Brooks Hall and Hewitt Hall
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The Brooks and Hewitt Halls dormitory complex at Barnard College is significant in the history of women's education in the United States. Brooks Hall, erected in 1906-1907, is the first building erected by Barnard following the completion of its initial tripartite complex in 1898. It represents the growth and expansion of the college, as well as the solution to the problem of housing women students in a safe and respectable environment on campus. The construction of Hewitt Hall in 1924-1925 represents the continuation of this process. Barnard rapidly outgrew its original small campus and in 1902 announced the purchase of the long narrow block to the south, between 116th and 119th Streets and Broadway and Claremont Avenue. The purchase was paid for by Elizabeth Milbank Anderson, who commissioned Charles Rich to complete a master plan for the new campus. In Rich's master plan, he envisioned a tripartite dormitory on the south end of the campus, backing onto West 116th Street. The complex would echo the tripartite form of the Milbank complex. The first building erected on the new campus was Brooks Hall. Brooks Hall is the only portion of the master plan that Rich actually designed, and it is significant as a work by this prominent architect. Funds for Brooks Hall were largely contributed by Elizabeth Milbank Anderson. Although the 7 ½-story dormitory was taller than the Milbank complex, Rich's design echoes that of Milbank. Brooks Hall's facade is clad in the same red Harvard brick as the Milbank complex, has white limestone trim, and was designed with a cloister-like portico similar to that in front of Milbank Hall.
Although Barnard was anxious to erect a building that would be used exclusively as a dormitory, Brooks Hall was not immediately successful, as the college's student body continued to be composed largely of commuters from the New York area. However, as more affluent, out-of-town students were admitted, the dormitory soon filled. By the 1920s, Barnard needed another dormitory to house an increasingly large population of students from outside of the New York area. The architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White was hired to design the dormitory. McKim, Mead & White, the preeminent American architecture firm of the 1890s and early years of the 20th century, was still a prestigious firm in the 1920s, despite the fact that all of the original partners had died. Hewitt Hall is a refined design that is a somewhat simplified version of the earlier Barnard buildings, reflecting a taste, in the 1920s, for designs that were less sculptural that those of the late 19th and the early 20th century. The dormitories are largely intact on the exterior and still retain significant interiors, including the lobby and a lounge at Brooks and two dining halls in Hewitt.
During the 1930s and 1940s, Virginia Gildersleeve, Barnard's Dean, lived in an apartment at the northern end of Hewitt Hall. Dean Gildersleeve is known for her educational leadership, for furthering the role of women in American society, and for being the only women who was a member of the Commission that drew up the charter of the United Nations.
Brooks Hall is the dormitory most in need of preservation work. The south façade shows much discoloration, many signs of weather damage, and some loss of original material. The loggia on the south façade is a significant source of water infiltration, particularly into the important interior parlor behind it. Under the loggia, the brackets show signs of water infiltration. On the stone water table to the west of the loggia is an ad hoc arrangement of mechanical equipment that distorts the façade.
The north façade of Brooks exemplifies the difficulty of incorporating a once free-standing building into a quadrangle of buildings arranged around a courtyard. Although the original Brooks can still be identified, the central entry around which its spaces were once organized is now blocked. Closing off its access to the courtyard in front of it also weakens its connection with the original campus axis extending from Milbank. The Preservation Master plan will explore alternatives for restoring the balance and emphasizing the structure of the entry.
The north façade of Brooks has been repointed in a manner inconsistent with its jointing, with the joints poorly tooled. Its portico (like Milbank's) leaks badly, and its underside has been poorly repaired, destroying its intended finish. A bird-proofing system has left oily stains on its window sills. Brooks has many leaded windows, some of which have been poorly repaired and many more in need of attention where panes are broken and lead frames damaged or bowed.
Brooks' interiors include spaces like its living room that still play an important role in campus life. Unfortunately, the scagliola (imitation marble) columns of this room are cracked and have lost much of their elegant finish. In addition, Brooks' impressive entry and other public spaces have been subdivided, and its interesting double staircase has been seriously compromised by alterations made to meet fire codes. The Preservation Plan will consider the restoration of certain spaces and how best to integrate and present modified spaces essential to the residential function. Fortunately, the long corridors of dormitory rooms still display a character remarkably like the original, although their finishes have been compromised.
Brooks and Hewitt Halls [Barnard College]. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 2003.
Dolkart, Andrew S. Morningside Heights: A History of Its Architecture and Development. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998, 203-24.
"Hewitt Hall, Barnard College, New York City," Architecture and Building 58 (January 1926): 1, plates 1-3.
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.
McKim, Mead & White. Recent Buildings Designed for Educational Institutions. Philadelphia: Beck Engraving, 1936.
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.