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Students' Hall, now Barnard Hall, was erected in 1916-1917 and is significant in the history of women's education in the United States, marking the first major expansion of Barnard College's academic facilities following the completion of the original Milbank Hall complex in 1898. When Barnard purchased the land between West 116th and 119th St. and Broadway and Claremont Ave. in 1901, the first priority was the construction of a dormitory. However, it was soon apparent that the academic facilities in the Milbank Hall complex were inadequate for the growing college. In 1915, the trustees authorized the construction of a Students' Hall that would include a new library, gymnasium, swimming pool, lecture hall, cafeteria, offices for student organizations, and classrooms. That year, Jacob Schiff, one of Barnard's earliest supporters, offered to pay for the construction in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of his arrival in America from Germany. Schiff was the leading member of New York's prominent German-Jewish community and was a generous philanthropist, and Barnard Hall is one of the most important surviving examples of his largess. Schiff commissioned a design from architect Arnold Brunner in association with the firm of Buchman & Fox, and the building is also significant as one of the major examples of Brunner's work. Brunner was among the leading architects and urban planners in New York during the first decades of the 20th century and was the architect who frequently designed institutional buildings for German-Jewish philanthropists.
The gymnasium has doubled as a major public lecture hall in which hundreds of historical figures have spoken. The following are a few varied examples: 1) the debate between Democratic Senator Herbert H. Lehman and Republican Congressman Jacob K. Javits; 2) choreographer Agnes de Mille, 3) Malcom X (his last speech prior to his assassination); and 4) authors Isabel Allende and Amy Tan.
Brunner's Students' Hall reoriented the Barnard campus. The architecturally significant building is aligned with the Columbia campus across Broadway, with the main entrance to Barnard Hall on axis with an entrance to Columbia. The design is a simplified version of Columbia's classroom structures, combining Italian Renaissance massing and detail with Colonial-inspired features and using the same dark red Harvard brick and limestone trim seen at Columbia and on Barnard's earlier buildings. Also, like several of Columbia's classroom buildings, Barnard Hall has a monumental limestone entrance portico. Through careful planning, Brunner was able to fit a large number of different spaces inside the building, some of which, notably the gymnasium and swimming pool, retain their original volume and detail.
Barnard Hall is the best preserved and repaired of all of Barnard's historic buildings. Significant effort has been made by the College to restore the entrance area and the major north-south hallway, as well as the historic gymnasium, now known as the Lefrak Gymnasium, behind it. A large lecture hall on the third floor, now known as the Held Auditorium in honor of Julius Held, a former faculty member and distinguished art historian particularly noted for his studies in 16th- and 17th-century Dutch and Flemish art, has been renovated. The renovation helped recapture features from the past by such measures as restoring windows that had been bricked in. The front façade of Barnard has also been washed. However, significant features, like the translucent south wall of its swimming pool, are badly in need of repair or replacement. Barnard Hall's west façade on Claremont Avenue is particularly in need of cleaning and of close inspection for necessary repair. The interior of Barnard Hall shows the effects of inconsistent maintenance policies, notably in the stripping of the finishes of some doors and the replacement of others in lighter woods. The James Room on the fourth floor, originally a dining area that became superseded by facilities in Hewitt, is a large, barren space that is used for meetings and special events. Renovation could make it a spacious and attractive space consistent with its extant architectural detail.
Barnard College, New York, New York: Executive Summary: Architectural Campus Master Plan: November 2002. New York: Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates, 2002.
Dolkart, Andrew S. Morningside Heights: A History of Its Architecture and Development. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998, 203-24.
Horowitz, Helen Lefkowitz. Alma Mater: Design and Experience in the Women's Colleges from Their Nineteenth-Century Beginnings to the 1930s. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984.
Miller, Allice Duer, and Susan Myers. Barnard College: The First Fifty Years. New York: Columbia University Press, 1939.
White, Marian Churchill. A History of Barnard College. New York: Columbia University Press, 1954.