Saturday, January 10, 2015

Gore Hall, 1838-1913—A Lost Harvard Landmark

 Gore Hall in an early 1900's postcard view    
Harvard's Gothic Revival Gore Hall is a stand-out among 19th century college buildings. Built in 1838 by architect Richard Bond, this was the first building at Harvard specifically meant for a library. While Harvard possesses many fine buildings, many tend to the heavy and rectilinear, so it was a shame that the lively Gore Hall was torn down in 1913, on its seventy-fifth anniversary.

Gore Hall was named for famed Harvard alumnus Christopher Gore, 1758-1827, patriot and politician, who in his will left Harvard an exceptionally generous $100,000 (one third of the eventual cost of the library). Gore is known to many because of his exceptionally fine Federal house in Waltham, Massachusetts called Gore Place, built in 1806.  I don’t know whether Gore meant specifically to build a library for Harvard, but the honor was appropriate, as Gore was interested in student welfare, was known to be scholarly, and had assembled an extremely fine personal library at Gore Place.

Christopher Gore, painted by John Trumbull (via Wikipedia)
Elegant Gore Place, Waltham Massachusetts (via Wikipedia)

While I have collected many photographs of Gore Hall, my favorite is the one below by famed Boston photographer George Kendall Warren, 1824-1884. In this very fine c.1860 architectural portrait, the details are crisp and the contrast is dramatic, with the silhouetted elm branches echoing the Gothic curves of the building.

Gore Hall, c.1860 by George Kendall Warren

Another early view, angled to show front as well as side (via Wikipedia)

The architectural inspiration for Gore Hall was the 15th Century King's College Chapel at Cambridge University in England. The Chapel is a much grander building, while Gore Hall is more friendly and intimate, and in my opinion some of its proportions are perhaps more pleasing. Incidentally, this was not the first or last time the American architects would look to the King's College Chapel. While all three buildings created much different effects, the original building of New York University (built 1833, demolished 1894) and the Old Library at Yale (built 1842, still standing) do share a noticeable family resemblance to Gore Hall.

King's College Chapel, Cambridge, early Carte-de-visite view
Gore Hall was a popular subject for 19th Century Stereoviews

In 1877, Gore Hall had outgrown its storage space, and a large addition was built. While not quite as handsome as the original building, the new wing was important because it was the first library in which the metal book stacks formed the architectural structure of the building, actually supporting the floors and roof as well as the weight of the books. 

Cabinet view c.1880, showing the Addition

c.1900 colored postcard showing addition.

Gore Hall was specifically described in Henry James’ 1886 novel The Bostonians: “This edifice, a diminished copy of the chapel of King's College, at the greater Cambridge, is a rich and impressive institution… suffused with the odor of old print and old bindings…the high, light vaults that hung over quiet book-laden galleries, alcoves and tables, and glazed cases where rarer treasures gleamed more vaguely, over busts of benefactors and portraits of worthies, bowed heads of working students and the gentle creak of passing messengers…” (Thanks to the Library of Congress for pointing out this passage.)

Interior of Gore Hall, from a Harvard View Book, exactly matches James' description.
Gore Hall itself has been gone for more than 100 years, but its image still adorns the seal of the City of Cambridge, designed in 1846 by then Harvard president Edward Everett. The other image on the seal, the Washington Elm, only survived a few years longer, until 1923, so Cambridge is ironically symbolized by things that are no longer there—this presumably comes under the rubric of Progress.

Seal of the City of Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Washington Elm was not actually adjacent to Gore Hall.

In 1913 Gore Hall, having once again outgrown its capacity, was razed to make way for the current Widener Memorial Library, built to honor Harry Elkins Widener, who went down on the Titanic. Although the Widener is one of Harvard’s most important buildings, it seems a shame that they could not have found another site for it, and that no greater effort was made to save sprightly Gore Hall, by then steeped in University tradition.

Gore Hall under demolition. Structural stacks in addition may be clearly seen.

