The Columbia Observer, Part One
Written by Bwog Staff
Welcome to the first installment in our five-part series on Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, that mystifying, Columbia-owned haven of higher learning in Palisades,
Across the street from Radio Perfecto on
Continue reading after the jump…
Skirting around a gray brick lump of a building called Geoscience, I head down into a village of humble cottages, long sheds, and large two-story brick labs built half a century ago. I am confronted by odd machines strewn about, like the big yellow thing pictured here (when you turn away, it inches closer.)
The architecture is heart-warmingly homey, the colors of a county library’s rug. In fact, the Oceanography building’s original corn-chowder tan facade was such an eyesore to the Rockefellers, whose estate is across the river, that they paid to paint one side green and plant trees in front of it. Since then, however, it’s likely that the only subsequent beautification efforts took place two years ago, when someone put up a few dozen Columbia250 banners.
“We put the money into people and expeditions, not buildings,” explains Doug Brusa, Lamont’s Associate Director of Development. His office is full of promotional materials, most from the recent Open House, and a few cases of beer for post-colloquium parties. (The Lamont Development Office works hard and plays lighter.) He takes me on a tour of the grounds. His umbrella reads: “For when your climate changes abruptly,” and he muses as we walk around campus, “A visitor told me, ‘You’ve got the best one-day science fair in the country.’ And yet we’re still calling it Open House, like we’re having a yard sale.”
Brusa suspects the misnomer comes from Lamont’s beginnings, as an actual house. Today’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory is the former estate of Thomas W. Lamont, the man who brought Nestle Chocolate to American consumers and went on to become J.P. Morgan’s right hand man. In 1929, wanting a weekend getaway from his huge mansion on the Upper East Side, the banker built a huge mansion on the Hudson, complete with housing for the help, an indoor swimming pool, tennis courts, a six-car garage, a garden designed by the Olmsted brothers, a root cellar, and a big statue of Abraham Lincoln reading a book while riding a horse.
Above: Pretty garden! Right: Reading while riding a horse seems difficult, and perhaps unnecessary.
After Lamont died in 1948, his wife Florence Corliss Lamont, graduate of the master’s program in philosophy at
built as a gift), offered the estate to the University, and then-University President Dwight Eisenhower accepted (A photo of the historic handover now hangs in an important-looking lobby on the campus.) According to CU science writer Laurence Lipsett, a deal was struck with regional construction coordinator Robert Moses: if