Morningside Heights

Morningside Heights: A History of Its Architecture and Development

Andrew S. Dolkart
Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 544
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/dolk07850
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Morningside Heights
    Book Description:

    Morningside Heights, the institutional heart of New York City, is also one of the city's most architecturally distinguished neighborhoods. The high plateau that forms Morningside Heights is geographically isolated within the city and remained largely undeveloped even as neighboring Harlem and the Upper West Side became prestigious residential communities. At the end of the nineteenth century, institutions relocated to the plateau where sizable plots were available at a convenient distance from the built-up city. In 1887 Episcopal Bishop Henry Potter announced plans for the construction of a great cathedral at the edge of the plateau. The cathedral was soon followed by Columbia College and St. Luke's Hospital, which contemplated grand complexes, and by newer institutions such as Barnard College and Teachers College that were intent on establishing a presence in the rapidly growing city. Thus, Morningside Heights became indelibly associated with New York's educational, medical, and religious foundations, and was appropriately dubbed "the Acropolis of New York."

    In this extensively illustrated book, Andrew S. Dolkart explores the architecturally varied complexes built by these organizations. He traces the successes and failures of each building project, as trustees and supporters struggled to raise funds in order to construct great campuses in a city where residents were not always generous in their support of such endeavors. Commissioning designs from some of city's and the nation's leading architects, the Morningside Heights institutions created a richly diverse ensemble of buildings.

    The book tells the stories of the excitement surrounding the initial plans for an Episcopal cathedral and the ultimate failure of this grandiose project; the efforts of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. to build a rival nondenominational church (Riverside Church); the development of Charles McKim's inspired designs for Columbia's campus; the efforts of Barnard and Teachers College to build impressive campuses adjacent to Columbia; and the later projects of Union and Jewish theological seminaries and the Institute of Musical Art (late the Julliard School) to erect buildings that would be part of the larger institutional concentration, but world provide each with a unique architectural identity.

    Dolkart also traces the history of the surrounding residential neighborhood, providing the first comprehensive analysis of the design and construction the early-twentieth-century speculative apartment houses that typify so many New York neighborhoods. Based on extensive research and incorporating more than 200 photographs, Morningside Heights will appeal to anyone interested in architecture, urban development, or the history of New York City, as well as those associated with the neighborhood or its institutions.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53481-9
    Subjects: Sociology, Architecture and Architectural History, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Andrew Scott Dolkart
  4. CHRONOLOGY
    (pp. xiii-xix)
  5. [Map]
    (pp. xx-xxii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    On january 21, 1896, a dayton, ohio, newspaper declared:

    No more beautiful sight is found in New York on a bright winter’s day than the spectacle of the late afternoon sun shining upon the domes, spires and windows of the new modern buildings which have been built, and which are still in the process of construction, on Morningside Heights, which has been rightly termed the Acropolis of the new world.¹

    “The Acropolis of the new world”—quite a grandiose designation for a neighborhood that in 1896 had more vacant land than new modern buildings and in which domes and spires...

  7. CHAPTER ONE At Bloomingdale: The Pre-History of Morningside Heights
    (pp. 13-35)

    In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and first years of the nineteenth century, Morningside Heights was a quiet rural region far from the city at the southern tip of Manhattan Island. The area was even isolated from the small rural villages that dotted the west side of the island, including Bloomingdale to the south and Manhattanville to the north.¹ With the exception of the Revolutionary War Battle of Harlem Heights on September 16, 1776, little occurred to disturb the area’s rural tranquility.² The only buildings on Morningside Heights during this early period were rural cottages and farmhouses, and a few...

  8. CHAPTER TWO Building for the Spirit: The Cathedral of St. John the Divine and Riverside Church
    (pp. 37-83)

    The era of major institutional development on morningside Heights begins and ends with the construction of a monumental religious structure. The announcement in 1889 that the Cathedral of St. John the Divine would be built at the southeast corner of the rugged plateau first drew New Yorkers’ attention to the potential for institutional development on Morningside Heights; the completion of Riverside Church in 1930, at the northwest corner of the area, marked the completion of major institutional development in the area. Although these two churches, begun almost thirty years apart, might seem to have little in common, their histories are...

