Arise and Build!
The Physical Exhibit
The Keepsake
"The Conflagration and the Making of the 'New' University"


"The Conflagration and the Making of the 'New' University"


by
Richard Guy Wilson
Commonwealth Professor of Architectural History
University of Virginia

Fire almost always entails destruction, but from ashes can rise new beginnings. The burning of the Rotunda and Library of the University of Virginia on 27 October 1895, caused a series of events that fundamentally changed the institution. By the 1890s Thomas Jefferson's architectural model for the university had become redundant, and although his legacy-- and the myth of "Mr. Jefferson"--actually intensified in succeeding years, a new university arose. The new architecture by Stanford White helped bring about changes in the University and propelled it into a position of leadership in the twentieth century.

To the modern university the library is not simply its intellectual heart, but in many cases its central building and primary landmark. The university library brings together that opposition Victor Hugo identified in Notre Dame de Paris (1831). Hugo claimed that the invention of the printing press--and the resultant printed page--meant the permanent history of mankind traditionally written in the stone of buildings had been displaced by the book. But Hugo failed to foresee the library as a modern symbol; that is, not just as a container of information and a scene of certain activities, but in its very form a landmark or an icon.

Buildings tell stories just as do books. By their size, placement, design, style, and function buildings can be read. Quite clearly the central feature of the institution Thomas Jefferson created was the Rotunda. It is instructive that Jefferson's 1814 scheme for the University's immediate predecessor, the Albemarle Academy, projected a large u- shaped plan of three wings, each two hundred and fifty-seven yards long containing one hundred dormitory rooms and nine pavilions for instruction and dwellings for the professors.[1] How Jefferson intended to house the books is unknown. Later in 1817 as momentum grew for a university Jefferson seized upon the suggestion of Benjamin Henry Latrobe for a central domed structure and made it the capstone of the new college.

Jefferson's Rotunda, built between 1823 and 1826, contained rooms for instruction and religious services on its lower floors and in its uppermost chamber, under the dome, the library. Jefferson not only designed the library, but also selected much of its original collection. The Rotunda radiated symbolism: it sat at the head of the Lawn and Jefferson specifically identified its source as the Pantheon in Rome.[2] Essentially, Jefferson took an ancient religious symbol, the dome of heaven, that had become a prime icon of Christianity, and converted it into a dome of enlightenment. The extraordinary praise and extended commentary accorded to Jefferson's plan for the Academical Village over the years tends to ignore how prescient his scheme was in making the library the central symbol of the complex. With Jefferson's design for the Rotunda there begins an American archetype for colleges and universities: the preeminence of the library as the central image and symbol.

The story has been told many times of how Mason Foshee, a second year student from Brewton, Alabama, skipped church on Sunday, October 27, 1895, and, after lingering over breakfast, ambled toward Fayerweather Gymnasium to work out. As he turned the corner from University Avenue onto Rugby Road he noticed smoke rising from the end of the Rotunda Annex. In the next several hours all attempts to extinguish the fire--dynamite, fire companies from Lynchburg and Staunton--failed. In spite of heroic endeavors and the saving of some books and the Alexander Galt statue of Jefferson, the Rotunda burned until only the outer brick walls remained. State and national newspapers bemoaned the loss.[3]

Against the tragedy of the fire lay the possibility that an opportunity now existed to improve what were regarded as outdated facilities. At three on the afternoon of October 27th, while the fire still smoldered, the Faculty and some members of the Board of Visitors met to discuss the continuing functioning of the University and to appoint a building committee. By the following Thursday, October 31st, the Faculty committee had issued a report that, although calling for "the restoration of the Rotunda," made a number of recommendations indicating that Jefferson's plan lacked a continuing efficacy no matter the potency of the symbol.[4]

To blame Jefferson for all the shortcomings of his design is unfair. Not even a prophet could have foreseen the tremendous changes in the country resulting from the industrial and commercial revolution, events which Jefferson probably would have despised. Jefferson (and all of the other founding fathers, including Hamilton) saw the future of the United States as agrarian, and in that expectation he created the University. It is certainly questionable whether he could have predicted the exponential growth of printed materials as commercial publishing took hold in the nineteenth century. Jefferson's original list for the library numbered 6,860 volumes.[5] The initial catalogue of the University Library printed in 1828 listed slightly over 8,000 volumes.[6] By 1850 the University owned 18,000 volumes and ten years later 30,000. How many books Jefferson had envisioned the Rotunda holding is unknown but by the 1850s questions arose as to the future adequacy of the building as a library.[7] Additional shelving installed in the Rotunda left little room remaining for students to read. Jefferson's inadequately-sized library was hardly unusual. Indeed almost every college or university library becomes too small within a few years of completion. But in Charlottesville an unusual problem existed since Jefferson's circular, or spherical design, although containing great symbolic and visual potential, was problematic as a functional library. The form allowed no expansion and its inherent inelasticity made additions difficult.

