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Princeton: America's Campus

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Founded in 1746, Princeton is the fourth-oldest university in the country. It has been called “a national treasure” and is considered by many to be the loveliest campus in America. The very word “campus” debuted there in the eighteenth century, and over time, Princeton’s has ceaselessly evolved, passing through a series of distinct identities. Architectural critics have lavishly praised it, and careful stewardship by administrators and architects has preserved its appeal from generation to generation. Thousands of alumni return every year to march in the gaudy P-rade, which twists among the buildings in a veritable tour of campus history, from Nassau Hall (1756) to the twenty-first century’s Bloomberg Hall. And yet, if one wants to learn more—to go deeper than the beautiful surface and explore the history of these buildings or the complex development of the campus—it can be surprisingly hard to do so. Although Princeton resembles an outdoor museum, explanatory markers are few, written sources are out of print and scattered, and sophomore tour guides cheerfully mix fact and myth. No plaques help the curious visitor who wishes to follow in the footsteps of James Madison, Aaron Burr, James McCosh, Albert Einstein, John Foster Dulles, Bill Bradley, or Michelle Obama, and the stories of the buildings themselves are known to few. Princeton: America’s Campus offers a way in. Neither a straightforward architectural history nor a simple guidebook, it weaves social history and the built fabric into a biography of a great American place. To create this work, Barksdale Maynard conducted an ambitious series of interviews with major architects active at Princeton over the past forty years, including Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, Charles Gwathmey, Michael Graves, Tod Williams, Hugh Hardy, Perry Morgan, Rodolfo Machado, Henry Cobb, Frances Halsband, Demetri Porphyrios, Harold Fredenburgh, Alan Chimacoff, Robert A. M. Stern, and Rafael Viñoly. He also interviewed educational leaders, including deans at Princeton, MIT, Cooper Union, and Yale, in addition to university presidents Goheen and Bowen of Princeton, Gutmann of Penn, and Rudenstine of Harvard. The book is thus not just a guide and a history; it is also an archive of the living recollections of the people who built Princeton’s majestic campus.

    eISBN: 978-0-271-05564-0
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    The lanky kid from western Pennsylvania had his heart set on the Naval Academy, but his dad had a different idea. A proud Princeton alumnus, he hung a piece of the Nassau Hall bell clapper in the window of his hardware store as a reminder of the fabled exploits of the Class of 1898. As they worked together behind the counter, he told his son how each entering class tries to steal the clapper and silence the college bell.

    They took a tour of universities together, father and son, with Tigertown saved until last. The boy would remember all his...

  4. PART ONE The Rural Campus, 1746–1895

    • 1 Going Back to Nassau Hall
      (pp. 12-20)

      In the Ice Age, the site of Princeton’s campus was windswept tundra almost in view of towering glaciers. Saber-toothed tigers prowled. Later the land was cloaked by dark forests where Lenape Indians hunted. Then came the ax and finally the plow, digging up arrowheads, scrapers, and adzes by the thousands as the red soil turned. Deeper still lay bedrock of orange-yellow sandstone and purplish mudstone, quarried for building in the eighteenth century and richly laced with fossils of fish and crocodiles.¹

      In time the Indian trail along the low ridge-top was transformed into the main post road between New York...

    • 2 Phoenix
      (pp. 21-33)

      Even as Princetonians cheered to have alumnus James Madison in the White House and feted elderly General Lafayette on Front Campus in a custom-built “Temple of Science,” the college was losing ground. By the late 1820s there were only seventy pupils, taught by four faculty, and Samuel Stanhope Smith’s former student, President James Carnahan, considered closing the doors. It was a sad fate for a school that had inspired so many others, including the University of North Carolina: “We imitate Nassau Hall in the conduct of our affairs as much as circumstances will admit.”¹

      But Carnahan’s lieutenant, John Maclean Jr.,...

    • 3 Era of McCosh
      (pp. 34-49)

      With Nassau Hall reopened, the college’s future under Maclean seemed bright, but national events would soon overtake it and spell disaster. The Civil War brought the greatest crisis in Princeton’s history as Southerners suddenly decamped. “Her resources were crippled, her interests divided,” history professor William Sloane remembered. She faced “utter shipwreck in that dark hour.”¹

      The Class of 1861 milled about at the east end of Nassau Hall saying fond farewells in May, Southern and Northern friends who would meet again on battlefields. More than seventy Princetonians would die in the four-year conflict. The day after Fort Sumter, Unionists lashed...

    • 4 The Golden Age of College Life
      (pp. 50-61)

      Along with Potter, another distinguished New York architect helped change the face of campus, Richard Morris Hunt. The founding father of the modern professional class of architects, Hunt was patronized by wealthy Presbyterians with close ties to the college. James Lenox, noted book collector and member of the Princeton board, hired him to design New York’s Presbyterian Hospital and Lenox Library. At the same time, Frederick Marquand commissioned a chapel at Yale Divinity School, even as Hunt designed a summer house at Newport for Frederick’s brother Henry, the art collector who had given the Tiger gymnasium.

