|HISTORY in WORDS | HISTORY in PICTURES|
The original plan for the new Brooklyn College campus on the old circus grounds. This plan, by Randolf Evans, included a five story academic building, a gymnasium, a theater, sports fields and administrative buildings, all in a Georgian style.
This is the " Former field in Flatbush " and the farm house where the modern campus was eventually located.
For a long time the circus came to Brooklyn. The Flatbush fields where they pitched their tents became the " Circus Grounds "
A College landmark. Construction begins on the library building with its landmark clock tower.
The building of Boylan Hall begins.
The original 1930's campus when the building program was interupted by the second World War.
A view along the original campus through the gates on Bedford Avenue towards La Guardia Hall.
A view of Roosevelt Hall from the original West Quadrangle. New building in the 1970's has completely hidden this view.
Students gather on the original campus outside Boylan Hall.
The Board of Estimate gave final approval for the planned purchase in July 1935 and the title on the property passed to New York City on August 29th. Brooklyn College was coming to "a former field in Flatbush".
The Wood-Harmon property was only one of several possible sites considered for the building of "a collegiate center in the borough with the largest high school registration" - Brooklyn.
In 1926 the Board of Higher Education was mandated to build what was to become Brooklyn College, and the search for a location began in earnest. Many possible sites were considered including the Mt. Prospect Reservoir site of 10 acres near Prospect Park, Owl's Head Park (the Bliss Estate) of 25 acres at 68th Street, and the Wood-Harmon field of 40-50 acres at the junction of Bedford Avenue and Avenue H.
This third site, and the one eventually chosen, was vacant and was used occasionally as a golf course when Ringling Brothers Circus was not in town. At first the Board of Estimate balked. The owners were asking $5,500,000, a huge sum in those days, and many considered to asking price outrageous. But in 1932 all planning was put on hold by one of New York City's many financial crises. The Wood-Harmon owners kept lowering and lowering their asking price, but it was not until the New Deal and the advent of Fiorello H. LaGuardia in 1934 that serious plans came back on track.
Originally termed "the library" this building was eventually named "LaGuardia Hall" in honor of one New York's more famous mayors, and one who had done much to create this "new" Brooklyn College. On top of La Guardia Hall is the landmark clock tower. Tradition states that no building on the college grounds can stand higher than this tower.
Boylan Hall was one of the buildings that surrounded the central quadrangle. It was first called the "Academic Building", and only later given its permanent name. This was to be a five story academic structure with a mirror image science building the other side of the quadrangle. Although these buildings were to have state-of-the-art laboratories, a roomy cafeteria and lots of new, large class rooms, there was no provision for an elevator. It was assumed that fit young men and women would benefit from the exercise of walking up and down stairs!
The buildings were completed more or less on schedule, but, even after the impressive opening ceremonies, the landscaping left a lot to be desired. A few days after the special guests had left it rained. And rained. The Quadrangle became and impassable quagmire waggishly termed the "Bilder Sea" after the Dean of Women. Shamed by a humorous article in the Vanguard, wooden walkways were constructed, but even as late as 1939 there was still a lot of finishing off to be done.
The ambitious programs at Brooklyn College were halted, however, when America entered the second World War. On July 2, 1940, President Gideonse appointed a Committee on Defense, which went to work organizing first aid courses, training for air raids, drills, and the training of pilots for the civilian sector. However, Faculty Council initially rejected proposals for an ROTC unit on campus. By the fall of 1944 male enrollment at Brooklyn College was down to 1,468, but the admission of women was increased. Some students spent the summer of 1942 doing farm work in northern Duchess County, and about 100 never came back; they remained farmers!
No sooner had all the new buildings been occupied, however, when it was realized that even more space was needed. In fact, Brooklyn College has never had enough space to meet all its wide variety of needs. As part of his program to expand the faculty and course offerings at Brooklyn College, President Gideonse was always on the lookout for new and promising scholars and researchers. Seymour Fogel is a case in point.
The Biology Department needed good scientists, and in 1948 Earl Martin, the Chairman of the Biology Department, wanted Seymour Fogel. But there was a space problem. Fogel's field of research unfortunately needed fields: real fields in which he could grow corn. Not for the pot, this corn was research material for the study of genetic patterns of inheritance. Martin solved this problem by taking over a small plot of land at the corner of South Campus Road and Nostrand Avenue and offering it to the eager Fogel. Years later Fogel praised Martin and Gideonse for their vision and support.
Under this pressure, the college began to notice grade inflation at the high school level. So, beginning in 1941, an entrance examination was instituted and the high school grade average was raised to 80 and then 85 in 1960. It remained at that level for another 10 years.
Good students and a strong academic program produced excellent results. At the end of its first decade, 60% of Brooklyn College freshmen received degrees, and by the mid-1950's 69% were graduating with degrees within seven years. This was the highest number of and of the city colleges and other public institutions. (Note: in 1960, 76% of the entering class would graduate within 7 years, at U. of California, Berkeley, the number was 54%).
And in those days no one walked on the grass! !
Having these new buildings did not, however, ease all the space problems. From the beginning students suffered from overcrowding in the cafeteria; a problem that was just tolerable until the food prices went up. Eight cents were added to the price of sandwiches in the fall semester 1939, and soup skyrocketed by another six cents! A trickle of negative comments while waiting on the food lines, became a flood which overflowed into a critical article in the Vanguard. A few weeks later, a quite reduction of four cents in the price of malteds was instituted to head off any rebellion.
Crowded as it was, the cafeteria was valuable real-estate for other purposes. Even with all its handsome academic buildings, space for social functions was at a premium. Student societies, official and unofficial used the cafeteria tables as centers for lively debate and exchange of ideas. A person walking from one table to another would be invited to join half a dozen different discussions ranging from Wagner to Marx.
In the 1950's the cafeteria management, trying to create a new ambiance, replaced the long, institutional style tables with more decorative, smaller, rectangular tables. Social groups could no longer form around these new fangled inventions, and the response was immediate. Rows of the new tables were pushed together to reform the old patterns, and the debates continued.