Columbia University Seminar on the History of Columbia
"Housing the Columbia Community"
Professor Andrew S. Dolkart
October 5, 1999
Those of us who have been around Columbia since the 1970s remember the battles over the eviction of University-owned, buildings and the controversy over the University stipulation that tenants in these buildings must sign an affiliation clause. These were controversies that I remember when I was in graduate school that were very often discussed in the Village Voice. Those who have been around Morningside Heights longer than I may remember the controversies as Columbia, and to a lesser extent the area's other institutions, purchased large numbers of buildings in the 1960s and in some cases evicted all of the tenants, leading to accusations of racism and the belief that Columbia was creating a "company town" 'on Morningside Heights. The issues that have swirled around housing and housing policy in the 1960s and 1970s, and that are still alive today, are not new, for how and where to house the university community has been of paramount importance at Columbia and its neighbors since the day it began buying land on Morningside Heights and planning great institutional complexes.
When Columbia's president, Seth Low, decided that Morningside Heights would be the new home for Columbia College, he envisioned a university that would play an active role in the great metropolis of North America. Columbia would be a university of day scholars who would commute each day, some perhaps following Low's own example of commuting by bicycle. At the end of each day's classes, students would return to their homes scattered throughout the City and the metropolitan region. The school would have no dormitories. Low modeled his idea of a university on continental European schools, rejecting the model of Oxford and Cambridge, with their separate residential schools, and, indeed, the model of most American universities, where students created their own worlds separate from the surrounding communities. Columbia had no history of residential life and Low must have assumed that his view would be that of most of the alumni and trustees-but he was mistaken.
The dormitory issue became one of the most controversial in the history of the Morningside move, pitting Low against Board Secretary John Pine and other trustees (Low and John Pine absolutely loathed each other) and also against the alumni, to Low's great surprise. In fact, as soon as the Morningside Heights move was announced, the alumni declared their hope that a dormitory would be the first building erected. Proponents of dorms argued that only with their construction would a true university community with a university spirit be established. Dorms were also advocated as a way to attract more students from outside the New York City area. Although Low was adamantly opposed to dorms, he was astute enough not to publicly declare his opposition, realizing that Columbia gained nothing if he antagonized dorm supporters who might also be potential donors for other buildings. When a newspaper reporter asked Low in 1894 about the alumni resolution in favor of dorms, Low simply replied, "I must decline to discuss that now." The issue, however, did not go away.
As the move to Morningside Heights became imminent, pressure on Low to build dorms escalated. Although Low's opposition to residence halls on campus continued, he was willing to support the construction of dormitories on sites near the campus so long as they were privately funded. Low's strategy was a shrewd response to the demands for dormitories, since it placed the onus for raising money on the historically parsimonious alumni. Those of you who have heard me speak before know that I often talk about just how ungenerous financially the alumni were. They refused to give money to buy the campus or to build the buildings. This was something that ran through the early days of Columbia. In addition, any off-campus dormitories actually erected under this system would be officially independent of the university and would not transform Columbia into a residential college.
In 1896, planning was under way for what was called the largest and handsomest college dormitory in the country. This was to be Hamilton Hall [which you see here], a ten-story building for 920 students on the east side of Amsterdam Avenue between 121st and 122nd Streets, to be erected by a corporation of stockholders friendly to the college. This dormitory was a Dutchinspired building with scrolled gables, designed by Heins and La Farge, the architects of the original Cathedral of St. John the Divine (most of which you don't see anymore); the scrolled gables may remind you of the little subway entrance at 72nd Street also designed by Heinz and La Farge. The Evening Post found the design in complete harmony with the classical and Renaissance style of the buildings of the University grounds, but nevertheless possessing "a solid individuality," while the New York Mail and Express emphasized the contrast between the dormitory's design and that of Charles McKim's college buildings, noting that this artistic diversity "will increase the interest growing out of the variety of architectural styles that would adorn the city's Acropolis," as Morningside Heights was then known.
While the scheme was clearly received with great enthusiasm, the capital needed for the project was not forthcoming. This was the first, and also the grandest, of several failed projects to erect privately- owned dorms near the Columbia campus. Hamilton Hall may not have been built, but this did not stop the campaign for on-campus dormitories. Pine constantly reminded the trustees that many students would not come to Columbia because there were no dorms, and even listed the trustees whose sons went to Harvard, Yale, and Princeton rather than Columbia, ostensibly because of the lack of a college life at Columbia.
