Morningside Heights campus

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From Wikipedia's article on Columbia University.

The Morningside Heights campus is the main graduate and undergraduate campus, located in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. It occupies 36 acres. It is the third, and final campus of the school, following the Park Place campus, and the Midtown campus.

Campus geography

The Morningside Heights campus's main footprint is bound by 114th and 120th Streets between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue, and between 116th Street and 118th Street between Amsterdam Avenue and Morningside Drive. The latter area is collectively referred to as 'East Campus', which is also the name of the massive 20 story undergraduate residence hall on the northeast part of the plot.

In addition to the area above, often referred to as 'the campus', Columbia owns a substantial majority of the buildings in the neighborhood, a number of which are undergraduate residence halls, graduate student apartments, and faculty housing. As a result, much of the immediately surrounding neighborhood is effectively an extension of the McKim, Mead, and White designed campus.


Columbia had been looking for more space ever since it decided to move from its original Park Place campus. The move to midtown was expected to be temporary until a more suitable location was found. In fact, in 1872 Columbia took control of the 8 acre Wheelock property in Washington Heights, but decided in 1878 not to move there. Moving on to the Upper Estate was also considered, but rejected (the rental income was probably too good.)

With no room left to build on the one-block Midtown campus, Seth Low organized a trustees committee on site in 1891. The committee rejected staying in midtown, dispersing the school, or moving to Westchester. That summer, clerk of the trustees John B. Pine suggested the site of the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum, which had been up for sale since 1888. Columbia secured an option on 2/3 of the Asylum's property for $2 million.

The initial solicitation of funds from alumni and other person to purchase the campus yielded $427,150. This was probably the first concerted fundraising effort in Columbia history, and it's notable that only $136,150 of the total was raised by alumni, and that number is inflated by William C. Schermerhorn's $100,000 gift. Other major donors included J.P. Morgan and Cornelius Vanderbilt who each gave gifts of $100,000. Ultimately Columbia used the money from selling the Midtown campus land and a $1 million mortgage to raise the full $2 million.

It's also worth noting that Pine's 1892 report also recommended buying up the hospital's land south of 116th Street and west of Broadway, and even suggested leasing a block between 119th and 120th streets west of Broadway to Barnard College.

While New York Hospital, which owned the 2 blocks directly south of Columbia's campus between Amsterdam and Broadway had granted Columbia use of the empty, Columbia kept an agreement with the hospital for first crack at the land if it ever went on sale. In 1899 Columbia offerred $2 million for the land plot, the same amount it had paid for its original lot of twice the size. The hospital countered with $2.6 million and Columbia blinked. In 1902 the hospital informed Columbia that it was putting the land on sale for $2.25 million, but the school didn't have the money to make the purchase. President Butler rounded up three wealthy supporters of the school to buy land on mortgage and hold on to it while Columbia raised the funds. One year later Columbia was forced to sell off 1 block of the Upper Estate to finance the purchase.

In 1910 Columbia purchased the first portion of "East Field", the portion of campus that would later be known as East Campus. The 116th Street half of the block between 116th and 117th Amsterdam and Morningside Drive was bought with a $1 million gift from the Vanderbilt family.[1] The northern half of the block, fronting on 117th street, was bought in 1914 for $475,000. Sometime later Columbia also bought the block to the north.

Starting in 1919 Columbia started buying up housing stock in the neighborhood for faculty purposes.


See History of the Morningside Heights campus

The Morningside Heights campus was built in line with Seth Low's vision of a campus where all disciplines could be taught. It is located in Morningside Heights. The campus was designed along Beaux-Arts principles by acclaimed architects McKim, Mead, and White and is considered one of their best works. Its original open, urban feel has been somewhat modified by the addition of such buildings as Butler Library, which have served to almost fully enclose its interior open space.

Expansion issues

New buildings and structures on the campus, especially those built following the Second World War, have often only been constructed after a contentious process often involving open debate and protest over the new structures. Often the complaints raised by these protests during these periods of expansion have included issues beyond the debate over the construction of any of the architectural features which diverged from the original McKim, Mead, and White plan, and often involved complaints against the administration of the university. This was the case with Uris Hall, which sits behind Low Library, built in the 1960s, as well as the more recent Alfred Lerner Hall, a deconstructivist structure completed in 1998 and designed by Columbia's then-Dean of Architecture, Bernard Tschumi. Elements of these same issues have been reflected in the current debate over the future expansion of the campus into Manhattanville, several blocks uptown from the current campus.

Extent of Columbia properties

The campus occupies more than six city blocks, or 32 acres (132,000 m²). The university owns over 7,000 apartments in Morningside Heights, which house faculty, graduate students, and staff. Several undergraduate dormitories (purpose-built or converted) are also located in the surrounding neighborhood.

Historic buildings

Several buildings on the Morningside Heights campus are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Low Memorial Library, the centrepiece of the campus, is listed for its architectural significance. Philosophy Hall is listed as the site of the invention of FM radio. Also listed is Pupin Hall, which houses the physics and astronomy departments, where initial experiments on the nuclear fission of uranium were conducted by Enrico Fermi. The uranium atom was split there ten days after the world's first atom-splitting in Copenhagen, Denmark.


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Historic campus maps

Preceded by
Midtown campus
Campus of Columbia University 
Succeeded by

External links


  1. Dolkart offers a cited references that the land was bought for $1 million. McCaughey suggests $2 Million and the Vanderbilts as the source.