The issue of fire came to the fore in March 1861 when a cornice of the Rotunda burst into flames. Prompt action of students contained the damage. Although constructed of brick on the exterior walls, all the interior and the dome were built of wood. Fire again threatened the Rotunda in 1881 when Pavilion One burst into flames; from time to time student dormitory rooms also caught fire. An opposite problem lay with dampness since Jefferson's dome frequently leaked and heavy rains meant books sometimes had to be removed and stored elsewhere.[8]

Although the library stagnated during the Civil War, when for six years "no book of any importance had been acquired," after the war growth and crowding continued.[9] To relieve pressure, reading rooms for students and professors were established elsewhere on the Grounds. Four specialized library collections were established at other sites in the 1880s and early 1890s.[10] By the 1890s conditions were impossible, the collection stood at 56,000, and in June 1893 the Chairman of the Faculty, Professor William M. Thornton, recommended, and the Faculty agreed to press for, a new library building.[11] This request was repeated the next year and University Rector William C. N. Randolph concurred that an entirely new general library, funded by a subscription campaign among the alumni, be built. One of the reasons cited was the lack of a fire-proof library. The library room in the Rotunda would be converted into an Alumni Memorial Hall. To accompany this new building the faculty requested a maintenance fund for the purchase of new books.[12]

In addition to the fear of fire the request of 1894 reflected the pitiful comparison of the University's book collection with rivals. In 1830 the University's 8,000 volumes, specifically selected as a basis for higher education, stood not that far removed from the nearly 200 year old Harvard's 30,000 volumes, and on a par with much older Yale's 8,500 books, seventy five year old Princeton's 8,000 items, and far above Brown's 3,500, and the College of William and Mary's 3,400 volumes.[13] But by 1895 the University of Virginia's collection of 56,733 stood near the bottom; not only did Harvard contain 452,512 volumes, Yale counted 220,000, Princeton 171,000; newcomers such as Chicago with 300,000, Cornell with 173,450, and Wisconsin at 135,000 illustrated only too well the University of Virginia's diminished role as an intellectual leader. By the evening of October 27, 1895 the University's library had fallen from 56,733 to 17,194.[14]

The lamentable size of the University Library's collection spoke of the real issue facing the institution: in spite of the grand ambitions of its founder, the University had become a local or a regional affair without a national presence. True, its library in 1895 prior to the fire had been the largest among Southern universities, but Chapel Hill and Emory University were fast catching up. The fire produced a determination among the faculty and the Board of Visitors to recreate Jefferson's grand purpose, and one of the methods would be through architecture.

Of course Mr. Jefferson's Academical Village had changed in other ways, perhaps most apparently in size as well as in the expectations of university education. Jefferson's proposed university had been essentially a post-graduate institution in which the students, younger white males, would elect courses in a specialized areas of study in addition to the usual "classical" system of proscribed courses. This elective system proved to be untenable since most of the students arrived with little preparation; however, the system would be "rediscovered" in the 1880s and become one of the foundations for the vast expansion of collegiate education at the turn-of-the-century.[15] By the 1890s the University had grown both in size and in the range of courses offered. The Jefferson design for the University contained 108 dormitory rooms that housed two students to a room. From an opening session of 123 students in 1825 the University had grown to over 600 students per session prior to the Civil War and then dropped precipitously during and after the war. Finally, in the decade of the 1890s the University began to recover and counted over 500 young men per session.

Both this growth in size and in the type of education expected led to a vastly different University than that envisioned by Jefferson. Instead of small courses in the ground floor of professor's pavilions, larger class rooms for lectures and laboratories for the sciences, as well as spaces for large group activities such as concerts, were in demand. By the 1850s this problem had become so acute that Robert Mills, a former Jefferson protˇgˇ, designed an annex to the Rotunda that had several classrooms and a large public hall capable of seating 1,200. In the Public Hall hung a large copy of Raphael's School of Athens. The Mills' addition, although initially admired by the University community, rapidly fell into disfavor as being too large and ungainly: it overshadowed the Rotunda.[16] Perhaps fittingly the fire of 1895 began in the Annex.

