The Hall of Fame for Great Americans (all photographs by James Panero)
With the reopening of the High Bridge, now is a great time to explore the beauty of the Bronx. You heard right. The Bronx contains some of the most picturesque, historic, yet overlooked sites in New York. One day recently I biked across High Bride and north up University Avenue through Morris Heights to the the nearly forgotten architectural wonders of the Hall of Fame for Great Americans and Gould Memorial Library, both designed at the turn of the last century by Stanford White, located at Hall of Fame Terrace and Sedgwick Avenue.
Atop a promontory overlooking the Harlem River, here was once the site of the uptown campus of New York University. When a financially distressed NYU consolidated in downtown Manhattan in 1973, Bronx Community College took over the campus and stewardship of these two architectural landmarks.
The Hall of Fame was the idea of Dr. Henry Mitchell MacCracken, Chancellor of New York University from 1891 to 1910. He saw to the construction of a 630-foot curving open air colonnade lined by the bronze bust of its honorees, organized among American statesmen, soldiers, jurists, and writers, with identifying statements from each included on commemorative plaques beneath them.
Inspired by "Ruhmes Halle," built near Munich by the King of Bavaria, in addition to Westminster Abbey and the Pantheon in Paris, this was America's original "Hall of Fame" and the one that led to the many others around the country in sports and entertainment.
Ninety-eight busts are included in the Hall of Fame, with 102 Americans elected to receive the honor since 1900. Unfortunately inadequate funds have prevented the creation of busts for honorees Louis Brandeis, Clara Barton, Luther Burbank, and Andrew Carnegie. Meanwhile the election of new honorees has ceased while any available resources now attend to the upkeep and maintenance of the existing statues and architecture.
The portrait busts are among the best collection of statuary in the country, with sculpture by Daniel Chester French, James Earl Fraser, Frederick MacMonnies, and others.
The Hall of Fame was designed to wrap around the back of the original campus buildings, with Stanford White's Gould Memorial Library at the center, and the name of the former owners inscribed above.
Bronze doors now lead onto a rickety revolving door and stairwell.
A coffered ceiling above the stairwell only somewhat prepares you for what's inside.
The celestial dome in the heart of the building, thankfully preserved and recently restored, offers a stunning final stop for any visit to this forgotten architectural wonder of the Bronx.