But what to do with the Hall of Fame, the only remaining connection of NYU with the Bronx campus? City University and NYU began working on an agreement for continuation of the Hall on the Heights. It took ample time to restructure the conditions of governance and financing.

 

Suggestions on the future of the Hall had begun to come in early in the seventies, as rumors of doomsday circulated. Commissioner Robert Moses, who had accepted to be an elector because he thought well of both Hall and Fame, heard about the threats of financial problems. On his own, with no other authority than that of elector, he, the voice of experience, began to seek solutions in order that the Hall might continue operating where it was or, that failing, might find a home elsewhere.

 

Moses, among others, including a New Yorker reporter, thought of it as our Westminster Abbey, which it is not and never will be. The Abbey is a place of regal ceremonies and of worship in said and sung services. It is also a tomb for warriors slain in battle, who, along with princes and poets, rest within its walls and corners, and under its floors. The Colonnade is a shrine of remembrance, not intended for sacred services or even secular ceremonies, for that matter. Whatever portion of an installation ceremony was held in the Colonnade was likely to produce little more than congestion, however well-mannered. Only diehards of devotion would think of going there in winter for more than a quick walk-through, on a good day. Or joggers.

 

Moses had ideas for winterizing the Colonnade and preserving the busts, and for gaining easy and safe access from the highway to the campus grounds in an area of the Bronx that was deteriorating; he had ideas for creating adequate parking space for cars and tour buses. If anyone could have had a special roadway laid, it was Robert Moses, builder of the West Side Highway and other engineering feats in aid of transport. Like many others, he deplored the ever-lowering count of tourists and buses, and the incipient neglect of the Colonnade and its occupants.

 

He wrote to the electors and asked for a meeting. There was no provision in the statutes that gave any administrative voice to the electors, but almost everyone connected with the Hall felt that, considering the dismal outlook, the thinking of Dr. MacCracken's "discerning and wise" electors would be of value, even though there was no requirement that it be followed.

 

President Hester sought advice in order to have alternatives to weigh. So also did Robert Moses, the better to order things. The canvass turned up two general attitudes: (1) STAY and work it out, and (2) Pick it up and MOVE.

 

STAY included the following:

 

-- Make the Colonnade and Gould Library a public trust, a national or state-supported monument; buy some buffer land to the North and West; seek long-range state or federal support.

 

-- Do the same on a private basis, with foundations and corporations and individuals contributing.

 

-- Any combination of public and private sponsorship. All sounded easier in saying than in the prospect of doing.

 

Plan MOVE was simple: Clear out and either build a new home for the sculptures or find one.

 

-- "The Hall of Fame can be relocated in the park on Washington Square. It would perhaps have removed some of the nostalgia of alumni for the Heights, but the cost accounting alone might have accomplished that. Vice President John O'Mara said the price would be prohibitive.

 

Plan MOVE included a surprising number of other proposals:

 

-- One elector from the Midwest, Jenkin Lloyd Jones, after visiting the Bronx campus, wrote in late 1973:

 

My opinion . . . was not changed, only reinforced . . . Confucius say, 'People who run museums no go lookee need heads chop-chop.' Would Helen Gould have underwritten a hall of fame to be placed . . . on the campus of an obscure community college? . . . Of course not. The prestige of New York University has been removed.

 

The Bronx has changed in three quarters of a century. Many people rightly or wrongly consider that its neighborhoods fronting the Harlem River are dangerous. It is a pretty safe bet that the Hall will draw fewer people in coming years . . . As a national shrine it is finished.

 

Strong stuff, but not without support among electors. Dr. Harold Howe, who, as Vice President of the Ford Foundation, visited the Hall of Fame and the uptown campus in 1973 at the request of mayor-to-be Ed Koch, said bluntly, "It was a god awful mess." The Lloyd Jones recommendation was to:

 

. . .seize the approaching bicentennial of the nation to get interest in and financing for the removal [of the busts] to Washington some already visited attraction where the busts will be seen and appreciated by millions.

 

We have no way of interviewing the dead, but what do you want to bet that Helen Gould wouldn't have demanded the latter?

 

We do in fact know of people who make a living by talking to the dead. In this instance, however, nobody seems to have bet anything. And Washington, it turned out, was no answer, and in any event had no answer except "no."

 

Suggestions for other new locations were not lacking:

 

-- The World Trade Center. World Trade Center?

 

-- The Botanical Gardens. Deadly nightshade.

 

-- The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Discussions were initiated with the Met and even pursued for a time. Apparently Director Thomas Hoving expressed a willingness to accept the sculptures, but no satisfactory agreement could be reached on terms of transfer and ownership. "Take them or leave them" seemed to be the Met's attitude. Robert Moses said, "I think Tom Hoving took some of us for a ride."

 

-- The U.S. General Services Administrator said that if asked he would try to find a site for the busts. What about, for example, the old U.S. Custom House at the bottom of Manhattan? Designs were prepared for the Rotunda and adjoining rooms, but nothing more. The building was then altered to house the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for New York. Then the American Indian Museum. Two close calls.

 

-- A late U.S. Congressman for New York, Jonathan Bingham, willing to do his part to save at least the remnants, made inquiries at the National Park service, which fortunately was not interested. He also tried the Smithsonian, as did others. The Smithsonian, however, apparently had its own problems, and the cost was sky-high anyway. What they or the Park Service would have done with the sculptures makes interesting conjecture.