Jefferson intended for the University to expand by "extension": a repetition of the dormitories, colonnades and pavilions.[17] But in spite of the seemingly infinite possibility of extending the Lawn to the southwest the precipitous drop in the topography precluded that solution. Instead individual buildings began to appear around the grounds. In 1875-76 Brooks Hall, a museum and classroom building devoted to natural history, was built to the immediate north-east of the Rotunda; in 1885-90 the University Chapel was built to the north-west. The latter marked the conclusion of a long and bitter campaign to introduce Christianity into Jefferson's supposedly "heathen" University. (Jefferson actually provided that religious services could take place in the Rotunda; the gymnasium, or terrace wings along the front were also used for this purpose). Farther to the north of the Rotunda and along Rugby Road, Fayerweather Gymnasium arose in 1893-94 after the designs of a University alumnus, the Norfolk architect John Kevan Peebles (class of 1890), and his partner James R. Carpenter. In an article explaining his design Peebles claimed: "While no copy of any Classic structure . . .[it] follows the lines laid down by Jefferson." Peebles severely criticized the style and appearance of Brooks Hall and the Chapel and advocated that all future buildings follow Jefferson's classicism.[18]

The erection of these three building on the northern side of the Lawn, and other structures such as the gate-keeper's lodge on the edge of the gully west of the chapel site, indicated a changing orientation to Mr. Jefferson's Grounds. Jefferson had intended the University to be entered off the old Lynchburg Road (present day Jefferson Park Avenue) at the southern end of the Lawn; the visitor would then proceed towards the Rotunda past the pavilions. This entry never worked well: it required ascending a small hill that in wet weather could be difficult. Additionally, the major traffic came off of the east-west road, Main Street and its extension University Avenue. "The Corner" had grown up as the off-grounds center further forcing a reorientation to the north, as had the placement of train tracks and a station to the northeast. A visitor to the University approached from a different direction than Jefferson had envisioned, and although the experience of emerging suddenly onto the Lawn contained great drama, the place lacked an appropriate entrance.

"Out of disaster grows hope" is perhaps a banal motto but also an astute observation, especially when applied to the faculty of a university. Faced with the destruction of the central building and most of the library collection, what did the Faculty Building Committee recommend four days after the fire? Not simply a rebuilding of the Rotunda but correction of all the other ills of the University. The Building Committee consisted of William H. Echols, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds, Francis H. Smith, Professor of Natural Philosophy (Physics), John W. Mallet, Professor of Chemistry and Chairman of the Library Committee, Noah K. Davis, Professor of Moral Philosophy, W. D. Dabney, Professor of Law, and as ex-officio and chair of the committee, William M. Thornton, Professor and Chair of the Engineering Department. Thornton also served as the Chair of the University Faculty and, since the University had neither a president nor deans, he acted as the primary academic officer and liaison with the Board of Visitors. Thornton and Mallet were bitter personal enemies as only faculty can be and this would affect the rebuilding.

The Faculty Building Committee made eight recommendations: First, not to rebuild the Annex, "an architectural blunder." Second, to reconstruct the two wings in front of the Rotunda. Third, "restoration of the Rotunda" keeping the original proportions but adding a new portico to the north with proper steps, and, since the "old Library room had become so crowded with books," that the architect be instructed to redesign the interior so that "the whole of the capacity from the dome down to the portico floor may hereafter be readily and simply utilizable for Library purposes." Fourth, the architect should design a "new Academical Building" containing a public hall in the form of a horseshoe and also lecture rooms, and fifth, and sixth, new buildings for the physical laboratory and engineering department. Seventh, the architect should prepare plans for a Law Building. And, eighth, the architect selected should be not merely a person of local repute, but a national figure conversant with the classical language of the "original Jeffersonian group," and competent to design the future expansion of the University, making recommendations for dormitories, hospital buildings and others as needed. The architect Harry P. McDonald assisted the Faculty Building Committee in forming their assessment of needs.[19]

Controversy swirled about recommendation three and the arrangement of the Rotunda's interior. Professor Mallet believed the Committee had agreed to the exact duplication of Jefferson's design and charged that Thornton had substituted the concept of a single large interior space. As frequently occurs with faculties, the nature of the Rotunda's interior became a cause celebre, and at a special meeting of the Faculty on November 20th, Mallet introduced a resolution stating that the interiors should be rebuilt following Jefferson's design but then added ambiguity by asking for better lighting through an enlarged skylight, improved heating and ventilation, removal of the balcony, and fireproofing.[20] To further confound matters, the student newspaper weighed in asking for the Rotunda to be restored to Jefferson's plan and the library moved elsewhere.[21]