      Ever devout, McCosh was...

    • 5 Oxford in New Jersey
      (pp. 62-70)

      The central question in the history of the Princeton campus is, Why Collegiate Gothic? The style utterly dominated the place for forty crucial years—producing the second-largest Gothic college chapel in the world but also Gothic dormitories, a Gothic boathouse, a Gothic power plant, even a Gothic garage. Moreover, it is the medievalizing campus we see in our mind’s eye—“the loveliest riot of Gothic architecture in America,” Fitzgerald called it, “battlement linked on to battlement, hall to hall, arch-broken, vine-covered.” From Old Nassau, the elaborate and sophisticated style spread to other affluent schools, including Duke and Yale, becoming visual...

  5. PART TWO Triumph of Collegiate Gothic, 1896–1932

    • 6 The Poetry of Cope and Stewardson
      (pp. 72-83)

      More than a century after its debut, Blair Hall remains one of the most famous and celebrated buildings at any American school, an unquestioned aesthetic knockout. “A very brilliant performance,” critic Montgomery Schuyler called it. And Cram overflowed with praise in describing what its architects had achieved: romance, emotionalism, personality, awe, majesty, power. Here were “dreams and aspirations” and “above all, worship, reverence for the past with all its connotations of heroism and chivalry.”¹

      Walter Cope and Jack Stewardson were among a small circle of talented men (including Wilson Eyre and Frank Miles Day) busy transforming Philadelphia’s architecture. Cope and...

    • 7 Wilson and Cram
      (pp. 84-97)

      Making Princeton worthy of the “university” name was the lofty goal of Woodrow Wilson, sworn in as president of the school in October 1902—his predecessor Patton having been found inadequate to the task and made to resign.

      Wilson had a special passion for the subject of architecture, once telling a reporter as he watched the construction of Cuyler Hall, “I have often regretted that I did not become an architect.” He intended personally to steer the physical development of the 225-acre campus, and he boasted that he had planned its layout as far ahead as 1960. Famously autocratic, he...

    • 8 Spires and Gargoyles
      (pp. 98-112)

      The appointment of Day and Klauder in May 1908 as designers of a new freshman dormitory, Holder Hall, was no less significant for Princeton’s future than the arrival of Cram the year before.

      Frank Miles Day had already played a role: as a friend of Henry B. Thompson (he designed his house in Wilmington), it was Day who suggested Cram as Supervising Architect. The son of an English immigrant, he had studied with Gothic specialist Basil Champneys in London in the 1880s, about the time Champneys designed Mansfield College, Oxford, and Newnham College, Cambridge—extraordinary training for a young American....

    • 9 Gothic as a Living Style
      (pp. 113-122)

      Woodrow Wilson deplored extracurricular “sideshows” that distracted from the intellectual purpose of a university and was infuriated when a meddling alumnus convinced Andrew Carnegie to give a lake when Wilson was about to ask for money for preceptorials. “We needed bread and you gave us cake,” he supposedly told the tycoon. But generations have loved Lake Carnegie (1903–6), which allowed Oxford-style rowing to flourish out of the Gothic-style class of 1887 boathouse, built of stucco-covered terracotta blocks, with concrete floors.

      Wilson’s successor, John Grier Hibben, embraced the sideshows. Under his watch, eleven tennis courts were built west of Guyot...

    • 10 A Paradise for WASPs
      (pp. 123-137)

      Convinced that he would die in the trenches, Fitzgerald spent the fall of senior year furiously writing a great American novel so he could win fame before his untimely demise. “Battle was on the horizon,” he remembered. “Nothing was ever going to be the same again. . . . Five percent of my class, twenty-one boys, were killed in the war.” He told Edmund Wilson about his manuscript, “It rather damns much of Princeton but it’s nothing to what it thinks of men and human nature in general. . . . I really believe that no one else could have...

    • 11 Cram’s Magnificent Chapel
      (pp. 138-150)

      When Marquand Chapel burned on house-parties weekend in May 1920, Princeton was left without a place of worship. Services were held in Alexander Hall, a place devoid of religious associations and where students misbehaved even more than usual. To President Hibben, a Presbyterian minister, it was imperative to build a new chapel quickly in order to stave off the growing secularism and impiety that marked American culture in general and the Princeton undergraduate in particular. “The university’s protest against the materialistic philosophy and drift of our age,” he called his grandiose project.¹

      Like many older alumni, Hibben worried about the...

  6. PART THREE Arguing About Modernism, 1933–1979

    • 12 God Deliver Us From Chromium and Concrete
      (pp. 152-159)

      A quarrel ended Cram’s long association with Princeton. Klauder’s dickinson hall was meant to finish the three-sided quadrangle with McCosh Hall and University Chapel, but he and Cram disagreed about how far north it should run. Klauder extended it quite far, although Cram protested: “I know this will grievously conflict with the east end of the chapel.”¹

      Then the men fought about who should design rothschild memorial arch linking the chapel and Dickinson—a tricky project, since the Clearfield ashlar of the chapel and the Indiana limestone of Dickinson look different, and the arch had to reconcile the two. Cram’s...