 

All suggestions were honest attempts to find an ethical if not an aesthetic solution to fiscal failure. All turned out to be short-lived when it was announced that the Hall of Fame, which since 1900 had been run by the New York University Senate, would stay in place and be run jointly by an independent board of trustees, composed of representatives of NYU and The City University of New York (CUNY) equally. Together, they would furnish financial support. The trustees would control elections and seek new financing; and the Hall of Fame complex would be owned and controlled by CUNY. Dr. Jerry Grundfest, was made executive director in 1975, replacing Russell Niles, who some months earlier had departed for California.

 

The new Board of Trustees, with Dr. Louis Quero-Chiesa, former chairman of the City Board of Higher Education as president, included:

 

Donald Darcy, President, North Side Savings Bank, Bronx

 

Seymour Hyman, Vice-Chancellor, City University of New York

 

Orison Marden, partner, White and Case

 

Arthur Motley, Chairman, Parade Publications

 

William F. Payne, executive Vice President for Planning and Development, New York University

 

Mina Rees, retired former President, City University Graduate School

 

Whitney North Seymour, Sr., senior partner, Simpson, Thatcher, Bartlett

 

David Starr, Editor, Long Island Press

 

Taggart Whipple, partner, Davis, Polk & Wardwell

 

One of the first moves of the trustees was to change the Rules of Election. They cut the number of categories of election from fifteen to five: Arts, Sciences, Humanities, Government, and Business & Labor. The move was called "less of a change that a restatement and simplification of older categories." The electors were to be no fewer than 100, each appointed for twelve years, or four elections, and at least one from each state; elections thenceforth, were to be held every three years. An elector was assigned to one of the five categories, and a candidate was to be elected in each category.

 

A selection committee from each category was to do the sorting out and checking of nominations to keep the quality superior. Qualifications remained the same: U.S. citizens, dead at least 25 years. On the final ballot, the electors ranked the candidates in order of their preferences, and a cumulative point system decided the winner in each category.

 

In the eyes of some observers, the five new categories of election contained enough sub-categories to bring the total number to 25, increasing rather than subtracting by ten. As always, much depended on the judgment of the selection committees.

 

It is difficult to say how effective the new "restatement" of the electoral system might have been in the long run, for it was put to work only once -- in the election of 1976, when Luther Burbank, Clara Barton, and Andrew Carnegie were named.

 

Public notice was continuing to fade. Money was getting scarcer; and, it was claimed, NYU was still facing a deficit despite a net gain of several million dollars from the sale of the Heights. President Hester had resigned, and it was felt by the new administration that something more had to be cut.

 

Shortly after New Year's Day in 1977, an announcement appeared in the press that the Hall of Fame would be without funds in six months; that there would be no more room in the Colonnade for busts unless space were found through expansion or relocation; and that the joint contribution of $125,000 by NYU and City University would end. Grundfest said he would try to run it as an independent, nonprofit corporation in the hope that the trustees would raise money. That was June.

 

By September, 1977, the Hall of Fame was broke, and it was doubtful that Burbank, Brandeis, Roosevelt, Barton and Carnegie would ever be mounted in bronze.

 

Carver supporters had done a good job and slipped him in on his own. The Colonnade was open, but there was no information booth, no staff other that Grundfest, who noted that in its best years -- the 20s and 30s -- when it was maturing, albeit with considerable growing pain, it had received as many as 50,000 visitors a year. Not in 1977, in a rundown neighborhood, several blocks from the nearest subway. He doubted the uncommissioned busts would ever be sculptured or any more great Americans voted in.

 

Art Critic Ada Louise Huxtable delivered a cruel blow. "Like other residents of changing areas, the immortals have to move on, provided someone wants them and can pay the costs." Then she too found it irresistible to go into a recitation on the transitoriness of fame in these days of media event and instant replay. She admitted that yesterday's heroes do have some champions.

 

Her redeeming conclusion was that it would be a shame to dismantle or dismember it, for the Hall of Fame "is an aesthetic whole." That idea is confirmed by most people who know the Hall well. To them, it is not just a sound conclusion. It is the only conclusion.

 

Before the end of 1977, everything seemed finished; administrators and money, gone. More than a year passed. In a shrine, however neglected, time is nothing in the face of eternity. By 1979, the independent
Board of Trustees, having been able to raise money, was dissolved. City University, under the state, was now sole-owner of the Hall of Fame, and Bronx Community College was given the job of running it. Dr. Roscoe Brown, Jr., President of the College, got close to $3 million from N.Y. State to renovate the Colonnade and its substructure, which was daily becoming more unsteady, standing on a steep hill of memories. The Hall was in effect closed while the rehabilitation took place during 1980-1986.

 

(One of the last documents prepared by the staff before closure, was a nominations form for the elections of 1979, stating that nominations would be open until March 31 of that year. It gave the names of the candidates who would appear automatically on the ballot, since they had placed second or third in the 1976 election: George Gershwin, Lewis and Clark, John Frank Stevens, Charles Evans Hughes, Henry Ford and -- for the eighteenth time -- Noah Webster. Pathos.)

 

 

The Hall Today