By November 4th the Board of Visitors had met, essentially endorsed the original Faculty Building Committee report, and set up their own committee consisting of the Rector, Dr. William Cary Nichols Randolph (a great-grandson of Jefferson), two Board members, W. Gordon McCabe and Armistead C. Gordon, and then from the faculty, engineering professors and Building Committee members Thornton and Echols.[22] The Board asked Thornton to stand down as Faculty Chair and to assist in fund-raising among alumni and with the reconstruction. Although Chair of Engineering, Thornton lacked any actual experience in construction and proved to be inept. Echols did possess considerable experience with construction but became marginalized because of conflicts with Rector Randolph. At this meeting the Board selected as architects the firm of McDonald Brothers of Louisville, Kentucky and the local builders, Spooner Construction Company of Charlottesville, who were in partnership.

The problem of managing a large undertaking estimated to cost over $300,000 stretched the management capability of the University to the breaking point. Although some apparent sympathy existed between the Board of Visitors and the Faculty, in reality a large gulf of suspicion and conflicts prevailed. For years the University had followed Jefferson's model of having no chief executive officer; the Rector of the Board and the Chairman of the Faculty ran the institution. Academics was the province of the Faculty Chair while the Rector and the Board dealt with finances. The Rector frequently became involved in daily operations of the University. Faced with the tremendous task of overseeing a major rebuilding and of raising the funds necessary for it, the system of loose management broke down.

For years the University had suffered under a pernicious legislature but the fire seemed to strike a sympathetic chord. The estimated loss stood at about $100,000, but with the new buildings included, the cost of rebuilding was estimated at $346,000. Two days after the fire a mass meeting was held in Richmond with Governor Charles T. O'Ferrall that began the task of raising money.[23] The General Assembly authorized the Board to place a second mortgage of $200,000 on the property of the University and the State assumed the obligation of paying the interest.[24] This gave the University ,when it included its own funds, $250,000 for the building--far too little.

Back in Charlottesville, things were not going well. Almost immediately criticisms emerged concerning the Board's employment of McDonald Brothers. Harry McDonald had emerged from an advisory position to the faculty as the architect for the reconstruction of the Rotunda. The headquarters of McDonald Brothers was located in Louisville, Kentucky, and although known regionally, they lacked a national reputation. Harry McDonald was in Charlottesville to design and supervise Spooner's construction of Christ Episcopal Church. He produced a design for the Rotunda to be constructed in cast iron that followed the Faculty Building Committee's original suggestion for an open interior.[25] McDonald made a series of extravagant claims including one that the Rotunda would be rebuilt and ready for use by September 1896. He also claimed that portions of the original Rotunda were sound and could be reused and convinced both Thornton and Echols to agree. But when this proved to be wrong the clamor against McDonald became deafening. As one of the members of the Board of Visitors wrote: "The whole thing has made me right sick." [26] Although it took some negotiation, McDonald agreed to resign and on January 18, 1896, W. C. N. Randolph wrote to Stanford White inviting him to become architect for the Rotunda and the new buildings at the University.[27]

The selection of Stanford White meant that one of the leading national figures in the revival of classicism during the late nineteenth century would be the architect for the University. By the mid-1890s the New York firm of McKim, Mead & White stood at the head of the profession as probably the most respected architects in the country. Their work appeared regularly in the professional and popular press.[28] They had designed over 500 buildings which included homes of the very wealthy, large commercial establishments, cultural institutions such as the Boston Public Library, and were the architects for new campuses at Columbia University and New York University. They espoused an American Renaissance that depended upon and respected the American past as exemplified in Jefferson's architecture. Charles McKim had designed a seal for the University in 1890 (apparently never used) and then visited the grounds earlier in 1895 to admire Jefferson's design.[29]

