Cunard Hall (ca. 1852)
Cunard Hall, the Administration Building, the Hotel Belleview, Westwood — whatever you call it, the three-story, red brick, Italianate villa is by far the oldest building on Wagner College’s Grymes Hill campus.
It was built around 1852 by Edward Cunard, the son and heir of Canadian shipping magnate Samuel Cunard. Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Edward came to New York around 1840 to represent the Cunard shipping line. In 1849, he married Mary Bache McEvers of New York. The following year, the Cunards bought property on Staten Island and built a house, which they called Westwood.
Mary Cunard died in 1866 at age 38 while giving birth to their eighth child; her husband died just three years later at the age of 53. Several of their children stayed at Westwood for a few years under the care of their maternal grandmother. When they left Staten Island in 1873, emigrating to England, the children put the house up for sale.
It was finally bought in 1889 by Amzi Lorenzo Barber, an Oberlin College graduate and trustee and former Howard University professor who had made his fortune paving the streets of Washington, D.C. Barber used the villa as his summer residence for four seasons. For several years after that, it was leased to various parties as a hotel or boarding house, known variously as the Bellevue Club and the Hotel Belleview. Following Barber’s death in 1909, the property passed into the hands of Oberlin College, from which Wagner Memorial Lutheran College purchased it in September 1917. The College called it the Administration Building.
In April 1970, Cunard Hall was the scene of a two-day occupation by African-American and Puerto Rican students seeking to pressure the College to become more diverse. The incident, recently memorialized in an alumni symposium, led directly to the hiring of the College’s first black administrators and faculty members and the establishment of a black studies program. — Lee Manchester