Mar

1

It All Looks Better in a Display Case

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 Image via morningside-heights.net

The poor, defenseless buildings of Morningside are under siege from the ravenous monster that is Columbia University.

Or so local residents would have us believe.  More than a decade ago, locals petitioned the Landmarks Preservation Commission to protect Morningside Heights (which includes a large number of older buildings with their original architectural styles) as a historical district; a “sustained, exuberant, cogent expression of the American Renaissance,” they wrote, obviously for some kind of coursework.

The New York Times has an update as to the status of that battle, fluffed with some fascinating local history.  Somewhere in city offices, the 200-plus-page document is sitting in a dusty corner next to your thesis, a “Pending” stamp across the cover.  The article begs for your pity with pictures of dilapidated, soon-to-be-demolished buildings labeled “threatened brownstones.”

Columbia of course did not respond to the heartstring tugs: though PrezBo declined to comment, spokesman Robert Hornsby said that a designation is “unnecessary” because Columbia has been a “steward” of preservation. Far more importantly, though, in Bwog’s view, it might set back dorm renovations, and that just can’t happen.

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10 Comments

  1. well  

    I don't think there's a need. As long as Columbia's still along, Columbia will look out for its own interests, which is a nice historic campus and neighborhood.

    Related to this, there was a columbia-commissioned study written a while back about the campus and the neighborhood that's really comprehensive and that I should read through fully one day when I have the time. There's no pretty public-facing page, but it's at http://neighbors.columbia.edu/pdf-files/?C=M;O=A and it starts at "TOCAndIntro.pdf"

    • well

      1) You can see the study cited by #1 in butler. They have a copy in the reference room. It's an interesting study. Has some tough words for Columbia's previously nonexistant attempts to make upgrades and repairs that were historically sensitive.

      2) #1, I think you're giving Columbia way too much credit. Columbia does what's cost effective, architectural integrity be damned. Columbia is all about getting away with the cheapest option. We barely have the budget to maintain our buildings: http://columbiaspectator.com/2008/02/20/architectural-legacy-proves-difficult-maintain

      3) Just what the hell is Columbia planning to do with those 115th street brownstones? As far as I can tell, they just want to tear them down because they're a pain to maintain, not because they have plans to replace them with something else.

      This makes no sense since the properties are currently in use as grad student housing. Everybody would be happy if Columbia just did a gut renovation of the buildings.

      Of course that's a pipe dream, since the last gut renovations Columbia did of a student building were Furnald and River, at about 10 million apiece back around 2000 and 2001. In case you haven't noticed, Columbia hasn't felt so generous about our housing options since - note the piecemeal renovations to McBain and Wien (the latter being an original McKim Meade and White building). Even Hogan, which is considered a crown jewel of undergrad housing is physically a dump. Sad.

      • wait  

        wien's not even in the main campus rectangle flanked by broadway and amsterdam. are you sure it was part of mckim meade and white?

        • wikicu

          guys, this is when it helps to read wikicu. wien is a mckim, mead and white building, but not one of the original ones - it was designed and built about 30 years after the mean campus:

          http://www.wikicu.com/Wien#History

          as for columbia's poorly maintained property - I've seen some equally bad examples at other high end schools with old architecture. old means hard to maintain, and expensive to renovate, period. trust me, there are harvard dorms that aren't all that pristine...and most state schools will have a reckoning to deal with when their cheap 60s architecture reaches the age of columbia's far more durably built campus.

  2. Columbia

    Is swiftly becoming a dump. The dorms are some of the worst I've seen at any undergrad institution and buildings that have facade level work like Hamilton are still dumps when you get above the 1st floor. We should be embarrassed by the state of the school, just go look at some other campuses, including cash-strapped state schools that seem to take pride in their surroundings.

  3. Which

    state schools are you talking about. Berkeley, VA, and UNC are far from being made of cheap 60s materials and building standards. I would say they've held up better than Columbia in most respects.

  4. EAL  

    Tear down the 115th Street brownstones and build a better gym. If you want to see a joke, try comparing the quality of our athletics facilities to those of every one of our peer institutions. It doesn't even have to be a massive facility. A nice satellite gym with weight rooms would be huge step forward, possibly with a few modern squash courts (the ones in Dodge are poorly maintained and the wrong size). The satellite "gyms" in McBain and EC could hardly qualify as such, seeing as they are two or three treadmills with an elliptical thrown in. Finally, a satellite gym facility would alleviate the overcrowding at Dodge. I think every student would appreciate this, not just the athletes.

    • its funny

      that you should mention the squash courts, which aren't even really international regulation size (I think they're american? or something absurd like that). To add insult to injury, the athletics department has been slowly commandeering the squash courts and converting them into rooms for the department, cutting down 12 courts to 8.

  5. Until

    Tenured professors aren't having to share offices with two other professors I think we needn't worry about gyms.

  6. Alum

    Responses to several of the previous comments:

    To #2: Columbia does plan to build something else on that site . . . eventually. For now it is concerned with the potential liability if someone is hurt or killed by a partial (or total) collapse of one of the brownstones, as well as the cost of repairs and maintenance needed to reduce the risk of such a collapse.

    Further, those buildings are not "currently in use as grad student housing". They are empty, and have been for many years. The buildings on the *north* side of 115th are law student housing, but these brownstones are on the *south* side.

    The reason Columbia doesn't do more frequent gut renovations is that they require the dorm to be closed for a year, not because of the cost. (Piecemeal renovations actually cost more, though the cost is spread out over a longer period.) Columbia doesn't have enough extra beds to house an entire dormful of people. It can only do gut renovations when a new dorm comes online, since not all of the new space will be needed right away. River and Furnald were renovated after Broadway opened; the College started admitting larger classes the following year, when all three were in service.


    To #7: Columbia will build a new gym as part of the second phase of the Manhattanville campus. The 115th Street site isn't well-suited to this purpose, though it might be if Columbia also demolishes Eli White -- the building behind the brownstones on the north side of 114th Street. Eli White used to be an undergrad dorm, but Columbia sold it to St. Luke's Hospital in the early '80s when East Campus opened. The university bought it back a few years ago, though I think the hospital still uses it.


    To #8: What departments make tenured professors share offices? The only such shares I'm aware of are for profs who only teach at Columbia one semester per year; one prof uses an office in the fall, and the other in the spring.


    To #9: The athletics department plans to put up a new building at Baker Field in the next few years to house coaches and training facilities for teams that compete there. Moving those functions out of the existing gym will free up space. When the gym is less crowded, I suspect some of the former squash courts will be returned to that use.

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