Beginnings of Comprehensive Planning: the Rotunda Fire to World War II
In response to the opportunity created by the catastrophic Rotunda fire of 1895, the Board of Visitors moved towards developing the Grounds through comprehensive planning. They signaled their resolution by hiring McKim Mead and White in 1896 to design its post-fire building campaign. The firm’s work at the Boston Public Library and Columbia University had demonstrated its facility with Renaissance-era classical design set within a Beaux Arts planning paradigm.
The three buildings with which the firm closed the south end of the Lawn--the Academic Building (Cabell Hall), the Mechanical Laboratory (Cocke Hall) and the Physical Laboratory (Rouss Hall)--provided much-needed modern laboratory and classroom space for the University. An admirer of Jefferson’s original design for the Lawn, Stanford White set the buildings into the sloping landscape to diminish their scale and to make them subordinate to Jefferson’s buildings. Intended to update and extend Jefferson’s legacy--whose importance was beginning to be more broadly recognized at this time--the new construction offered Jeffersonian architecture reconceived and reframed within a rational Beaux Arts plan. At the same time, the closing of the Lawn was seen by many as a decisive step away from Jefferson’s original intention to leave views to the distant mountains open. The location of the three buildings that closed the Lawn--one of two options for their placement provided by McKim Mead and White--was chosen specifically by the Board of Visitors.
Other changes, of equal planning significance, resulted from the fire. In the period of recovery after the fire, the need for even more authoritative and consistent leadership was evident. The University had been governed for close to 90 years by a Board of Visitors, appointed by the Governor, and by the University’s faculty, led by an annually rotating Chairman. In 1904, the University appointed its first President, Edwin A. Alderman, a progressive professional educator. The selection of the first president from outside the University community was a bold gesture directed at raising the institution’s national profile. Working at Tulane and in North Carolina’s university system, Alderman had built his career on a strong belief in public education and a dedication to elevating the struggling southern higher education system. Along with emphasizing the social sciences, education training, and graduate programs at the University, Alderman encouraged the growth and planning of the University as an important facet of progress and modernization.
In 1906, Alderman engaged landscape architect Warren H. Manning to begin a study of the University Grounds. Manning, immersed in the City Beautiful tradition, was particularly well-versed in horticulture and plantings. According to landscape historians, Manning’s conception of the City Beautiful focused more on regional and neighborhood centers than on monumental civic buildings, and his work at the University demonstrates his facility with Beaux Arts quadrangles, earlier used by McKim Mead and White, on a smaller, more domestic scale.
Only portions of the Manning master plan were ultimately built. Manning himself executed four unique garden designs for the East Pavilions in 1913. Architect Eugene Bradbury designed several fraternity houses following Manning’s plan for the Carr’s Hill precinct. William Lambeth, Professor of Medicine, Chairman of the Department of Physical Education, and Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds, also worked with Manning. Lambeth was responsible for much of the early development of the varsity sports programs and the athletic precinct, which included Lambeth Field and Colonnade, and the never-completed Field House. With Manning, he wrote Thomas Jefferson, Landscape Architect, the first comprehensive assessment of the landscape of the University, acknowledging it as a distinct design feature.
Due in great part to the efforts of Lambeth and Manning, the landscape of the University became an important design consideration. In their plans, the University’s landscape was evolving into a more urban design. Just as the South could no longer see itself as a region or a culture unto itself and survive, the conception of the University as an Academical Village, separate from town concerns and wholly dependent on a self-sufficient landscape was no longer viable. Thus, Manning’s rational Beaux Arts planning modules were not organized by either ornamental promenades or productive agricultural lawns, but as small units within a whole that was linked to a broader urban fabric. With the increasing density of the University and the encroaching development of town, open space and landscape features were important design elements, forming the experience within and between precincts; balancing architectural assemblages inside and outside the University boundaries.
Manning’s plan initiated a further change when, after World War I, a new gymnasium was built along Emmet Street, on the western boundary of the Grounds. This was the inaugural move in the development of a western quadrangle originally shown in Manning’s plan. Memorial Gymnasium was the first major project of the Architectural Commission, the principal design and planning body at the University from the early 1920s into the 1930s. The quadrangle was to include dormitories and a series of landscape elements including paths, terraces and a large reflecting pool to connect the complex to the Central Grounds.
Although the precinct was never completed, the increased activity at the western edge of the Grounds provoked a reconsideration of the area immediately west of the Academical Village, leading to its significant reconstruction. The heightening of expectations as a result of the University’s new national recognition led to an expansion of its facilities. A group of early- to mid-19th century buildings was replaced. Among those was the Jefferson-designed Anatomical Theater, which was demolished following the construction of Alderman Library. The main north-south road to the west, known at that time as Observatory and now as McCormick Road, had become the most active area of the University and many of the new buildings were sited close to it. The placement of Monroe Hall, Clark Hall and Thornton Hall along McCormick Road, but aligned with the grid of the Academical Village, demonstrated that the circulation system was now a planning device to complement the Jeffersonian axes. By the interwar years, a series of road improvements followed, or perhaps encouraged, the University’s development south and west of the central core.
Just outside the formal boundaries of the University, development continued to blur the line between Town and Gown. Residential growth increased in the neighborhoods adjacent to the University to accommodate the rapidly growing medical, nursing, and college enrollment, as well as faculty increases. Despite what local historians have characterized as significant out-migration of the population in the 1920s, due in part to Jim Crow segregation laws and the continued decline of agriculture, the town of Charlottesville expanded its boundaries again in 1938.