When tearing down this building, several of the spires were saved and installed at Appleton Farms, now a public park in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Another vestige of Gore Hall came to light when recently some repair work was being done to the Widener Library, and part of the original foundation of Gore Hall was excavated. 

Spire from Gore Hall on Appleton Farms, courtesy of Photographer Chris Rich

This final atmospheric image of Gore Hall that I want to leave you with will come as no surprise to those who recall my fondness for night postcards. The beckoning lights glowing within the building would not have been a feature of the library's early days. Look again at the Warren photograph, and note the high proportion of window space in the walls; during the oil lamp and gaslight era, the administrators were so terrified of fire that no artificial lighting was allowed, and Gore Hall had to close each day at dusk.

Gore Hall at Night

(All images and original photographs, except as credited differently, are the property of the author.)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Chinese Antique Thread Winders with Bats

Detail of carved bat.
Congratulations to Rosemary and to Mariette for correctly identifying the Mystery Object as a thread winder or spool. These wooden winders are two to four inches long, while smaller ones, beautifully worked from mother of pearl, often resemble game counters. Winders are often adorned with flowers, butterflies, fish, or geometric shapes, although readers here can readily imagine that I was pleased to find the bat motif.

This winder has a pattern of two bats on each end, facing a peach, the symbol of longevity. As the Hattatts reminded us, bats are a Chinese symbol of good fortune, so although I know of no special connection to thread or sewing, it is not surprising to see this figure turn up. 

The reverse of the winder shows a repeat of the same pattern.
I was lucky enough to acquire an additional example of these bat-carved thread winders. This other one is somewhat different. The spool section is deeper, and the carving is open or pierced. There are only two bats on each side, facing the center, and their auspicious symbolism is augmented by that of the coin placed in the middle.

As before, the carving on the back duplicates that on the front. Note that the coin has changed into a longevity symbol.

It is difficult to decide which one I like better—the second example is quite graceful with its openwork filigree, but the solid first one, with eight bats in total, has to have one of the highest bats-per-square-inch ratios for an object its size. They both show signs of considerable use, and the gilding on each is almost gone. They must have been quite dazzling when new, although possibly I prefer their current worn and patinated condition.

Reader Dianne in the original post mentioned Bat Conservation International, and I had a fascinating time perusing their site. I strongly recommend taking a look at their website to learn more about actual bats and about the various problems, natural and human, that currently threaten them.

(All photos and original objects property of the author.)

Friday, April 11, 2014

Chinese Mystery Object with Bats

It has been a while since I posted a Mystery object.  I have tried to select one a little less obscure than before; these household objects are still in use, and have a practical function.

This is made out of wood, and is about three inches long. Other forms are common, but many still look like this, although perhaps without the decorative carving.

If you know or can guess what this is, please let me know in the comments. Comment Moderation will be turned on for this post. If your solution is correct, I will withhold it until the end, to allow others a chance to guess.

The answer will be revealed in a few days. Good luck!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Before Calhoun College: The Old Yale Divinity School

1: Postcard of newly-built Calhoun

At the corner of Elm and College streets, and diagonal to the Green in New Haven, Connecticut is Calhoun College, one of the twelve undergraduate divisions of Yale College.  The Gothic, weathered stones and leaded glass of Calhoun seem so solid and permanent that one might imagine it has stood there for ages.

Yet Calhoun was only constructed in 1931-2. Its site has been integral with New Haven history since the Seventeenth century, and part of Yale since shortly after the Civil War. Fortunately, many early maps and photographs exist that allow us to peel back the layers of time, and reveal the early appearance of the Yale campus.

2: John C. Calhoun
John C. Calhoun (1782-1850) was the seventh Vice President of the U.S., under Presidents John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. He at various times served as Secretary of State, Secretary of War, and also Senator and Congressman from South Carolina. Since he was an 1804 graduate, Yale desired to honor his distinguished career by naming one of the colleges after him. Unfortunately, Calhoun was virulently pro-slavery, so in recent decades especially there has been considerably controversy of the propriety of using his name.