In June 1898, just a few months. before classes began on Morningside Heights, Low finally agreed that if dormitories were to be erected on the campus, the Green at the northern end of the Morningside site was the only appropriate site. [This is a picture of the Green.] For those of you who don't know, it's the northern end of campus-just beyond where Schermerhorn and Havemeyer are -and was landscaped. Low had McKim, Mead & White prepare a plan for four five-story dorms, designed in a style compatible with the classroom buildings. [Here's what the dorms are supposed to look like.] They were sited along the edges of the Green so that the center would remain a landscaped court. As might be expected, Low made no effort to find donors to fund the dormitories. Surprisingly, the alumni failed to launch a campaign to raise money for this project, which they had so vocally supported, and the dormitories on the Green were, of course, never constructed.
Although the University's lack of dormitories obviously limited the development of a social life similar to that of other prestigious colleges, Columbia's move to Morningside Heights did not mean that there was no camaraderie between students. The move to the isolated Morningside Heights did begin to instill that so-called college spirit in the undergraduates that Pine and other trustees felt might be lacking. The open space, especially the library stairs, provided popular venues for student interaction and activities. "Meet me at the library" became the slogan of undergraduates. The New York Herald [from which this illustration comes] reported that they would lean against the library's columns, perched "like birds of good omen, with their hands in their pockets and breathing the incense of tobacco from bulldog pipes." [I can't see any pipes here, and I'm not sure what a bulldog pipe is, actually.] Or, if not puffing on their pipes, the New York Sun noted that they might be heard singing: "Here at the pleasant twilight hour, when daily tasks are o'er, we gather on the library steps, to sing our songs once more."
Classes began on the Morningside Heights campuses of Columbia and Barnard in October 1898. By that time, Teachers College had already been holding classes in the area for three years. In 1898, no housing was provided to either students or faculty. So just where did the Columbia community live in the years after the inauguration of the new campus? Most students probably lived with their parents or other relatives. In 1898, there were very few residential buildings on Morningside Heights, since the large-scale construction of residential buildings in the neighborhood did not occur until after the subway opened in 1904, By 1900, there were 65 row houses on Morningside Heights, and a handful of apartment buildings, most quite modest. The row houses had been erected by speculative builders who were interested in selling them at a profit to individual homeowners. However, the row houses on Morningside Heights were basically a failure. Several of the owners were foreclosed on. Many of the houses didn't sell. Since sales were slow, a significant number of the row houses became student boardinghouses or were sold or leased to fraternities. Here, a relatively small number of students lived close to campus and had their needs attended to by servants.
Almost all of the servants in the boardinghouses and fraternities were African-Americans. I'm very interested in servants in New York, and African-American servants are extremely rare in New York households. The boarding houses and fraternities were considered places of public accommodation, like restaurants, and so, instead of having the Irish servants or the German servants that houses had, they almost always hired African-American servants, except for one fraternity, which had a Japanese cook. [Here are some of the row houses.] You can see why people didn't necessarily want to buy these row houses since they were across the street from market gardens and shanties. [This is 114th Street in the 1890s.] Between 1898 and 1906 three Columbia fraternities commissioned their own buildings on Morningside Heights, which are among the finest residential structures in the neighborhood. [Here is the Alpha Club on Riverside Drive, designed by Palmer and Hornbostel, a very important architectural firm.] [This was Psi Upsilon on 115th Street. This is a really great picture, because it's here all by itself, and here is Grant's Tomb sticking out on the left.] [This, which is now Casa Hispanica, was built for Delta Phi fraternity.]
A few other students lived in nearby apartments. Some students rented rooms in the often dreary, low cost boarding houses in Harlem or the Upper West Side. Other students shared apartments, just as they do today, although this was considered novel enough at the turn of the century to prompt the Evening Post to write an article on the phenomenon, focusing on a Columbia student apartment on West 100th Street. The introduction to this article is very interesting, because it contrasts an apartment house versus a boarding room house. "Many and varied are the expedients adopted by the non-resident Columbia men to get away from boarding-house life .... [T]he student who clings to the boarding-house discomforts or heats his coffee in a tin cup over his gas jet, and partakes of the dinners afforded by the window-sill larder, does so simply from choice. For nowadays, it is possible for him to live almost as cheaply by making one of a party who go to housekeeping together in a flat." The article goes on to examine the men's cooking abilities, "gleaned from camping out experiences," it notes, the over-abundance of pillows supplied by each and every female relative, the equal abundance of smoking pipes and what they refer to as "the Saturday dishwashing frolic," since by Saturday there were no clean dishes in the house. In fact, apartment building owners advertised in the Columbia Spectator. The owner of one building on 110th Street referred to his building as "The Apartment House of Economy," suitable "for you and your chums."