  9. CHAPTER THREE Building for the Body: St. Luke’s Hospital and Other Health-Related Facilities on Morningside Heights
    (pp. 85-101)

    For several years after the decision in late 1887 to build the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on Morningside Heights, the cathedral remained the only institution committed to locating in the area. However, in 1892 the institutional character of the neighborhood was firmly established when St. Luke’s Hospital, Columbia College, and Teachers College each purchased land on Morningside Heights. The hospital’s choice to relocate to West 113th Street was influenced primarily by the availability of a large urban site with plentiful light and fresh air, but the presence of the cathedral and the close relationship between members of the...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR Building for the Mind I: Columbia University and the Transformation of Morningside Heights
    (pp. 103-155)

    Bishop henry codman potter’s proclamation in 1887 that an Episcopal Cathedral would rise on the site of the Leake and Watts Orphan Asylum suddenly placed Morningside Heights in the public eye. Although the Cathedral of St. John the Divine is significant in the architectural and cultural history of New York City (see chapter 2), its construction on Morningside Heights did not have a tremendous influence on the future character of the area. Rather, it was Columbia College’s purchase of a portion of New York Hospital’s Bloomingdale Asylum property in 1892 that began the transformation of the Morningside Plateau into a...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE Building for the Mind II: The Growth and Expansion of Columbia
    (pp. 157-201)

    With the inauguration of classes in the new morningside Heights buildings in October 1897, Columbia was transformed from a modest institution with antiquated facilities into a modern educational enterprise. Columbia had acquired a library of great magnificence, and classroom and laboratory buildings that were among the most advanced in the country. In addition, Barnard College and Teachers College had joined Columbia on Morningside Heights (see chapter 6), thus providing the seeds for the creation of an academic neighborhood. However, many issues concerning the Columbia campus and its place in the Morningside Heights neighborhood remained unresolved. No provisions had been made...

  12. CHAPTER SIX Building for the Mind III: Barnard College and Teachers College—Women’s Education on Morningside Heights
    (pp. 203-243)

    Columbia college’s decision in 1892 to transfer its operations to Morningside Heights attracted other academic institutions to the neighborhood. The earliest to follow Columbia’s lead were Barnard College, founded in 1888 as a women’s college affiliated with Columbia, and Teachers College, founded in 1889, which wished to arrange a similar affiliation with Columbia. These two colleges introduced a major women’s educational presence on Morningside Heights. They also consciously sought to erect impressive academic buildings in order to establish their institutional identities in the growing metropolis.

    Barnard College has become such an important presence on Morningside Heights and such a significant...

  13. CHAPTER SEVEN Building for the Mind and Spirit: Theological Seminaries and a Musical Institute on Morningside Heights
    (pp. 245-273)

    The second phase of institutional development on morningside Heights began in 1905 with Union Theological Seminary’s decision to move onto the northwest portion of the Morningside Plateau. The seminary’s acquisition of the long, narrow block between Broadway and Claremont Avenue and West 120th and 122nd streets marked the beginning of the transformation of this section of Morningside Heights into an institutional quarter, with Union soon being joined by the Institute of Musical Art, Jewish Theological Seminary, and Riverside Church (see chapter 2). The northwest portion of Morningside Heights was inviting to religious and academic institutions in the early twentieth century...

  14. CHAPTER EIGHT Building for Profit: The Development of a Residential Community on Morningside Heights
    (pp. 275-323)

    Prior to 1890, the small residential community on morningside Heights was housed in a few wooden farmhouses and shanties, two small brick tenements, and several riverside mansions (see chapter 1), not in speculative rowhouses of the type that were rapidly becoming the predominant residential structures in the nearby neighborhoods of the Upper West Side and Harlem. Landowners and real estate speculators, realizing as early as the 1880s the potential for future residential development on Morningside Heights, had successfully fought to rid the area of the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum (see chapter 1). Yet, even with the 1889 announcement that the asylum...

  15. AFTERWORD Morningside Heights in the Second Half of the Twentieth Century
    (pp. 325-340)

    By the 1930s, when the great depression virtually halted building in New York City, the Morningside Plateau had been almost fully developed and the area had taken on the character that sets it apart from other areas of New York City — prestigious urban institutional complexes of great architectural distinction located within a neighborhood of middle-class apartment buildings. Virtually every lot in the neighborhood had been built upon or was part of an institutional campus where land was being held for future expansion. Except for a small number of apartment buildings that had been purchased by Columbia University and by...

  16. APPENDIX: Building List
    (pp. 341-356)
  17. Abbreviations
    (pp. 357-358)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 359-464)
  19. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 465-468)
  20. Index
    (pp. 469-498)
  21. Photo Credits
    (pp. 499-506)