 3: Detail from 1748 map, Calhoun Site buildings shaded in red.
(Click on any image to enlarge.)

Early Days:
New Haven was settled in 1638, and by 1641 the land on what is now College and Elm was the farm of John Brockton. By 1748, the Wadsworth Map (above) shows Innkeeper Mix established on the site, which remained an inn until the mid-Nineteenth century. Note that on the Wadsworth map, Yale College was still a single building.

Yale Divinity School, 1869-1931:
The Calhoun land was initially obtained by Yale to provide a new home for its Divinity School. In its earliest days, Yale College was confined to the Old Campus block, bounded by College, Chapel, Elm and (later) High Streets. The famous Brick Row was started in the Eighteenth century, culminating with the construction of Divinity College at the Elm street end of the Row in 1835. 

 4: This c.1869 photo shows only East Divinity
After the Civil War,  a new growth plan meant the demolition of Divinity College in 1869 to make way for Durfee Hall (1870), and the Establishment of a new Divinity School across Elm Street. The first phase was the construction of East Divinity in 1869, designed by the acclaimed architect Richard Morris Hunt.

5: Hallway in East Divinity

6: Library in East Divinity

7: East Divinity + Marquand Chapel to the left.
1871 saw the addition of Marquand Chapel, also designed by Hunt. In this photo we can still see the early small white houses, so characteristic of New Haven, flanking the new Divinity School on both the College and Elm Street sides.
8: Stereoviews like this, which appeared 3-D when viewed in a special holder, were popular in the 1800's

9: A special kind of luck favors collectors, one result of which was this obtaining this original admission ticket to the 1871 dedication of Marquand Chapel.

10: This is actually a palimpsest photograph, pasted on another; notice the faint elm branches in the background. Luckily, I have a copy of the underlying photo, which fittingly is a close-up of the Divinity School.
The above picture from 1873 helps make sense of the new Divinity School as seen from the Old Campus, taken in front of Farnam Hall looking across Elm to the new Divinity School and the future site of Calhoun. At the extreme left is North College dormitory (built 1820, razed 1901), part of the old Brick Row. Just beyond it is the brand-new Durfee Hall (1870), looking just as it does today. Across Elm Street, we get the best view of that early wooden house, reminding us that Elm Street was known as New Haven’s Quality Row. Marquand Chapel and East Divinity come next, then at the extreme right is a very recognizable and still-standing Farman Hall (built 1869).

Because of Yale’s intensive building program, photographs of this period are often easy to date. This photograph marked 1873 is readily confirmed, because it had to be taken after the construction of Marquand in 1871, yet the view across Elm Street is unimpeded by Battell Chapel, not built until 1874.

11: Looking past the future site of Battell Chapel
This similar view taken at a different angle allows us to see, across College Street, two buildings which are still there: the First Methodist Church, and the Colonial house that is the current home of the Elihu Club, although not when the picture was taken, as Elihu was founded in 1903. Durfee and East Divinity are to the left, and a tiny sliver of Farnam on the right.

12: From a Bird's Eye View of New Haven, published by Bailey & J.C. Hazen in 1879.
In addition to Battell Chapel, 1874 saw the construction of the West building of the Divinity School. This 1879 Birds-eye view, with the Divinity School is in the center, provides some context. On the left across Elm Street (unlabeled) is the edge of the old campus, showing Farnam, Battell, and Durfee. In the foreground is the New Haven Green, showing the Center Church (1812) and United Church (1814), both still standing. Notice the two particularly fine houses at High and Wall, and at College and Wall, both long gone.

13: By 1874, West Divinity had been added on the left, but there is still an available gap between West Divinity and Marquand.
14: Colored postcard shows addition of Trowbridge Library
Nature abhors a vacuum, and in 1881 the gap between Marquand and West Divinity was filled with Trowbridge Library. Old postcards, although often colored imaginatively, can give a good idea of what strolling by the site must have been like. The photo below shows the interior of Trowbridge Library:

15: Interior of Trowbridge Library--those windows face Elm street.