    • 13 Goodbye Gothic
      (pp. 160-170)

      The need for a modern library remained urgent, as it had been for a generation. The aging architect for the long-stalled project, Klauder, was finally replaced by alumnus Ides van der Gracht (his associate) and Walter Kilham (who had worked under Art-Deco specialist Raymond Hood on the Daily News Building and Rockefeller Center, New York). After Van der Gracht joined the army, Kilham partnered with architect Robert B. O’Connor, and before the war ended they were given the job of developing the final version of firestone library. The Cram firm lobbied for the job without success—the great master himself...

    • 14 Goheen Goes Modern
      (pp. 171-188)

      After Corwin Hall, construction lagged on campus until a new president was installed in 1957 and an epic building boom began. CBS Television crews pulled into the driveway at Prospect House the day Edward R. Murrow interviewed Robert F. Goheen—at 37, Princeton’s youngest president since Aaron Burr Sr.—a fresh-faced man whose energy and drive symbolized a fast-changing institution.

      The Goheen administration would see extraordinary developments, to the point that Princeton when he retired in 1972 barely resembled the place he had inherited. Elitism went out. Well into the 1960s, fully two thirds of the men in theSocial...

    • 15 Co-Ed
      (pp. 189-200)

      As modernism reshaped every American campus, demolition crews were kept busy. “We wanted to wipe the present clean of the past, to sweep it pure of contaminating objects,” Vincent Scully remembers about Yale. “Everything had to begin anew.” But Princeton was different: even with the building boom, there were few demolitions, against which the conservatism of Old Grads had long acted as a brake. When, in 1944, there was talk of putting Firestone Library atop historic green space at the center of campus, alumnus V. W. Mosher was aghast at the proposal to “tear down Prospect with all its traditions...

  7. PART FOUR The Rise and Fall of Postmodernism, 1980–2010

    • 16 Complexity and Contradiction with Venturi
      (pp. 202-219)

      Under William Bowen, undergraduate enrollment shot up by a thousand (to 4,400), and in 1979 the Committee on Undergraduate Residential Life (CURL) recommended the adoption of a “residential college system” like Yale’s, in order to retain a small-school flavor for all. It was an historic, belated step in the direction of Woodrow Wilson’s Quad Plan, although it applied only to freshmen and sophomores. The financial health of the university having improved—the endowment rose eighty-five percent between 1977 and 1982, to one billion dollars—a flurry of renovations was undertaken in order to create five residential colleges (Wilson, Butler, Mathey,...

    • 17 Neo-Modernism in the Age of Affluence
      (pp. 220-229)

      “What evolved here was a modernism that did not turn its back on the past but found ways to take inspiration from it,” says former University Architect Jon Hlafter. Historian of science Edward Tenner puts it differently: “Princeton is interesting for largely skipping over modernism to postmodernism.” Modernism implies brash self-display; postmodernism, cautious blending-in, he adds. “I think of this as an expression of Woodrow Wilson’s insistence onshared experience: ‘We will have no self-centered dissenters here; everyone has to pull together.’ A building that called attention to itself was like a student who was showing off some outlandish bohemian...

    • 18 A Surprising Reversion to Gothic
      (pp. 230-237)

      The Collegiate Gothic of Cram is now a distant memory. The school has more than tripled in size since his day, with over one hundred new, non-Gothic buildings. But some alumni would gladly trade all one hundred for a single gargoyle.

      They found their voice in the pages of thePrinceton Alumni Weeklyin 1999, when freelance art critic Catesby Leigh took aim at architecture from the perspective of a staunch traditionalist who favors as much historicizing ornament as possible and curving, organic forms to enliven what he sees as the dead, boxy shapes of modernism. “I wrote my critique...

    • 19 The Gehry That Landed on Ivy Lane
      (pp. 238-244)

      Was Princeton ready for Frank Gehry? Skeptics peering over construction fences at the corner of Washington Road and Ivy Lane had their doubts. Some predicted that lewis library would be the scariest thing to fall to earth in central New Jersey since that Martian spacecraft jarred Grover’s Mill seventy years ago—“Mr. Wilmuth, would you please tell the radio audience as much as you remember of this rather unusual visitor that dropped in your backyard?”¹

      But when the fences finally came down in the summer of 2008, two years later than scheduled, the skeptics tiptoed inside. No sign of any...

  8. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 245-245)
  9. Appendix: Buildings of Princeton University, 1754–2010
    (pp. 247-250)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 251-258)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 259-262)
  12. Illustration Credits
    (pp. 263-263)
  13. Index
    (pp. 264-296)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 297-297)