The problem was even worse at Barnard and Teachers College since not only did these institutions not have dormitories, but since Barnard students were all women, as were most of the students at Teachers College, many of the options open to Columbia's men were closed to them. It was generally considered immoral for young, unmarried women to be living on their own, so boarding houses and shared apartments were out of the question. The two schools attempted to solve this problem by providing at least some housing. In May 1897, Barnard received a gift from Martha Fisk of $140,000 for the construction of a building on Claremont Avenue that would complete the original campus design. [This is Charles Rich's original design for Barnard.] With the original construction from two previous $100,000 gifts, they built Brinkerhoff and Milbank, over here. And although Rich designed the wing on your left, it wasn't built yet. It was planned for the sciences, but with this $140,000 gift, they decided to build the building and use it temporarily for dormitories. So you'll notice in the design that the wings are totally symmetrical, because they were both to be classroom buildings, but when they decided to turn it into dormitories, they had to add more windows; so that's why Barnard is asymmetrical today.
In 1899, Teachers College leased one of the first residential buildings erected on Morningside Heights, a four-story structure on the northeast comer of Amsterdam Avenue at 117th Street, referred to as Teachers College Hall. [That's the building on the left.] Here students could rent small rooms and live under the supervision of a housemother, who assured that "life at the Hall was made home-like and pleasant." Thirty-one students and three Teachers College staff members took advantage of these accommodations. Unfortunately, the rents proved to be too high, and the accommodations poor. The lease agreement was not renewed.
In 1899 there were 447 officers employed by Columbia, Barnard, and Teachers College.
Twenty-seven lived on Morningside Heights. The other officers mostly lived
scattered allover New York City. They lived in Brooklyn, they lived in New Jersey, they
lived in Westchester. They came to Columbia when it was necessary. Of the over 2,800
students listed in the directory, only 67 resided in the fraternities, boarding houses,
and apartment buildings in the neighborhood.
The problem of housing women became so serious that Teachers College became the first institution on Morningside Heights to sponsor construction of a building designed specifically to serve as a dormitory. (Bamard still hoped to convert its dorm into a science building.) This was to be a place where, according to a Teachers College brochure, "women students can secure cheap rooms, proper board, under wise direction." Teachers College did not have the money to erect this desperately needed dormitory. However several of the school's loyal supporters solved the problem by acquiring the Amsterdam Avenue blockfront adjoining the college building. Teachers College did not have the fund-raising problem that both Columbia and Barnard had. Barnard had tremendous difficulty raising money, but Teachers College had very loyal, wealthy supporters who were always there in the early days when the school needed money.
This group incorporated in 1900 as the Morningside Realty Company, a privately-owned stock company that issued 4,000 shares, each one valued at $1,000. Then they commissioned the design from the architect Bruce Price, in association with an associate in his office named J. M. A. Darrach. It was probably Darrach who was responsible for the design. The dorm was designed in the style that would complement the earlier Teachers College buildings. One of the nice things about Teachers College-why I think it's so spectacular architecturally-is that the buildings were designed by different architects, but all of them really hold together, adapting the same kind of design. [The dorm is a blown-up version of Horace Mann on the Broadway facade.] The building was split into four wings, two wings for dormitories, which were called Longfellow and Whittier, and the two end wings, which were planned as commercial, rental apartments, which were known as Lowell and Emerson. The commercial apartments were a failure.
Whittier Hall, the name generally used to denote the entire complex, opened in December 1901. On January 1, 1909, the stockholders of the Morningside Realty Company officially transferred the property to Teachers College, ending the legal charade of private ownership. Whittier Hall became so popular that the Evening Post proclaimed it a "beehive of single femininity." The article described in particular the ground floor stores, notably the comer drugstore with a soda fountain that was very popular with Teachers College students and where you could order a "Horace Mannequin," a "Co-ed Frappe," or something they called a "College Yell," which they described as a very yellow, long, drawn-out drink.