16: Blount Avenue separating Berkeley Oval and West Divinity
Blount Avenue:
In the 1890’s the Divinity School received some new neighbors. The houses on Elm Street to the west were replaced by the buildings of Berkeley Oval, the precursor of Berkeley College. In the above photo, West Divinity is on the right, and on the left is Fayerweather Hall of Berkeley Oval. Between them, the mall-like space was known as Blount Avenue, which still separates Calhoun and Berkeley. In the distance can be seen the University Dining Hall, built in 1901.

17:  In 1911, the Noah Porter Gate was installed, which still serves as the entrance to the current Cross Campus.

18: What you would see taking a stroll on the Green in 1900.
The above postcard seems to show the final development of the Divinity School on the site of the future Calhoun. Fayerweather is briefly seen to the left, and the colonial houses on the right have not yet relinquished their hold.

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi…
All was soon to change when the College Plan for Yale went into effect in the early Twentieth century.  A new Divinity School was built on Prospect Street past Science Hill, on the site of the former Winchester mansion. The old Divinity School was razed to make way for Calhoun College. In the 1931 photograph below, looking towards College Street, all elements of the Divinity School are gone. Across College Street we can see Battell and Durfee, and a bit of Harkness Tower in the background. On the right are Blount Avenue, the Porter Gate, and finally Fayerweather Hall in its final days, as it would be torn down in 1933 to make room for Berkeley College.

19: The End of an Era:  This dramatic photo shows the demolition site of the Divinity School, and the future site of Calhoun. Notice the one legacy--the Calhoun Elm carefully protected by boards!
As a student in Calhoun, I was completely unaware that it occupied the site of the Divinity School that had stood there not that long ago—even within my grandparents’ lifetime. It is a shame that such a large part of Yale's history has been virtually forgotten. Other than in these old photographs, no vestige seems to be left of the building that inhabited the corner of Elm and College for six decades. I will take a good look at Calhoun itself the next time I am in New Haven. Perhaps in the stone carvings that adorn Calhoun are hidden some reminders of its historic predecessors.

Coming Soon: The Construction of Calhoun

A note on the images:  It is my hobby to collect photographs and other ephemera that document the Nineteenth-century history of Yale University and the city of New Haven. These have been augmented with images from the treasure-trove at Yale Manuscripts and Archives, and from the Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library.

Photo Credits:
Photos 3 and 12 from Leventhal Map Center of the Boston Public Library.
Photos 5,6,15,16,17 Credit: Yale University buildings and grounds photographs, 1716-2004 (inclusive). Manuscripts & Archives, Yale University
Photo 19 Credit: Photographs of Calhoun College, Yale University, 1931-1932 (inclusive). Manuscripts & Archives, Yale University
All other photographs and objects are from the collection of the author.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Chinese New Year 2014—Year of the Horse

It seems that Chinese New Year comes around more quickly each year. This Friday, January 31st will mark the start of Horse Year. Thinking about horses in Chinese culture, images of the Terracotta Army Horses at Xi’an and of the famous Tang dynasty pottery horses immediately spring to mind.

With associations going back to antiquity, horses are firmly entrenched in Chinese art. Looking though my objects for images of horses, I notice two main types: horses mounted by people or gods, and those in more natural settings.

Click on any image to enlarge.
For all its apparent simplicity, this small wooden statue is a well-planned composition. The black horse, red face, and metallic garments all contrast nicely with each other. There is a constant sense of balance—the horse’s head with the rider’s ‘apron’, the fall of the tail with the fall of the ‘skirt’, and the rider’s bent arm with the horse’s bent leg. Even the gilt scrollwork on the front of the base ties it in with the statue and also echoes the rider’s headdress.

As opposed to the martial air of the first mounted example, this friendlier rider is holding up a toy and playing a game of catch. The above detail comes from a very colorful set of carved furniture panels.

