GW Campus and Cloyd Heck Marvin

From GW Encyclopedia


In 1927, Cloyd Heck Marvin was named President. Marvin would be responsible for establishing the University's location once and for all. But he approached the problem with an entirely different eye than his predecessors had done. The Harris Plan was the antithesis of Marvin's dream for the school. He was not satisfied to develop a single city block for the University; instead he looked to a wide expansion with the creation of new buildings representing new ideas. When Marvin became President he was 38 years old. He had been a university professor, a university administrator and a university president. A man with fierce opinions and the energy and fortitude to impose them, on others, Marvin rejected the Harris Plan and embarked on a program of physical expansion and centralized control. Aiding Marvin in his plans to refocus were the deaths in 1931 of three of the school's most powerful men - Larner, president of the Board of Trustees, Howard Hodgkins, Dean of Department of Arts and Sciences and president pro tempore from 1921-23, and Dr. William Borden, dean of the Medical School. While the loss of these men was severely felt, their absence opened the way for Marvin to implement his widespread reorganization without major opposition. Marvin rethought almost every philosophy of the University, revamping policies and procedures as he felt necessary. He introduced numerous new programs, including the School of Government, and capitalized on every benefactor he could. One of .Marvin's priorities was the transformation of the University's facilities. In 1929, in an attempt to unify the wide variety of types, styles and sizes of University structures, Marvin ordered the majority of the University's buildings to be painted the same color. Elmer Kayser records that, "The president's predilections for white paint on the exterior and ‘Marvin green' on the interior remained a subject of conversation for years.” Marvin revealed his deep interest in gardening by taking personal charge of the plans for the University Yard. Working with Mrs. Lillian Wright Smith, the new president succeeded in transforming an open area into an attractive space that would both function and appear as the formal University Yard. It still holds the rose garden he planted. In 1930, the Washington Star reported on Marvin’s efforts:

Entirely hidden from the public, the park on the University's grounds has been going on swiftly and silently until now the space enclosed by Corcoran Hall on one side, Stockton hall on the other end, numerous buildings of the University on the other two sides, has developed into a delightful park, with trees, gravel walks and comfortable garden sea~~, effectively cut off from noise and traffic of the streets.

Marvin's interest in the University Yard was symbolic of his plan for the development of a "bon fide campus." By committing the school to the beautification and maintenance of this open space, a sense of place was established, just as the use of one color of paint on University buildings. But Marvin’s plan was not limited to paint and landscaping.

Between 1928 and 1934, the school acquired 19 additional pieces of property. Through remodeling and renovations, the extant dwellings had been acceptable for classroom use. By this time Woodhu1l House had been renovated to serve as administrative offices. In 1930, the university constructed a laboratory at the northwest corner of Square 102, the edge of University Yard. Designed by one of its own professors, Norris Crandall, the building housed the reinstituted Department of Mechanical Engineering. In 1931, the University purchased 714 21st Street, one of Foggy Bottom/West End’s oldest structures. Built in the 1850s for Margaret Wetzel, the handsome Italianate style house boasts fine proportions and a grand scale. It featured four parlors on the first floor, six on the second, and four more rooms on the third floor. The rooms were refurbished as lounges, eating facilities, a student store, and a ballroom for its new function as the Student Union. More typical of the type of building the University purchased or rented to augment their facilities during this period are 716 and 718 21st Street. The buildings are good examples of the Washington approach to row house design. Simply massed with three-story octagonal bays, their detailing is created from a manipulation of the brick. Like other dwellings purchased by the University, the structures were used to house the classrooms and administrative offices required by the growing University.

In December 1934, the school renewed an ambitious building program. At Marvin’s insistence, the Board authorized the construction of a new building to be located on G Street between Lisner Hall and Woodhull House. The building was to cost $75,000 and house the Departments of Biology and Zoology, as well as some administrative offices. A second building was authorized on the other side of Lisner Hall. The two buildings, known as Alexander Graham Bell Hall and Gilbert Stuart Hall, were designed to match. Massed as simple rectangles, and constructed of used brick the structures were not intended to be permanent additions to the campus. However, these two buildings were Marvin's first chance to demonstrate his far-reaching intentions for the University's campus development. Kayser aptly notes the buildings' significance:

At a time when many institutions were utilizing public funds of one sort or another to load their campuses with massive structures, President Marvin was pursuing a course of rugged individualism and expanding the University by its own resources. These two buildings, improvised by the president, and to an extent followed in later construction, ware designed for the utmost economy in their original cost and in maintenance.

By May 1935, Marvin's public position on the buildings had changed. The Washington Star quoted the University president: "He said the building now being erected represents the beginning of a new building program. Other instructional halls which will follow probably will be of similar architecture, adapted of modern municipal life." Marvin’s a "improvisation” followed sound architectural philosophy of the period, calling for the honesty in materials and purpose. Indeed, those buildings succeed as designs because of their stripped down appearance. Sparse in ornamentation, the striated color pattern of the used brick gives visual interest to the building, while suggesting the pier and spandrel construction common to other contemporary buildings. The economy that marked the buildings’ conception worked to its advantage as the wide brick bands, coupled with long commercial windows, skillfully emphasized the horizontality of the structures. The unfinished walls and exposed ceilings of the interiors, the exposed piping and wiring, and he hollow-tile room partitions were both inexpensive to build and lent an ease and flexibility required by the growing school.

