Nearly a century before Cross Campus Library was renamed Bass, the Cross Campus itself was to be called the “New Campus” and was to extend to Temple Street — about twice as far as Cross Campus does today.
It was in John Russell Pope’s 1919 master plan that the “New Campus” was proposed in its first form. But the many changes to Pope’s original vision implemented by architect James Gamble Rogers 1889 do not detract from the fact that much of Yale’s current campus is fundamentally the product of Pope’s work.
Pope’s plan, which was presented to the Yale Corporation as a book entitled “Yale University: A Plan for its Future Building,” was at once remarkable in its fierce ambition and, to a certain extent, self-defeating in its enormous scope.
Had all of Pope’s recommendations been approved, Durfee Hall would have been demolished, Hillhouse Avenue would have been extended to Wall Street, a gymnasium would sit where Sterling Memorial Library currently is and the library would have found itself approximately where the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library is today. And, of course, Wall Street would have ended at Temple Street and a wider version of today’s Cross Campus would have created a center for Yale’s growing presence in New Haven.
Pope, who is probably best known today for designing the Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., was commissioned to make a plan for Yale by his clients Francis Patrick Garvan 1898 and his wife, Mable. As Pope wrote in the book, Yale at the time had grown “with little regard for harmony” in its buildings and, aside from the Old Campus, featured many “haphazardly placed” structures.
Nothing could have bothered Pope’s classical tendencies more. As a result, Pope focused his plan on the creation of axes and vistas that would unite the fractured campus.
It was this emphasis that led Pope to propose the “New Campus.” Pope realized that Hillhouse Avenue would present many opportunities for Yale’s expansion, but he worried about its distance from the rest of campus.
So he proposed that Hillhouse Avenue and the “New Campus” intersect, creating a grand square where the two joined. This would help to bridge the University’s past with its future — the humanities with the sciences. As disciplines and studies began to intersect at the turn of the century, so too, Pope said, should the University’s campus find its own intersections.
Robert A.M. Stern ARC ’65, dean of the Yale School of Architecture, noted in an interview with the News that the sciences were not just geographically removed from Yale but also fundamentally separate from the rest of the University at the time of Pope’s work. Indeed, the Sheffield Scientific School enrolled undergraduates separately from Yale College until 1956.
“What Pope’s plan said was that the sciences should not be separate from the University,” Stern explained.
If that is not reminiscent of today’s campus planning at Yale, then nothing is.
But Pope’s penchant for pronounced change was perhaps too much for Yale at the time. Almost nothing was left untouched by Pope’s plan — in ways both big and small.
Leaving nothing to chance, Pope mandated — with remarkable specificity — the smallest details of what Yale’s buildings should look like. To unite the campus aesthetically, Pope called for the adoption of English Collegiate Gothic architecture as Yale’s default design in the future. Notably, Gamble Rogers had employed this style for his work at the Memorial Quadrangle, which was under construction while Pope was working.
Yale’s administrators and trustees, led by John V. Farwell 1879, the chairman of the Corporation Committee on the Architectural Plan, took a cautious approach to Pope’s work. Emphasizing the importance of a thorough review, the Corporation asked the architects Bertram G. Goodhue, William Adams Delano 1895 and Paul P. Cret to evaluate the design.
Goodhue, Delano and Cret reported back to Farwell on Feb. 7, 1920. In a letter reviewed by the News, the three architects took care first to compliment Pope’s work — and then systematically revise several of Pope’s grand proposals.
“Mr. Pope has studied the problem diligently for a long time and has submitted a scheme in bookform which is in itself a work of art,” the three wrote, referring to the astounding renderings drawn by Pope’s assistant, Otto R. Eggers. (Eggers, for his part, would later design Silliman College, which, ironically, today sits in part on the land Pope had hoped to use to extend Hillhouse and create a square.)
From there, Goodhue, Delano and Cret made major criticisms of Pope’s plan. They recommended that the library be located on the site Pope had proposed for his gymnasium, that the “New Campus” stop at College Street, that Hillhouse Avenue not be extended and that Durfee Hall remain intact — although the idea of demolishing it and creating a vista from Old Campus to Commons was tempting.
Looking at Yale’s campus today, there is no question as to who won.
But Pope probably was not bothered by the changes. While Pope’s plan was grand in both gesture and detail, he was not opposed to revision. He wrote, in fact, that his plan “may serve to guide” but “shall not bind or commit in any way the Corporation in its deliberations and decisions.”
And while it certainly did not “bind or commit” the Corporation, there can be no doubt that Pope’s plan dramatically impacted the future of Yale’s campus.
On Nov. 22, 1920 — just months after Goodhue, Delano and Cret had reported to the Corporation — University Secretary Anson Phelps Stokes Jr. 1896 wrote to Gamble Rogers and retained him as Yale’s consulting architect.
In 1924, Gamble Rogers presented a final version of his master plan that was based almost entirely on Pope’s work and the changes to it desired by the Corporation.
But Gamble Rogers would do a lot more than just consult in the coming years.
Aside from the Memorial Quadrangle and Sterling Memorial Library, Gamble Rogers designed the Sterling Law Buildings, Hall of Graduate Studies, several residential colleges and other notable buildings, completing most of them before 1934.
In an interview with the News, New Yorker architecture critic Paul Goldberger ’72 commented that Rogers took a much more incremental approach to building at Yale than Pope had proposed.
“Rogers was not as interested in sweeping visions,” Goldberger said. “He was certainly ambitious, but he was much more pragmatic than Pope.”
Fittingly, Gamble Rogers placed a particular emphasis on courtyards and other closed, private environments, in marked contrast to the grandiosity that was prominent in Pope’s designs.
Pope, for his part, would later receive two major commissions from Yale: Payne Whitney Gymnasium and Calhoun College, both in the 1930s. But his impact extends far beyond these buildings.
Indeed, Pope is in part responsible for the very concept of a unified campus for Yale — a desire that, not least because of the changes to his plan, has never been fulfilled. Without a doubt, unification remains a perennial goal for the University.
Pope’s plan was never realized in full. But as Goldberger pointed out, we still have the “New Campus” to enjoy — albeit in smaller form and with a different name.
“Cross Campus is a minor glimpse of what might have been,” Goldberger said. “It’s wonderful, and we’re lucky it happened, but it’s far less than Pope envisioned.”