At first I thought this finial represented a horse, based on the head and overall shape, but on closer inspection, the legs (with paws!) and under-carriage look more like those of a lion. Perhaps this is some sort of horse-lion chimera, or perhaps an idiosyncrasy of the carver—I’ll have to be on the lookout for similar examples.

The creature in this finial is definitely all horse. The way it is mounted on an iron pole reminds me of a carousel animal, especially the way it is posed prancing.

Horses are associated with warfare, and this detail from an intricately-carved battle scene shows the horse at full gallop while its rider brandishes spears and weapons.

This battle scene, from a painted furniture panel, features the female warrior Deng Chanyu on horseback.

Here is a scene from the end of a wooden offering box, showing a horse that is saddled but without any rider. This makes a good transition to the second type of horse in Chinese art, those depicted as plain animals in more natural settings.

This carved pierced panel with its gilded, grazing horse has great appeal. The curlicue fretwork is very well done, and the red-gold-black color scheme is used to great effect, although very different from the mounted horse statue above.

The scene carved in shallow relief on this inkstone has a charming folk-art quality. The horse is once again in a grazing posture, and the monkey in the tree seems about to jump on his back, and looks very pleased with his plan.

Finally, here is the top of a small medicine container, embossed with a horse. The still-sealed tin contains Triangle Brand ‘genuine horse bezoar’, a kind of stone formed in the horse’s digestive tract, and which is used in traditional medicine. 

These few examples barely scratch the surface of horse imagery. If you have a favorite among those depicted, let me know in the comments. Horses in Chinese culture, similar to those in the West, can symbolize battle-readiness, importance, power and speed, as well as nature and freedom. Embodying all these qualities, this Horse Year is bound to be an auspicious one. 

Happy Year of the Horse!

(All photographs and original articles property of the author.)

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Taipei’s Halloween Earthquake

Tonight, October 31, 2013 at about 8:00 p.m., there was a sizable earthquake in Taipei. I was working at my desk when I felt the first tremors. It quickly got worse; the bookshelves were swaying hard, and I thought they might fall over, but a minute later it was over. 

Taiwan is in the earthquake zone, and small temblors occur often, but this one was pretty strong—6.7 magnitude. Still, as far as I've heard, there was little real damage. The last really tragic earthquake in Taiwan hit central Taiwan in 1999, before I arrived here.

Broken netsukes—the brown ironwood one was holding a double gourd, and the lighter boxwood one was bent down and holding his tibia. 
Nevertheless, when I looked over my living room, I discovered a few casualties. I had put out some skeleton netsukes for Halloween, but the spirits-at-large must not have liked the irreverence of this display, for several of them had fallen and smashed. 

The strangest part is that although I looked and even swept carefully, I was not able to recover all the fragments. I can only assume that the malevolent spirit that swept through Taipei and through my apartment had come to retrieve them, like Madame Zena in A Drop of Water (from the movie Black Sabbath) reclaiming her stolen ring.

Netsukes, small Japanese carvings of wood or ivory, are found in an infinite number of designs, often depicting people, children, gods and animals, but scary themes such as skeletons, rats or insects, are also common.

I was amused to notice that this toy balancing bat, resting on its pinpoint on a narrow strip of wood, managed to maintain its perch through all the shaking. The god on which he has alighted, called the Fighting Money God, may have lent his protection, as bats often symbolize money or wealth in Chinese art.

All of you who can place delicate objects on high shelves, count yourself lucky, because here such freedom is not a given. I was fortunate that nothing happened to these lacquered wooden boxes, which I had riskily lined up on top of bookcases:

I just realized that all the books on this shelf are by P.G. Wodehouse--there goes my reputation for serious scholarship.

Often around Halloween there is a weird glow at night which adds to the spooky atmosphere. The view tonight from my balcony is a perfect example, reminiscent of the nighttime postcards I wrote about last year.

Have a Happy and Safe Halloween!

Who knows what strange spirits roam Taiwan on Halloween?

(All photos by the author.)