Planning the New Campus
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“I want to tell you about a brainstorm I've got…”
With those words, George W. Todd launched the project that would become the River Campus. As early as 1920, there were rumblings about the lack of space for growth on the Prince Street campus:
"…In Monroe County there are plenty of open spaces, remote and of scenic beauty.... Why not move the Campus...?” suggested a 1920 article in the student newspaper. While some believed that Prince Street could continue as the sole campus, others, like Todd, saw the opportunity for a greater University.
Beside the Genesee, or Beside the Bay?
By 1924, the hospital and Medical School were under construction near the Genesee, and the Oak Hill Country Club. But that did not make it a fait accompli that the University would expand into the same area. In fact, several sites were considered, and criticisms of the Oak Hill site – particularly the fact that it was hemmed in by river, cemetery, and railroad were voiced. Some hoped that the University would move 4 miles from the City’s center, to a location on Irondequoit Bay; at last, in the words of Rush Rhees, it was "Oak Hill or nothing."
The old Oak Hill clubhouse, shown here in a postcard, was used as headquarters during construction.
With the location chosen, thoughts turned to the look of the campus. Various architectural styles were contemplated. The Gothic style, favorite of Trustee James Cutler, was considered too expensive. (Cutler would shortly have his way on the Prince Street campus, as evidenced by the elegant Union that bears his name.) Finally, Greek Revival – with “Georgian colonial” for the lesser buildings – was chosen; dressed in red Harvard brick and Indiana limestone, the buildings of the River Campus present a uniform, enduring appearance, and contrast well with the gray winter skies.
A series of renderings were created by John C. Wenrich, who also did renderings of Rockefeller Center.
The images of the possible campus buildings were used in the fund-raising campaign to whet the appetite of potential donors, and were deemed capable of "draw(ing) blood from a turnip."
"A Greater University for a Greater Rochester"
According to Arthur May’s history of the University,
The movement that culminated in the acquisition of funds to purchase Oak Hill, construct the River Campus, and remodel buildings on Prince Street, has been saluted as "Rochester's greatest achievement."
Placards and mailings trumpeted the campaign's other tagline: "Dad, Give for Me!" And on November 14, 1924, the fund raising campaign began.
Ten Million Dollar Bulletin
With the goal of raising "Ten Millions in Ten Days," the effort had the overwhelming support of the Rochester community, who were even more enthusiastic than the alumni of the University. The city was divided into various sectors, with captains in charge of fund-raising teams in each area.
The Mystic Oracle
In order to be prepared for questions about the campaign and the new campus, fundraisers were give this clever magnetic card: spin a disk on the inside to select a question, close the card, and the arrow on the front would “mystically” line up with the answer!
"Who Held the Ladder for You?"
This flyer was mailed to prospective donors, with the above query printed on the verso.
A total of 13,651 individuals contributed to the Greater University campaign, of which 2967 were UR faculty, alumni/ae and current students. The new campus, and the University, were truly viewed as part of the Rochester community. Although George Eastman’s support of the fund raising was, of course, crucial, it was the tremendous response of the Rochester community to the River Campus project which convinced him to leave the bulk of his estate to the University in 1932.
Planning for Expansion
Mindful of the criticism from some in Rochester that, at only 87 acres, the Oak Hill site was too small, the initial plans of the River Campus included detailed schemes for expansion. The original 12 buildings were thought sufficient for 1000 students; these drawings show the anticipated expansion of the entire campus for increasing the numbers of students to 2500 (left) and 4000 (above). Note how the Quadrangle buildings expand backwards, and the stadium seating grows into a horseshoe.
Architects Gordon and Kaelber were given primary responsibility for the design, and the firm of Olmsted Brothers was chosen as consultant for the landscaping. The Rochester’s A.W. Hopeman and Sons was chosen as the general contractor for the buildings and grounds. Throughout the campus – from the redesigned University seal to the owls on the buildings, to the dandelion leaves on the flagpoles– the hand of Gordon and Kaelber’s designer, Philipp Merz, can be seen.
Construction of the campus began with groundbreaking on May 23, 1927. By the time it was completed, more than 30,000 cubic yards of dirt had been moved – by steam shovel, horse-drawn cart, and truck – to create foundations, landscaping and the road now called Wilson Boulevard. Although completed in only three years (rather than the anticipated five), the project was slowed by rain and snow.
The construction process was documented in several ways: through the typed Minutes of the meetings of the Building Committee; an extensive series of photographs; and all-too-brief film footage of the construction, which can be seen here.