Gone for Half a Century, Our Former Campus Is Never Forgotten

Photo of a residence hall building at the Heights campus

MIXING IT UP: The use of concrete by renowned Hungarian-German modernist architect Marcel Breuer—such as in the Julius Silver (ARTS 1922) Residence Hall—radically contrasted with the neoclassical style favored by the University Heights campus’s original architectural style. (NYU Archives)

By Dulcy Israel

When, in the early 1890s, NYU wanted to expand, the chosen location was a bucolic 45-acre plot overlooking the Harlem River. Famous (later, infamous) architect Stanford White designed neoclassical buildings around a quadrangle. Engineering, arts, and science majors lived and learned on the idyllic grounds for decades, but in 1973 the university made the painful decision to sell the property to CUNY to avoid financial ruin. Catriona Schlosser (GSAS ’12) created the online exhibit The College on a Hill­­—A History of New York University’s Bronx Campus Told Through Its Architecture as part of the coursework for a master’s degree in public history and archives (nyuuniversityheights.com). During NYU Alumni and Families Weekend 2023, the event “Remembering the Heights: 50 Years Later” will commemorate the anniversary of the sale of the campus.

Photo of a large estate home

H. W. T. Mali, the consul general for Belgium and a one-time Violet himself, sold the university the land that would become the campus known affectionately by alumni as the Heights. Mali’s home on the estate was renamed Charles Butler Hall and turned into NYU’s first residence hall.

Photo of an architectural plan

An architectural plan by the Manhattan architectural firm McKim, Mead, and White.

Photo of boats on the Harlem River

The impressive scenery and proximity to the Harlem River added to the campus’s considerable allure.

Photo of Albert Einstein with Elmer Ellsworth Brown

Theoretical physicist Albert Einstein with Elmer Ellsworth Brown, NYU’s chancellor from 1911 to 1933, at the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, a 630-foot-long colonnade that surrounded the library and featured bronze busts of its inductees, including women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony, inventor George Washington Carver, politician Alexander Hamilton, and writer Mark Twain.

Photo of Helen Miller Gould Shepard

Railroad magnate Jay Gould donated money to help NYU purchase Mali’s property; after his death, his daughter, Helen Miller Gould Shepard—who earned a certificate from the School of Law—continued to support the university and requested that the library be named in her father’s honor.

Photo of a part of the library’s dome

The library’s dome which, like much of the campus’ design, was influenced by White’s love of classical Italian architecture.

Photo of a set of Tiffany-designed stained-glass windows.

One standout feature of the Gould Memorial Library is the Tiffany-designed stained-glass windows.

Photo of Ohio Field

It wasn’t until the late 19th century that physical education and sports became a vital aspect of university life. The creation of Ohio Field, where the NYU Violets football team played for decades, was a sign of the times.

Photos courtesy of NYU Archives