During the same month that Bell Hall was authorized, Mrs. Henry Alva Strong gave the school $200,000 to build the University's first residential dormitory for women. Hattie Strong was an internationally recognized philanthropist when she became a resident of Washington, D.C in 1926. She quickly established her interest in, and support of, the George Washington University by founding the Hattie Strong Foundation in 1928 to provide financial assistance to University students. During the 1930s, Mrs. Strong served as a University trustee. This gift was the major step in transforming the University into the residential college that Marvin desired. Marvin publicly lauded the significance of the building:

Through Mrs. Strong's generosity, we will be enabled to give appropriate housing to many woman students who come to the George Washington University from all parts of the country, and to provide a center for all women's activities on the campus….This is a need that long has been keenly felt. Mrs. Strong's gift makes it possible for the University to develop in a direction in which hitherto it has been hampered by limited facilities.

Strong Hall is located on the southwest corner of 21st and G Streets and was the first building constructed by the University beyond the limits of Square 102. Designed by architects Alexander B. Trowbridge and Waldron Faulkner, the building is in the Georgian Revival style similar to the earlier Corcoran and Stockton Halls. The re-introduction of this style was made to acknowledge the residential function of the building; this was the last University building to be designed in the style.

As Strong Hall was being completed, Lisner Library was begun. This building, the first to be used by the University solely as a library, was made possible by Abram Lisner as a memorial to his wife who had just died. Abram Lisner made his fortune as the proprietor of the Palais Royal Department Store. Born in 1855 in Muningen, Germany, he arrived in the United States at the age of 12. His two older brothers, who had preceded him to this country, ran a dry goods store in New York. Lisner first began under their employ, but his talents were readily noticed and at the age of 15 he was hired as a buyer for B. Altman Company, one of the largest department stores in New York. Returning to his brothers' business a year and a half later, Lisner convinced them in 1877 to open a branch store in Washington, D.C. Early setbacks found Lisner's brothers retreating from the investment, so Lisner took on the business alone. He became so successful at his small store, located at 12th and Pennsylvania, that in 1893 he opened the Greater Palais Royal at 11th and G Streets, N.W. This change in location was considered by his peers as a questionable move, but the result was a further increase in Lisner's profits. He headed the business until 1924 when he sold out his interests to the Kresge Corporation. Lisner took his civic role seriously and served as a member of the Board of Trustees of George Washington University and the Georgetown Hospital, as well as a director of the National Metropolitan Bank. He died in 1933. With his wife Laura, who died exactly year before him, Lisner was one of Washington's most outstanding philanthropists.

Lisner Library provided the University with a major artistic statement. An emphatic design, the composition presents a bold juxtaposition of horizontal and vertical lines reflecting the feeling of the Art Moderne style. The tri-partite building is focused on a six-story pylon whose height is emphasized by slender vertical windows. Flanked by Stuart and Bell Halls, Lisner Hall is the most prominent structure of the streetscape. On a modest scale, the three buildings create a cohesive presentation of 1930s institutional architecture, stressing form and line rather than ornament.

In 1938, Hattie Strong made a second gift to the University, that of the Ha11 of Government. The building, located at 710 21st Street, housed the School of Government, organized in 1927 as one of the first acts of Marvin's administration. This School had a $1,000,000 endowment due to the generosity of the Freemasonry Community. The building, also designed by Waldron Faulkner, clarifies the geometry of form that was introduced in Lisner Hall. Kayser described it: "In general, it matched in plan the earlier Marvin type of building, but it was constructed with outer walls of white stone instead of used brick and made a dignified home for the School of Government." Lisner's many contributions to the school merited him the public acknowledgment of the naming of Lisner Hall and Lisner Library, but his greatest contribution was still to come. In 1938, with his death, Lisner provided the University with its finest building.

At his death, Lisner's near $4,000,000 estate was split between family, friends, and two major institutions. He bequeathed $2,000,000 to establish, a home for aged and indigent women who were "bona-fide residents of the District, without discrimination as to religious belief, nationality or descent," and $1,000,000 to the University "for the erection and equipping of an auditorium." According to the will, the site, building and equipment were to meet the approval of the three trustees - George W. White, president of the National Metropolitan Bank, Leon Tobriner, prominent Washington attorney, and Dr. Cloyd Heck Marvin, president of George Washington University. Lisner had directed the trustees to pay $1,000,000 to the University to purchase a suitable site for the auditorium, if it was found necessary to do so, and for the erection of the auditorium building. It was Lisner's wish that the building was to be of marble construction and to be known as the Lisner Auditorium. The University responded to the gift; plans were quickly put in place to design and construct the auditorium. A site was selected at the corner of 21st and G Streets, N.W. facing Square 102. Lisner's bequest was supplemented by other funds, notably from the George Washington Memorial Association and Susan Dimock. Waldron Faulkner, designer of Lisner Hall in 1935, was selected to design this third tribute to the Lisners.

Lisner Auditorium contains a meeting hall, the first such space commensurate with the size of the student population, In addition to an art gallery (memorializing Susan Dimock) classrooms and workshops. The building was designed to serve the drama and speech departments, as well as all university organizations and student and faculty groups. With its sheer marble planes, the Auditorium transcends Faulkner's other work. The bold square massing and the abstracted columns that mark the facade graphically demonstrate Faulkner's ability to apply his aesthetic theories to his practice. Its exceptional design marks it as the most significant architectural landmark constructed for the University.

Document Information

Images: 0
Photographic Credit: n/a
Author or Source: Application for Historic Buildings Registry/RG0031; Kayser, Bricks Without Straw, p.311
Document Location: University Archives
Date Added to Encyclopedia: December 21, 2006
Prepared by: G. David Anderson

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