Once it was settled on Morningside Heights, Columbia's physical plant and student body expanded. The new apartment houses that appeared in the early 20th Century were often too expensive for students. Thus, the construction of dormitories became an increasingly pressing issue. However, the construction of dorms only occurred after Seth Low's resignation as president in 190 1. In 1903, Columbia purchased South Field, between 114th and 110th Streets. McKim, Mead & White's plan for the area, which I'm sure you are all familiar with, reflects the change in the view toward building dormitories that occurred under Low's successor, Nicholas Murray Butler.
The master plan called for the construction of ten dorms-five to each side, including pairs of inner buildings. They never seriously pursued these inner dorms, which would have been really dreadful because they would have been in shadow all the time. President Butler's announcement in 1903 regarding Columbia's commitment to purchasing South Field coincided with a $300,000 donation from Helen Hartley Jenkins and her nephew Marcellus Hartley Dodge, president of the class of 1903, for the construction of a dormitory in honor of her father and his maternal grandfather, munitions dealer Marcellus Hartley. Marcellus Dodge's decision to fund a dormitory was an appropriate gift since it came as the Spectator noted, "from one who has himself been made conscious of the need with which he now comes forward to supply." Along with this gift, the University committed itself to the construction of a companion dormitory, originally Livingston Hall, now Wallach Hall, thus guaranteeing the erection of two substantial residence halls on South Field and the recasting of Columbia as a residential college.
Hartley and Livingston are large-scale versions of the Renaissance-Colonial design form adopted by McKim, Mead & White for all of the subsidiary campus buildings. On the interior, the dormitories originally contained bedrooms, impressive ground floor lounges, and other public spaces with high-beamed ceilings, massive fireplaces, and stained glass windows which, sadly, are missing. The room arrangements were planned, according to Butler, "in the interest of true democracy," for, although rent depended on size and location, expensive and inexpensive rooms were interspersed, permitting, Butler said, "the poorer student to live in the same building and the same entry with him who is better off, and so avoids the chasm between rich and poor living in separate buildings, of which there is so much complaint at Harvard." I tend to think that the student living in a tiny little room must have been jealous of the wealthy student living in very large rooms nearby.
The dormitories quickly filled with students, but they did not immediately become the center of undergraduate college life that had been predicted. Instead, they attracted both undergraduates and a significant number of male students in the professional and graduate programs. In fact, most undergraduates continued to live at home and commute to school or reside in apartments, boarding houses, or fraternities. Off-campus accommodations were often less costly than dormitories and offered the freedom precluded by the closely controlled dormitory environment. It is a very important thing to remember that these dorms were very closely controlled with rules about lights out at a particular time. This was an argument used by people opposed to dorms, that the students were babied in dorms, whereas they would mature faster if they were living out in the city.
The dorms eventually gained popularity, and in 1911, 200 students had to be turned away for insufficient space. This led to the construction of Columbia's third dorm, Furnald Hall, in 1912 to 1913. Just as Columbia was offering dormitory accommodations to its students, other institutions on Morningside Heights also opened dorms. Union Theological Seminary, for example, was built during this period, and it was built as an entire environment, with classrooms and housing for both students and faculty in the new complex. In 1906-08, Barnard erected Brooks Hall on 116th Street, and was finally able to convert Fiske Hall into a science building. Brooks was designed in a style that would match Barnard's existing structures. In addition to 97 apartments of varying sizes, renting at different rates, the building also included a large dining room and comfortably furnished apartments. Interior decorator Elsie deWolf was hired to design and furnish all of the interiors. She chose antique and reproduction-antique furniture, chintz and silk fabrics, oak and mahogany woodwork, and subtly tinted paints in an effort to create traditional interiors where the women from elite families who could afford the cost of room and board, would presumably feel at home. [This is one of Elsie deWolf's interiors.] Like Columbia's first dorms, Brooks Hall was not immediately successful, since Barnard's enrollment was still composed largely of commuters from the New York City area, However, as more affluent, out-of-town students were admitted, the dormitory was soon filled.
Meanwhile, Morningside Heights was developing as a prime middle-class and upper middleclass residential community. Between 1904, when the subway opened, and 1911, almost every apartment house in the area was erected. A few institutional officers moved into the apartments in the neighborhood. However, the grand apartments on Riverside Drive [like this one here] and Claremont Avenue and Broadway, were generally too expensive for officers who did not have outside incomes, and the apartments on the side streets [like the Blennerhasset here] were too small, or too dark to attract many professors. Thus, even as Morningside Heights developed into the city's first apartment house neighborhood, only a small minority of institutional officers chose to live here.
