Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Brandeis Grape Arbor?

A member of the Brandeis Orientation Committee once asked us:
“Was there really a grape arbor on the Brandeis campus?”
The answer is YES. In fact, in the same approximate area (near the current Science complex) there was a grape arbor, a wishing well, and a quaint crescent-shaped building affectionately called the Banana Building. The wishing well was a popular hangout for students and couples in the 1950s, a fact documented in photographs from the time period.
The Banana Building’s name derived from its shape and color: yellow with a light-green roof. Formerly a Middlesex University building, it served as a small animal hospital for the veterinary school. After Brandeis was founded, it became the first campus bookstore and
housed the offices of early student newspapers.
The Brandeis Master Plan, begun in the early 1950s, did not accommodate rustic and quirky structures like the Banana Building, the grape arbor, the wishing well, and the old horse stable that served as the first library. The Modernist-style buildings that soon populated the campus overshadowed and clashed with these pastoral structures, and they were eventually razed to make way for the burgeoning campus.
To find out more about these and other early campus structures, visit our online exhibit "Building Brandeis: Style and Function of a University," at:

Debunking Urban Legends about Brandeis Architecture

Much of the following information may be found in Gerald S. Bernstein’s An Architectural Celebration of Brandeis University’s 50th Anniversary (1999).

Was Spingold Theater designed to resemble a top hat?
No. Drawings indicate that the theater’s original design was much flatter; it was eventually elongated, most likely to enhance the building’s acoustics.

Was the Slosberg Music Center designed to resemble a grand piano?
No. The building did not include its signature “glass curtain” windows on all four sides until a major addition was built in 1963. Many have claimed that the structure’s 88 windows were intended to represent the 88 keys of a piano — a fortuitous coincidence.

Does the Castle have secret passageways?
Yes. Early architect Archie Riskin surveyed the structure and found sliding panels and apartments accessible by secret passageways.
Was the Castle modeled after a Scottish castle?
No. The Castle is an eclectic, Gothic-style structure loosely based on medieval castles from England and Ireland, most notably Cavendish Castle (Ireland). It is also reminiscent of buildings at Cambridge and Oxford Universities (England).
Was Usdan Student Center designed to prevent student takeovers in response to the Ford Hall takeover of 1969?
No. Usdan was originally designed ca. 1965, before the occurrence of the Ford Hall takeover (January 1969). It was built in the Brutalist style, defined by massive brick walls and raw concrete. The design connected four buildings around an open courtyard; it has been suggested that its many entrances/exits were intended to comply with fire code requirements. But this design was also convenient in attracting donors after whom a hall of the building could be named. Of note: Usdan Student Center was built on the former Middlesex Reservoir.

Now Available: Lawrence H. Fuchs Papers

Processing has been completed on the Lawrence H. Fuchs Papers and the online finding aid to the collection is available, here: Lawrence H. Fuchs papers.
Lawrence H. Fuchs, now a professor emeritus, founded the American Studies department at Brandeis University and was a key player in the early Peace Corps, the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy, and the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform. He co-taught several classes at Brandeis with his friend and associate Eleanor Roosevelt.
The Fuchs collection (1948-2002) comprises 68 cubic feet and contains biographical materials, American Studies departmental and curricular materials, and records documenting Fuchs’s involvement in a range of educational, political, governmental, and community organizations.
Fuchs authored many books, including Hawaii Pono: A Social History (1961), American Ethnic Politics (1968), Family Matters (1973), The American Kaleidoscope: Race, Ethnicity, and the Civic Culture (1991), and Beyond Patriarchy: Jewish Fathers and Families (2000). He was principal author of the texts Black in White America (1974) and The American Experiment (1981) and published extensively in academic journals and periodicals on the subjects of immigration, refugees, and ethnicity.

What was Middlesex University?

Middlesex University was a medical and veterinary school that previously occupied the land now belonging to Brandeis University. The Middlesex College of Medicine and Surgery, as it was first called, was established in 1914 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Its founder, John Hall Smith, moved the institution to Waltham, Massachusetts in 1928 and shortly thereafter began construction on the school’s emblematic structure, Smith Castle.
Unlike most medical schools at the time, Middlesex did not have quotas in its admissions policy and granted medical degrees to marginalized populations including Jews, African Americans, and women. The veterinary and liberal arts schools opened in 1935 and the university expanded its footprint with a new structure called Main Hall (and later Science Hall) that accommodated examination tables for horses. Prior to World War II, Middlesex offered instruction in the schools of medicine, liberal arts, pharmacy, podiatry, and veterinary medicine.
In 1944, a law was passed making it necessary for all schools offering medical degrees to be officially recognized by the American Medical Association (AMA). Middlesex was one of the few schools that failed the AMA’s accreditation and had to close its doors due to lack of support and funds. The last medical degrees were granted from 1945-1947 in accelerated wartime and postwar programs. Many graduates who applied after January 1, 1941, were not eligible to take the state boards in order to acquire licensure.
The Middlesex Board of Directors sought to attract the interest of those wishing to open a new school, preferably a nonsectarian university that granted medical degrees. In 1946, the school signed over its charter and deeds to Brandeis University, which admitted its first class in the fall of 1948. Brandeis never opened a medical school, but did maintain the nonsectarian and quota-free admissions system initiated by Middlesex.*
Brandeis University inherited several notable buildings from Middlesex University, among them: Smith Castle (renamed Usen Castle, the only Middlesex building still standing today), Main or Science Hall (renamed Ford Hall), and the library, a converted horse stable. The campus also retained a semi-circular yellow and green structure affectionately named the Banana Building, as well as a wishing well, grape arbor, and apple orchard.
The Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections Department maintains the archives of Middlesex University and its staff regularly responds to questions about Middlesex and its graduates.

The finding aid for Middlesex University can be found at:
Photographs from the collection can be found at:
Catalogs and Bulletins for the school under the corporate name of Middlesex University are here and those under other corporate names are here.

*For more information on the transition from Middlesex to Brandeis, see Brandeis University: Chapter of Its Founding by Israel Goldstein.