Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Fountain and the University

Every time I do the research on a favorite picture from our recent trip to New York, I find another Chicago connection. It’s amazing. I know it’s tough to love two cities, especially two cities as proud and soaring as Chicago and New York. It’s kind of like trying to support the White Sox and the Cubbies at the same time.

But, for want of a better word, both New York and Chicago have guts. And the architectural connections between them are everywhere.

Here’s just one small example.

I fell in love with Bryant Park, just off Fifth Avenue between 41st and 40th streets, the first time I saw it. In the southwest corner of the park stands a lovely fountain, conceived by Charles A. Platt, executed in glazed granite and dedicated to Josephine Shaw Lowell.

Married to Charles Russell Lowell, a businessman, in 1863, Josephine Lowell followed him to Virginia, where Lowell died in a Civil War battle, less than a year after they were married and only one month before their daughter, Carlotta, was born.

Returning to Staten Island, the home of her parents, Josephine committed herself to social justice and reform. She once said, ”If the working people had all they ought to have, we should not have the paupers and criminals. It is better to save them before they go under, than to spend your life fishing them out afterward."

I wonder where her allegiance would have rested in the current brouhaha about health care.

In 1876 the Governor of New York appointed her as Commissioner of the New York Board of Charities. Fourteen years later she established the New York Consumers’ League, an organization that worked to improve the wages and the working conditions of women workers in New York City. []

The Fountain Terrace in Bryant Park is dedicated to her. The fountain is the city’s first public memorial dedicated to a woman. []

Charles Platt, the fountain’s designer, was born in New York in 1861. His artistic training was as a landscape artist. He studied at the National Academy of Design and later in Paris, where he exhibited his work at the Paris Salon of 1865, no small achievement considering this was the salon that brought Édouard Manet’s Olympia to fame.

A trip to Italy in 1892 turned the direction of Platt’s career and he turned his attention to landscape design and architecture, particularly for the well-heeled. One such project was Villa Turicum in Lake Forest, the country estate of Mrs. Edith Rockefeller McCormick, one of the finest examples in America of the Italian treatment in landscape design. []

Platt joined a group of artists that formed around Augusts Saint Gaudens (remember Standing Lincoln) in Cornish, New Hampshire, where he died in September of 1933. Platt, that is -- not Lincoln.

So how do we go from a lovely fountain, dedicated to a courageous humanitarian in midtown Manhattan, to Illinois?

It was Charles A. Platt who laid out the formal plan for the campus of the University of Illinois and designed nine of the buildings that occupy that space. Six of the most significant of those buildings are as follows . . .

Mumford Hall, the original agriculture buildings, was the first of the Platt buildings, its cornerstone being laid on November 8, 1922. It featured 86,000 square feet of space, housing 50 offices and 25 classrooms.

Platt’s second building, the Main Library, was begun in 1923. It was built in three sections, the last of which was finished in 1927. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000.

On June 7, 1924 the cornerstone was laid for the Men’s New Gymnasium, what is today Huff Hall. The building cost $515,000 with a $225,000 addition coming two years later. Today it serves as host for four different Big Ten sports and seats 4,500.

Platt’s Dairy Manufactures Building was completed in 1925 at a cost of $183,000. Here a student could take a course on "Ice Cream Making,” which taught the " types of freezers; methods of freezing. Mixing and freezing ice cream, sherberts, puddings, and other frozen products. Study of flavoring extracts, fillers and binders. Ice cream standards." [UIHistories Project]

The Commerce Building, now David Kinley Hall, was constructed in 1925 for $506,000. This is one of the northernmost buildings on the South Quad, lying directly across Gregory Drive from the Main Library. The Commerce Building is where the College of Business developed at the university.

Construction on the Building for Architecture and Kindred Subjects was begun in November of 1926. The great sculptor Loredo Taft, who created the “Alma Mater” statue in front of Altgeld Hall, laid the cornerstone. The building’s 65,000 square feet cost $486,000.

From an inspiring fountain in New York City to a fountain of knowledge in the farm fields of central Illinois, by way of Paris and a 300-acre estate on a Lake Forest lakeside bluff, that’s the work of Charles Adams Platt. Not a bad set of accomplishments.


Kimberly said...

I love the connections...Bryant Park...Huff!

Jill said...

You have certainly found some great connections with this trip. I find the pictures and information on where all these people are connected to be amazing. You are doing a great job.