As enrollment expanded following World War 1, the university faced a growing demand for dormitories. Students were experiencing increasing difficulty finding affordable lodging in the Morningside Heights area or in any other convenient New York City location as post-war rents skyrocketed. There was an enormous housing crisis in New York after WWI. Women who attended programs in the graduate schools faced particular housing difficulties, since Columbia provided no dormitory space for their use. In 1924 and 1925, Columbia began construction of its two largest residence halls, one for graduate women and one for undergraduate men. Planning for the women's residence hall began in 1922 with the decision to place what would be named Johnson Hall, now Wein Hall, on East Campus, where it would be far removed from the men's dormitories on South Field. Of all of McKim, Mead & White's buildings at Columbia, the women's residence was designed with the most overt references to American colonial architecture, employing such motifs as an enormous segmental arched pediment [that you can see over there at the main entrance,] large fan lights with webbed sash [if you've never noticed these windows, they are absolutely magnificent and they've just been repainted on the ground floor; they're really, really beautiful] splayed window lintels and blind brick arches. Colonial-inspired design, which was closely associated with domestic life in the early decades of the 20th century, was undoubtedly chosen for this women's dormitory in order to lend the residence hall an especially homey quality thought to be appropriate to women students. This homey character is especially evident in the lounge with its Colonial Revival furniture and Persian rugs. Of course, all the furniture is gone now, but the space is still there at Johnson Hall. It's worth going in to take a look if you've never seen it.
For men, Columbia decided to erect a dormitory on a site at the southeast comer of South Field that would incorporate features of a student center, such as club rooms and a rathskeller. Originally called Students Hall, and later renamed John Jay Hall, this enormous structure is several stories taller than what McKim had originally planned. It was only supposed to be at the same height as the original dorm buildings. McKim, Mead & White created several impressive public rooms in the building, including a two-story entrance lobby with mezzanine balcony that is unfortunately now enclosed [the balcony] and with wood paneling and a beam ceiling, a magnificent dining room, which is still intact, also with wonderful wood detailing and leaded glass windows (I think it's one of the great spaces on the Columbia campus.) and a small grill room or rathskeller in the basement with beam ceilings and an enormous fireplace. This is gone. The wood beams dark paneling, and other details, were considered to be far more masculine than were the colonial-inspired motifs employed at Johnson Hall.
The construction of an additional dorm at Barnard paralleled the development of residential facilities at Columbia. The housing crisis following WWI also placed Barnard in desperate need of additional dormitory facilities. Thus, in 1924, the college commissioned McKim, Mead & White to design Hewitt Hall, the west wing of the dormitory complex on the south end of the campus. As at other dorms designed for women, Hewitt had dining rooms and lounges treated in an "earlyAmerican" manner. A women was hired as interior designer to create "settings as intimate as those of a private home," as Barnard advertised these spaces.
The efforts of Butler at Columbia, and Dean Gildersleeve at Barnard, to expand dormitory facilities have been interpreted by several historians as part of a concerted effort to increase the socalled geographic diversity of students, a euphemism for the admission of elite Protestant students from outside New York City. By this scheme, the university did not need to resort to expressed
quotas, as was done at Harvard, but could limit the admission of qualified local applicants, especially Jewish applicants, in favor of Protestant students from outside of the city. In addition, the dormitory would segregate the largely Christian residential students, from the more religiously and ethnically diverse population of local commuting students.
Columbia's students were not the only ones affected by the rapid rise in rents on Morningside Heights after WWI. Faculty at Columbia and affiliated institutions also found it difficult to afford the rents on local apartments, which in some cases, noted Columbia's trustees, were "as large as the generous increases in salaries recently granted." As faculty members who had settled on Morningside Heights moved out of the neighborhood in order to find affordable housing, people unaffiliated with the institutions took their place. Barnard's Dean Gildersleeve reported that "The extreme increase in the rents in this neighborhood has been driving a number of our officers away from the vicinity of the College to residence in the lower part of the city or in the suburbs. This must inevitably have a bad effect on our college life. Indeed, the congestion in living conditions in New York, and the influx of non-university people into this neighborhood, presents the whole of the university a problem with which it must grapple very seriously in the immediate future."
