fits in his experiments. That put Rockefeller Hall then off the quad and on the hill, where it happily resides to this day.
JOHN: Yes. OK, at this point, it's now 1890. The university has developed a certain amount of confidence in itself. But one of the things that it has neglected up till now is its role as a agriculture college. And there's a real need felt for an agriculture building. But the university doesn't have many agriculture students. And there's not much money around.
Sherman has just become president. Very vital and active person. And he takes the responsibility to the state of New York to help fund a building. The original plan was to have Lincoln reproduced and become the agriculture building to the south of current Lincoln, but there was insufficient funding for that. So what they built was the dairy building, which is behind us.
SPEAKER: Yeah. And as you can see, its facade faces the south edge of Lincoln Hall. It doesn't front the quad, if you will. And as Casey [INAUDIBLE] notes in his book, it has sort of a sideways bovine relationship to the arts quad. And it's ambivalent in the sense that it would like to have a relationship to the pastures and the dairy facilities that were at the top of the hill.
Instead though, it really is an arts quad building. It's beautifully organized and proportioned by C. Francis Osborne here. Has a lovely portico on it that really does create a gracious entry to the building. What's most interesting now, of course, is that you hardly notice that it's distinct from the Goldwin Smith. And the design is of [INAUDIBLE] Hastings did a wonderful job of bending together the dairy building with the subsequent building that houses the arts and sciences here at Cornell. I think it's interesting to note that it's the first state funded building on campus. It really represents the first building for the statutory side of the university.
And Goldwin Smith is an interesting building insofar as it's beautifully proportioned. It has a classicizing way about it. But on the other hand, it is very spare, predates the modern. And yet it shows some of the discipline of modernity, if you will, in its lack of details and its very reserved portico. And it provides a nice repose, a nice scale, to the quad, and at least creates a setting that for our two leaders of the university to reside in front of. [INAUDIBLE] great big-- almost has that--
JOHN: Prairie style roof massing with those broad eaves.
SPEAKER: Good part of the century was a moment of great interest in classicism in the Beaux-Arts. In 1893, the World's Fair in Chicago became a great opportunity for architects nationally and internationally to show how precocious they were with regard to historic styles. And Goldwin Smith, I think, is part of that period, In that sense. We have this great portico. A building that has certain monumental details that refer to the period.
Otherwise, as I said before, it's less enthusiastic than it might be with regard to things such as ornament and such. I mean, I really like the base course of the water table and the moldings around the windows, the trim. It stands in very interesting contrast with these big open windows that beautifully light classrooms on the interior.
Well, here we are on the southeast corner of the arts quad, looking at three buildings that were placed here, with the exception, of course, of Olin Library, in the last decade or so of the 19th century and in the very beginning of the early 20th century. William Henry Miller produced three buildings here that became kind of an ensemble of buildings that closed the south end of the arts quad. I think they're extraordinarily beautiful.
Unfortunately, Boardman Hall, which was on the location of the current library, was destroyed in the '50s to make place for the extraordinary scholarly needs that the university had for a collection on the arts quad. Stimson Hall was originally built as the site of the Ithaca division of the medical college. And Miller really was at pains to connect these three buildings together, making sure that the string courses lined up, that the planar characteristics of the building were organized so that it became really three buildings that read together as an ensemble of buildings. Really quite beautiful. And I guess one of my small despairs was the necessary destruction of Wardman Hall in the '50s to make place for Olin Library.
JOHN: But there is a story here, in that libraries grow. And they continue to grow. And they want to be in the center of campus. And Olin provided a lot of shelf space, and Boardman simply couldn't compete with that need. It's interesting to note that around 1995, I think, the trustees actually made a commitment to find different ways to accommodate books in central campus. And that's one of the reasons why Kroch Library is below here. And the fact that there is-- at least, as it stands now, a plan not to build future library facilities in the center.
SPEAKER: And so in the end, you see each building is the product of this competition between a functional need, an economic requirement for a building that we can afford as a university, and then finally the architectural aesthetics, which I think it's fair to say the university has tried very hard to maintain a high standard for.
Well, all that remains, regrettably, of Wardman Hall are those three busts. There are a couple of more on a wall further up on this facade. They, to my knowledge, are unidentified. They were meant to be ornaments along the lines of the sort that Andrew Dickson White always liked to populate the campus with-- gateways, monuments, and so forth-- that would commemorate and complete the campus and mend together all the various places and spaces that the campus is made up of.
And I think he had a really great idea. I hope we can continue the tradition. If you notice, we started off with buildings that were built of stone-- in fact, stone that was quarried just down Libe Slope-- but as that source of stone ran out, the university turned to red brick, red stone, and then finally to a gray or a tannish sandstone for the rest of the buildings. So if you scan your eye around the arts quad, you can see a minimum of three materials that represent the transition in time down through the 1950s and to the early 20th century.
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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 4 of 7 in the Ezra's Farmstead series.