The October 27th fire had piqued the interest of numerous architects. A severe depression gripped the country in the mid-1890s and architects scrambled for jobs. Among them Barney & Chapman, and Carrere & Hastings of New York, E. G. Lind of Baltimore, Edgerton S. Rogers of Richmond, and Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge of Boston, all contacted the University in an attempt to secure the rebuilding of the Rotunda. McKim, Mead & White had expressed an early interest in the job when William R. Mead, in replying to a letter from a University professor of medicine, claimed it would be an "honor to be associated with the work and apart from our actual expenses should not consider the money side of the matter."[30] This was not to be and McKim, Mead & White did receive a fee, though they did relinquish a portion to pay McDonald Brothers for their work. William Mead continued to pursue the job for McKim, Mead & White even though McDonald had been appointed.[31] At nearly the same time-- November 5-6, 1895--Stanford White traveled to Richmond to attend the wedding of his close friend, Charles Dana Gibson, where undoubtedly conversation included the recent fire and the rebuilding.[32] John Kevan Peebles, the designer of Fayerweather Gymnasium found the selection of McDonald outrageous and traveled to Charlottesville to try and influence Randolph.[33] Sometime later in November or in December 1895, Professor Thornton called upon White and discussed the job while on a fund-raising trip to New York.[34] Thornton became White's biggest advocate for the job and would defend him until his death in 1906.

Stanford White played the leading role in the new designs for the University and traveled frequently to Charlottesville. He became friendly with the Rives family and stayed at Cobham Park, their house near Cismont.[35] Charles McKim, his partner, visited at least once and provided criticism, and William Mead back in New York oversaw the production of the many working drawings and specifications. Although White was the main designer for the new University buildings, he was assisted by two talented office men, William Mitchell Kendall and Bert Fenner, who later became partners in the firm. The firm dispatched Theodore H. Skinner to Charlottesville as job captain to supervise the construction along with other office men. The firm of Raphael Guastavino & Company, also assisting, provided thin shell fire-proof vaulting for the main floor and the dome of the Rotunda. White specified Guastavino vaulting for the public space of the new assembly hall, Cabell Hall, but lack of funding and cost overruns caused its elimination from the building's half-dome, though it was used for the main floor.[36]

The problem of cost plagued the building effort. The allocation of $250,000 was unrealistic in light of all the new buildings envisioned in addition to the rebuilding of the Rotunda. Stanford White and his firm were not known as "cheap" architects; they expected lavish budgets and normally their clients had the extra dollars for cost overruns. White's initial estimate in February 1896 stood near $500,000, double the limit set by the State Bond issue.[37] This was reduced by deferring construction of the proposed law and languages building and other cost cutting measures. Additional funds came through an aggressive fund raising campaign among the University's alumni and the successful settlement of a lawsuit over the Fayerweather legacy which provided more money.[38]

Charles E. Langley & Company of Richmond won the bid for construction in May 1896 at an absurdly low price, but almost immediately "extras" and unforseen costs began to mount. By May 1897 the Langley Company took bankruptcy and new contracts had to be negotiated to complete the work. The Board of Visitors frequently interfered, asking for changes in design and specifying certain suppliers of materials. The worst offender appears to have been Rector Randolph who personally made contracts for materials such as concrete, a process normally held by the contractor. Randolph suffered from ill-health during the period and grew irritable; he resigned in February 1898.[39] Randolph came to distrust White and all the contractors, threatened to sue them, grew suspicious of Thornton (who initially was expected to represent the University on the project), rejected advice from faculty and other Board members, and tried--with no experience--to oversee the job. There was also a continuing warfare with the faculty during the three years of construction, 1896-1898, over different design decisions. The University lacked a management structure for handling such a complex undertaking.

Initially though, the relationship between White and the University went smoothly. White's awareness of the hallowed nature of the task of rebuilding Jefferson's Rotunda appears in letters and documents: "The old University buildings surrounding the Campus are the most monumental, if not the most beautiful piece of Colonial architecture in America."[40] For the Rotunda White submitted two schemes, one to duplicate Jefferson's dome room library, and the alternative, which he described as "a nearer approach to a classic and ideal treatment of the interior of such a rotunda." The alternative which White advocated, to create one large cylindrical library space from the level of the portico entrance to the dome, essentially followed the initial recommendation of the Faculty Building Committee as seconded by the Board of Visitors. This scheme, he claimed, met the enlarged needs of the University, was the most sensible, and as White observed was the one: "Jefferson himself would have adopted had the Rotunda been intended solely for use as a Library."[41] White believed he could divine Jefferson's intentions, that "utilitarian reasons" forced the division into two floors and the consequent "great loss to the singleness, dignity and proportions of the interior." On the exterior White also followed the Faculty Building Committee's recommendations: it would "be restored in exact facsimile," the only exterior change being the replacement of the unsightly Annex with a portico and a great flight of steps "similar to the one on the front . . . . as this was evidently Jefferson's intention." [42] The southern terrace, or gymnasium, would be duplicated on the north and offices and class rooms inserted.