None of the Columbia-affiliated institutions had funds for the construction of housing for faculty. Instead, in 1919, Columbia instituted a policy that was to have significant impact on Morningside Heights real estate. The university purchased four apartment buildings on Claremont Avenue and after securing possession of apartments from tenants as their leases expired, let the apartments to university affiliates, both faculty and students, at affordable rents. [These were the first four buildings that were purchased by Columbia on Claremont Avenue.]
Teachers College also began purchasing apartment buildings in 1919, buying the magnificent Bancroft on 121st Street, one of the most spectacular apartment buildings in the area, and the Janus Court on Morningside Drive, renaming it the Seth Low. There is a certain irony to this because, when the developers began to build this building [the Bancroft], they wanted to call it the "Sethlow," but Seth Low did not approve of this. It's a very avant garde Viennese secession-inspired design that was considered very controversial, and Low said he didn't mind lending his name to universities or other institutions, but he questioned whether or not apartment building of controversial design should be named for himself and he threatened actually to sue the developers if they didn't change the name. So it became the Bancroft. [Now, this is the Sethlow.]
Teachers College was able to clear out all of the residents of the Bancroft when leases expired, but at the Janus Court [which you see here,] many leases ran for up to two more years. As a result, Teachers College could not gain immediate control of most apartments. A city-wide housing law, a sort of early example of rent control, was passed in April 1920. The idea behind it was that landlords after WWI were jacking rents way, way up and forcing tenants out of apartments. This law was passed to stop these substantial rent increases and to encourage tenants to stay where they were. What happened was that the passage of this law encouraged the tenants at the Janus Court, even those whose leases had already expired, to stay put. As a result, by the fall of 1920, Teachers College had gained access to only 37 of 80 apartments. The law was renewed several times, and it was not until 1927 that Teachers College was able to acquire many of the apartments.
This struggle between non-affiliated resident tenants and Teachers College marked the beginning of a conflict that would become a central issue within the Morningside Heights community in the 1960s and 1970s, especially as the Morningside Heights institutions increased their real estate portfolios and sought to obtain possession of apartments in order to improve housing conditions for their faculty, students, and staff. Housing became the central issue on Morningside Heights in the post-World War II decades as Columbia and other institutions sought ways to attract quality faculty, staff, and students by providing decent, affordable housing near the campus.
The institutions employed several tactics to improve housing, the most popular being the purchase of apartment buildings to be used by institutional affiliates. It is important to note that Morningside Heights, like the neighborhoods of other urban campuses in Chicago, in New Haven, and in Philadelphia, did experience deterioration as buildings aged and were not maintained, and as middle-class households moved out.
A number of older apartment houses were converted into single room occupancy hotels or SROs. These were especially poorly maintained. The first wave of hotel conversions occurred during WWII. It was an active effort to convert large apartments into small units to house service men and those who came to work in war-related businesses. What ended up happening, especially here at Columbia where there Were Naval trainees, was a lot of the SROs became brothels. In fact, 112" Street between Amsterdam and Broadway was off-limits to the Navy people after dark because it was so notorious for its brothels.
After the war, other owners converted apartment houses into hotels as a way of avoiding post- war rent-control regulations, which at that time did not affect hotels. In 1960, the New York Times referred to the once elegant Henrik Hudson on Riverside Drive at I 10" Street with its 1500 tenants and hundreds of building, health, and sanitary code violations-it had become an SRO-as "one of the city's worst slum buildings." As crime increased on Morningside Heights, tensions between the various communities and between the poor residents and the institutions intensified.
The changing character of the Morningside Heights neighborhood was of great concern to the area's institutions, which had enormous investments in property and infrastructure and legitimately feared that they would have trouble attracting students, faculty, and staff if the surrounding neighborhood was perceived as dangerous and deteriorating. The major wave of apartment house acquisitions began in the late 1950s; however, it was in the 1960s that Columbia acquired most of its holdings, purchasing over 100 buildings in that decade and transforming the character of real estate ownership in the community. In fact, Columbia became one of the largest landowners in New York City.
