The Archivist's Angle: The Heights Campus
July 14, 2017
As the wind swept through the winding paths of the Hall of Fame for Great Americans at Bronx Community College, easing the pressing July humidity, alumni who attended University College and the School of Engineering at the Heights campus gathered under the sculptured busts of America’s greatest. For some, July 12, 2017 marked their first visit back to the former NYU campus in decades.
The idyllic campus, located along the Harlem River in the Bronx, was home to NYU for over 80 years. In 1891, NYU Chancellor Henry MacCracken sought to create a campus experience similar to that of neighboring universities Columbia and Fordham. MacCracken hired architect Stanford White to construct a plan for the 45-acre site, which was to incorporate neo-Classical design along the cliffs over the river.
In 1895, the chancellor told The New York Times that he wanted the campus to resemble “the American ideal of a college,”—one separated from the tenements and factories that were prominent in Greenwich Village at the time.
NYU alumni from the University Heights campus were excited to be back on home soil this week. They toured their old stomping ground while reconnecting over wine and a summer buffet.
Although NYU sold the property to New York State in 1973 (the state used the pre-existing campus to relocate Bronx Community College), the campus tour showed how the original Bronx buildings remain a testament to a bygone era in NYU history.
Christine Greene (née Sofijczuk) (ENG ’69, ’71) and Jesse Greene (ENG ’69, ’71) met on the Heights campus and have been married since. This was their first visit back to the grounds in more than 40 years, although they regularly drive by the campus.
“I’m sure the engineering building has changed. When we were there, it was partly a laboratory and partly classrooms. It had very heavy duty floors because they used to have so much heavy machinery in the building,” Christine said.
Christine and Jesse reflected on their student days, remembering the scales positioned between buildings that could measure up to 2,000 pounds and the old steam governor—a device used to measure and regulate the speed of a machine—that was demolished because it was too old-fashioned.
“I remember the old machinery in the basement, the old power generators and steam engines. They were antique.”
“They had a lot of things they wouldn’t have anymore. The computer age was just beginning then.” Jesse said.
One building, however, has remained intact. The Gould Memorial Library, with its ornate pillars, marble floors, intricate ceiling, and breathtaking golden interior, remains an irreplaceable national treasure on the 45-acre campus.
The library, modeled after the Pantheon in Rome and designed by Stanford White of the legendary firm McKim Mead and White Architects, is considered by many to be Stanford White’s greatest architectural masterpiece. The Gould Memorial Library has been designated a National Historic Landmark and a New York City landmark, along with the Hall of Fame for Great Americans.
As alumni walked through the century-old building, many faces turned up to look at the intricate detail topping the marble columns, cameras flashing. Quiet chatter echoed in the chamber as alumni reflected on time spent in the library when they were students.
Katepalli R. Sreenivasan, Dean of the Tandon School of Engineering, perhaps articulated the mood best when he said, “I can’t help feeling how beautiful the space and the architecture is. Heights you might be, but you are always NYU.”
Originally Published: February 15, 2013, By Erin Shaw (GSAS ’14)