That White would acquiesce to the original idea of altering the Rotunda's interior instead of looking more critically at the issue of the best method to house books indicates his desire to accommodate his employers and also his nature of creating aesthetically dramatic designs rather than functional solutions. Not that another solution, such as a different library, would have made anyone in Charlottesville happy. The faculty were up in arms and led by Professor Mallet they met just prior to White's final presentation of designs to the Board of Visitors on March 13, 1896. Mallet wrote a thinly veiled attack on Thornton for not representing the Faculty's position and urged that the Rotunda be restored to Jefferson's design. Only Thornton demurred from the Faculty vote.[43]

Also, White's solution indicates his rapid manner and somewhat uncritical method of working. The University hired the firm on January 18, 1896; White replied by telegram on January 22nd.[44] He visited Charlottesville on January 28th, returned to New York and by February 20th he wired Thornton that drawings were ready. White visited the University again on March 2nd to make an initial presentation and returned on March 13th for a final presentation and approval by the Board of Visitors. White worked rapidly, sometimes furiously, or as one draughtsman remembered: "He would tear into your alcove, perhaps push you off your stool with his body while he reached for pencil and tracing paper and in five minutes make a dozen sketches of some arrangement of detail or plan, slam his hand down on one of them--or perhaps two or three of them if they were close together--say `Do that', and tear off again. You had to guess what and which he meant."[45] The consequence of White's method meant frequent revisions to designs and the resultant escalation of costs.

The Board of Visitors approved White's preferred scheme for the Rotunda and construction began about June 1st, 1896. A change was introduced in November after a visit by White and his partner Charles McKim. They decided to alter the interior dome and follow more closely Jefferson's original profile of an 120 degree arc.[46] Coffering and rosettes which White originally had intended for the inner surface disappeared and in their place a smooth plaster surface appeared with a ring of lightbulbs around the oculus. White supplied a larger oculus than Jefferson's as the University requested. For the surface of the inner dome White specified painted eagles, rays and stars resembling those in Monticello's main hall. Ringing the large cylindrical space twenty giant Corinthian columns, twenty-four feet in height, enclosed three levels of book shelves and stacks which were shoved to the periphery. The new interior contained an ornateness uncommon to Jefferson; White chose hard materials, marble floors, scaglola surfaced columns, and extensive iron grills. Names of famous writers appeared in the room's frieze. White's design for the library provided more space for books and also retained the reading room as an integral part of the room; however soon it would be outmoded.

Stanford White's other major concern lay with the design of the three new academical buildings the Board approved. His worry over their placement becomes apparent in a conversation he had with a sculptor friend during the design process: "`I've seen his plans' and then with great deference: `They're wonderful and I'm scared to death. I only hope I can do it right'."[47] The Faculty had requested the new Academical Building to contain "a public hall, designed in the horseshoe or theatrical form," and two more buildings for engineering and physical sciences. These became Cabell, Cocke, and Rouss halls. White submitted two proposals for the placement of the new buildings; one at the side of the Lawn "would be the most practical," while the other at the south end "would seem to be the most natural and architectural finish of the group," though "we should regret blocking the beautiful vista at the end of the present campus."[48] After deliberation Rector Randolph directed White to place the buildings across the end of the Lawn closing off the view to the southwest. In another explanation of the placement of the buildings White called the entire ensemble, including Jefferson's, a "quadrangle" indicating an enclosed and English orientation.[49] Some of the reasons for the choice are apparent: the original entry to the Grounds was redundant since a new entry, the Rotunda's North Portico, was under construction. Additionally the immediate view to the south lay across an area of insubstantial houses and buildings. The residents of this area were largely African- Americans, many of whom worked in menial positions for the University. The 1890s marked the beginning of many of the "Jim Crow" laws in the South. The new buildings blocked the view of a legacy the University wanted to forget; the view became internal rather than to the larger world.

White respected Jefferson's original scheme enough to recognize the new academical buildings built on the same "ground level would have crushed the Rotunda and entirely done away with the charm of the old University green."[50] Hence White separated his new structures from Jefferson's by locating them on a terrace graded to a level twenty feet below the bottom step of the Rotunda and separated by a court three- hundred feet wide and two-hundred feet deep. A tremendous amount of fill dirt excavated from an area adjacent to Rugby Road (the present Madison Bowl) created the court. White argued that, when seen from the Rotunda's bottom step these new structures would "appear as only one story in height, whereas on account of the steep grade they actually count for practical use as two." And, he added: "The charm of the present Close and the domination of the Rotunda are therefore preserved." [51] To one standing on the Rotunda's upper terrace the Ragged Mountains could be seen rising above Cabell Hall, but from this height, Cabell Hall stood forth as two stories.