Although Columbia purchased the largest number of buildings over the widest geographic area, Barnard, Union Theological, Jewish Theological, and St. Luke's Hospital made similar, if less extensive, purchases. The acquisition of apartment buildings by the institutions created tensions with the residential community, especially in buildings where the institutions attempted to gain possession of as many of the apartments as possible. Since SRO tenants were generally not covered by rent regulations, it was easy for the institutions to clear these buildings and either demolish them, restore them to apartment use, or convert them for other institutional needs. At least nine SROs were torn down in the 1960s. The university argued that it was too expensive to rehabilitate these buildings and that emptying them and clearing the sites improved the neighborhood. Of the 33 SROs in existence in 196 1, only two are still in use today. The institutions viewed the SROs as a blight filled with alcoholics, drug addicts, and prostitutes, and felt that by demolishing or rehabilitating these buildings, they were removing slum conditions from Morningside Heights.
However, most of the residents of the SROs were poor blacks and Puerto Ricans, many of whom were law-abiding households, often victimized by landlords and antisocial residents. Their eviction heightened racial tensions in the area. In 196 1, charges that Columbia was attempting to drive blacks and Puerto Ricans from the Morningside Heights area were filed with the New York State Commission against Discrimination. This complaint grew out of attempts to remove tenants from what is called the Devonshire [which is this beautiful red brick apartment building on Broadway] which had become an SRO on 112th Street and Broadway. Columbia made a deal with the owner. At this time they were the quasi-owner of the building; they eventually became the full owner of the building. They tried to clear the building and convert it, and there was a lawsuit because most of the tenants were black and Puerto Rican. The State Commission sided with Columbia. What they said was that, although most of the faculty and staff at Columbia were, indeed, white, there were black staff members and faculty members, and they would have equal access to living here. Therefore, it wasn't discriminatory. The building was emptied by Columbia.
In contrast to the SROs, the apartment houses fell under New York City's strict rent regulations, which did not permit the institutions to evict those with legitimate leases. There were a number of prominent lawsuits as the institutions tried to evict tenants, notably a suit against St. Luke's Hospital, which attempted to empty the 21-story building on the comer of Amsterdam Avenue and 113th Street in 1959. St. Luke's lost this case. However, as apartments were vacated, they could be rented to institutional affiliates.
Beginning in 1962, all new tenants were required to sign an affiliation clause that permitted the university to terminate their tenancy once they left Columbia. Tenants and community groups fought this rule, taking Columbia to court, but the state courts ruled in the University's favor. A primary aim of Columbia was to find housing for faculty. Faculty were moving farther and farther from the campus and spending less and less time at Columbia. In addition, as the area deteriorated, it became increasingly difficult to attract top-quality professors. Thus, Columbia and the other institutions sought to improve the area, purchasing buildings with quality apartments suitable for faculty and their families, so that the Riverside Drive buildings like the Miramar on Riverside Drive, which was purchased in the 1960s, became the top quality apartments that were used to attract professors, as they still are.
Columbia also attracted other amenities to the neighborhood. It was, in fact, Columbia that attracted both the progressive Bank Street College and the traditional St. Hilda's and St. Hugh's schools to the area in the 1960s, providing university affiliates with a choice of where to send their children. They could send them to a progressive school or a traditional school. When St. Hilda's opened, there was a newspaper article about it, [not about the architecture-it is among the most banal buildings around], quoting the headmistress as saying, "We allow no long-haired boys." which is an indication that it was a very traditional school at the time.
Today, the institutions own all but about 50 of the apartment buildings on Morningside Heights. Ownership, however, has not always meant maintenance. After a chunk of terra-cotta fell from a Columbia-owned building in. 1979, killing a Barnard student, massive stripping of architectural detail occurred on apartment buildings that had seen little maintenance for half a century, both under private and institutional ownership. When Columbia and Barnard and the other institutions bought these buildings, they were already mostly in very poor condition. They hadn't been maintained for a while, and the institutions didn't invest in much maintenance, so the buildings just continued to deteriorate.
So where are we today? Morningside Heights has certainly changed. It was once a community with largely separate institutional and residential communities, but now is a community where these two aspects are inseparable. The neighborhood is certainly safer than when I was in graduate school during the 1970s. In the past few years, Columbia has done some remarkable restoration work on its buildings. You have to give a lot of credit to the building people here at Columbia for restoration work they've done. [This is the Phaeton, my favorite apartment building in the neighborhood. You may never have noticed it. It's across from Labyrinth, so next time you go there or to the post office, notice this building.]
Perhaps something has been lost, but Morningside Heights remains a community with a dynamic street life. It is a neighborhood that has blessedly been spared the homogenization that has engulfed too many streets and neighborhoods. We can only hope that it will remain a vital New York City community.