White tried to continue Jefferson's pavilion model by placing pedimented porticos on the new academical buildings which were horizontally massed with lower wings. The familiar red brick and white trim established continuity with the pavilions. Colonnades connected the new group together. White argued that the brick of the new structures "be made similar to those used in the buildings surrounding the present Campus," and specified they be laid with a Flemish bond.[52] Later he protested that the brick ordered by the University would "not give the character to the front brick work which we desire for the New Quadrangle."[53] Because of budget problems concrete replaced marble such as on the front steps of Cabell Hall. The sculptor, George Julian Zolnay, supplied the pediment group for Cabell Hall, using models from a local bordello. [54] On its frieze inscribed in Greek was the motto: "Ye Shall Know the Truth, and the Truth Shall Make You Free," composed by Armistead C. Gordon of the Board of Visitors. Originally Gordon suggested engraving the inscription in English but White's criticism caused him to change it especially after he discovered that all the words "I find to be entirely classical."[55]

White paid another homage to Jefferson in the design of Cabell Hall auditorium which seated 1,500. He placed the amphitheater not in the hillside following the Greek model but reversed the space so that the audience enters past and on either side of the stage and then turns to sit facing the Rotunda. On the wall facing the Rotunda White placed a copy of Raphael's School of Athens, duplicating the one destroyed in the fire. White commissioned the copy through the American Academy in Rome which McKim had founded.[56] An Academy student George W. Breck measured off and painted the facsimile which was installed in 1902.[57] Overhead White placed a skylight that mirrored the lunette shape of the School of Athens. The volume of the auditorium in Cabell Hall is half of the Rotunda's sphere. White specified that the capitals and cornice for the Doric columns of the balcony be based upon the Cancelleria Palace in Rome.[58] In form and iconography White's design for Cabell Hall focused attention back to the original genius of Jefferson's plan.

In addition to the three new buildings and the rebuilding of the Rotunda they designed a power plant that was located to the southwest of, and far below, Cabell Hall. By 1898 as construction neared completion relations between McKim, Mead & White and the University became so strained that the firm was glad to be rid of the job. In March 1898 the Board of Visitors had adopted a tribute to White and his work that covered over the disagreements.[59] Symbolizing the split between the University and White were the dedication ceremonies of the reconstructed Rotunda and the new buildings which took place on June 13, 1898 as part of the annual commencement. Actually the event dragged on for three days with speeches, poems, meetings and receptions. The new Rotunda and buildings were praised and glorified but neither White nor a representative of the firm attended, nor were they mentioned in either the dedication speech or in newspaper articles.[60]

The reasons for ignoring White's contributions may lie beyond strained relations and be linked to the view that White as a northerner had invaded a bastion of southern culture.[61] Certainly the decade of the 1890s marked the rise of a Southern consciousness about the "Lost Cause," and it is the decade when the Confederate Valhalla, Monument Avenue in Richmond, began to be laid out.[62] The design of next new building at the University, Randall Hall, 1898-99, went to the Washington, D. C. architect Paul J. Pelz.

In spite of the official University silence regarding White's contributions, the work received praise within the University community and from the outside world as well.[63] Montgomery Schuyler, a leading architecture critic, praised the new work which he felt would have met with Jefferson's "approbation": "The style and scale of Jefferson's work are preserved; the material is bettered."[64] This sentiment found echoes in the praises of President Theodore Roosevelt and architectural editor William Rotch Ware.[65]

The managerial mess of the University, only too apparent during the construction period, finally came to an end in early in the twentieth century. Initially the Board of Visitors contacted Woodrow Wilson and then in June 1904 they selected Edwin Anderson Alderman, at that time President of Tulane University, as the first President of the University of Virginia. Alderman returned to McKim, Mead & White as the University architects and asked them to design Garrett Hall and Carr's Hill in 1906. Although White submitted initial sketches, his murder in June 1906 prevented his involvement and other members of the firm designed the new buildings.[66]

The new architecture that Stanford White created for the University helped bring about a number of changes. One was the realization of the inadequacies of the existing organizational structure of the University and the creation of a chief executive officer. This allowed the University community to focus upon teaching and research and not upon management. Virginia was able to compete in an academic sphere more closely allied to northern schools such as Harvard and Michigan which had already moved to a centralized authority.

The fire, the rebuilding, and the architecture of McKim, Mead & White, brought national attention to the University and attracted sizeable gifts of money. Through the fund raising efforts of the faculty and alumni, dollars began to flow resulting in up-to-date facilities for Physics and Engineering--Rouss and Cocke Halls. This type of structure--unknown in the old University--gave the institution a new national stature.

Stanford White's designs helped the University maintain its architectural quality. The blocking of the full vista to the southwest was certainly controversial but White focused attention on the Lawn through the placement of buildings and their orientation such as with Cabell Hall's auditorium. His scheme for future University buildings to be located around courts on a cross axis off of the south Lawn provided a rational method of growth that later architects, Paul Pelz with Randall Hall, John Kevan Peebles with Minor Hall, and Fiske Kimball with the Amphitheater, followed.

White's redesign of the Rotunda contained brilliant and flawed elements. The new north portico helped complete a reorientation of the entrance to the Grounds that had been underway for years. For the visitor to the Grounds two highly dramatic visual experiences became common. Entry most commonly came alongside the Rotunda through a colonnade that suddenly brought the observer up into an awe-inspiring enclosure of white columns and greenery. Or from the terraces surrounding the Rotunda or its portico the visitor looked out upon a sublime panorama, majestic and yet picturesque.

The increased focus upon the Rotunda brought significant changes to the functioning of the library. Although inadequate book budgets continued to plague the University for years, still by 1905, eight years after completion, the collection had surpassed the pre-fire size. Also significant was the increased prestige of the position of University Librarian. Although Jefferson placed emphasis upon the selection of a librarian and also had an interest in the techniques of librarianship, the University had never viewed the position as important: all the librarian did was house and protect books, and the staff numbered one or two. President Alderman changed all this; at the University of North Carolina he had directed the evolution of the library "from a mere array of books to a vital force in the educational life of the institution."[67] To Virginia Alderman brought money and an interest in the library. Although his Librarian, John Shelton Patton, who served from 1903 to 1927 did not possess formal librarian's credentials (he had worked for the Daily Progress and for a time served as Charlottesville's Superintendent of City Schools), he built up a staff that focused upon service, cataloguing, and growth of collections.

The new Rotunda's library differed markedly from Jefferson's; White created a dramatic well-like space whose overscaled columns and height diminished the patron. Books and columns climbed up on all sides. But as a functional entity it proved no more successful than Jefferson's. Uncomfortable to use, the new Library quickly filled up and White had provided no means of expansion. By 1917, nineteen years after completion, the University Librarian asked for a new building.[68] That would not come until the late 1930s. The Rotunda then passed into limbo, a building without a purpose other than as a monument. In the mid-1970s a new interior resembling Jefferson's original replaced White's, but the building's purpose, beyond symbolic, remained vague.[69] Today, the Rotunda still remains the primary icon of the University but as a functioning vital heart of the institution, it is mute.

Stanford White's work for the University helped it to maintain the Jeffersonian architectural legacy and also to heighten the public's awareness of its importance. White realized that one of the key elements of Jefferson's masterpiece lay with the great space of the Lawn. Over the years many proposals had been put forth to put structures in its center.[70] White resisted such a tendency and through his additions both preserved and focused attention back on it. White did block the full vista to the southwest but he reinforced the central importance of the axis that ran from Cabell Hall to the Rotunda. Though White's Rotunda functioned poorly as a library he maintained its centrality as the University's most prominent landmark. The Library still occupied the center and acted as the heart of the institution. The form of the building retained the symbolism Jefferson had implied; the great example of spherical architecture drawn from the ancients now had stretching out from it lines of wisdom and knowledge that personified the modern university. Buildings tell stories, they represent status and power. At the University of Virginia the book and the building became one.


Acknowledgments: I owe a debt of gratitude to a number of individuals. First, for suggesting I write this essay to Edward Gaynor of Alderman Library and Christie Stephenson of the Fiske Kimball Library and organizers of the exhibition. Professor Emeritus Omer Allan Gianniny of the Engineering School kindly loaned me his manuscript on "Stanford White and the University of Virginia Rotunda," which helped immeasurably. Also of assistance was former student George Yetter's thesis under my direction: "Stanford White at the University of Virginia", M. A. thesis, University of Virginia, 1980, which considerably shortened was published as: "Stanford White at the University of Virginia: Some New Light on an Old Question," Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 40 (December 1981), 320-325. Assisting with research were Sara A. Butler, Anne E. Bruder, Charles L. Rosenblum, and J. Murray Howard, AIA, Curator of the Historic Buildings and Grounds. Eleanor Vernon provided wise counsel.