Photographs by Jonathan Harkel
Text by Laura Barlament
Wagner College’s history stretches back 135 years. In 1883, two German Lutheran pastors opened the Lutheran Proseminary of Rochester, New York — the direct ancestor of today’s Wagner.
During the next 35 years, two major moves brought the fledgling school closer to the College we know today. First, in 1886, it was renamed Wagner Memorial Lutheran College, in memory of J. George Wagner Jr., son of a College benefactor, Rochester businessman John G. Wagner.
The second major move came 100 years ago, in 1918: the relocation of the campus from Rochester to Grymes Hill in Staten Island.
In celebration of a century “upon the hill” — this beautiful hill “looking out to sea,” as the alma mater says — we present this “rephotography” feature.
To produce this feature, we selected archival images of the campus from the years 1918 to 1958. We then analyzed the original locations and angles of those scenes so that we could “rephotograph” them as closely as possible.
As you compare the scenes of then and now side by side, we hope you enjoy discovering new insights into how things have changed — and, even more remarkably, how they have stayed the same
The archival aerial photograph is dated December 1946. Enrollment was booming with the end of World War II and advent of the G.I. Bill. The small buildings to the right of Main Hall were part of the “Veterans Village,” student housing built with war-surplus construction materials. Those buildings were not the sturdiest structures, and they were removed after a storm severely damaged them in November 1950. North Hall and South Hall (today’s Parker and Reynolds) were the other dormitories; Main Hall was the classroom building, library, and gym. The enrollment was 833 in fall 1946.
Today, Wagner’s enrollment is about 2,300. The campus has four residence halls that, together, can house more than 1,400 students: Guild (1951), Parker Towers (1964), Harborview (1968), and Foundation (2010). With Campus Hall (1957), Horrmann Library (1961), Spiro Hall and Megerle Hall (1968), and the Union (1970), the campus has vastly more square feet of academic, administrative, and dining space, not to mention the 93,000-square-foot Spiro Sports Center (1999, not shown in this picture).
Photographer Jonathan Harkel skillfully imitated the height and angle of the archival photo as closely as possible using a DJI Phantom 4 Pro unmanned aerial vehicle (a.k.a., a drone). Beyond the expanded campus facilities, note the addition of the Staten Island Expressway (opened in 1964).
Main Hall (originally called the Administration Building) was built between the summer of 1928 and February 1930. Designed by George Conable, it became the College’s architectural signature. The Sutter Oval with its tree-lined walkway, as we know it today, came about when the senior class of 1932 made a gift of 38 London plane trees to the College. Those trees, small in the photo from the 1950s, are still standing (except for one) and have grown to impressive size. In the late 1980s, President Norman Smith had the brick walkways installed, and he banned parking and football practice from the Oval. Under President Richard Guarasci, Main Hall underwent an extensive restoration in 2011–12.
Guild Hall, opened in 1951, was Wagner’s first residence hall built for women. Wagner was an all-male institution until 1933; by 1950, women accounted for more than a third of total enrollment. In the 1950s photo, you can see Brooklyn across the Verrazzano Narrows waterway; in the new photo, two prominent additional structures are visible, which both opened in 1964: Wagner’s Parker Towers Hall and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
This panoramic photo of the Wagner campus in 1918 shows all of the original campus buildings — all of which are still in use today.
Before Wagner acquired the property, it served as a summer resort colony known as the Bellevue Club or the Hotel Belleview. The resort built the two Prairie Style cottages on the left around 1905. Wagner used them for various purposes over the years; in 2001–02, the two small buildings were renovated and connected to make the Pape Admissions House.
Past the two cottages stands the house built in 1918 for President Adolf Holthusen and his family. In the very early days, when the College had little money, much of the students’ food was donated by the women of nearby Trinity Lutheran Church and cooked in this house by Clara Holthusen, Adolf’s wife. Today, the Holthusens’ former home is known as Kairos House, which hosts the campus ministry program, Knubel Chapel, and offices for the student newspaper, the Wagnerian.
In the middle of the 1918 picture, mostly hidden by a large tree, is the Bellevue resort annex (today’s Reynolds House); keep scrolling down to see photos and read more about that building.
Finally, on the right, stands the oldest building on the Wagner campus: an Italianate villa built circa 1852 by Edward and Mary Cunard. Edward Cunard’s father, Samuel Cunard, was the founder of the famous Cunard shipping line. Mary died in 1866 and Edward in 1869; several of their children continued to live at the house with their maternal grandmother until 1873. A man named Amzi Lorenzo Barber bought the house and its property in 1889. He used it as his summer residence for four seasons. After that, it was leased to various parties, who operated a summer resort at the old villa and its grounds. It has served the College in many ways over the years; from the 1920s until the 1950s, the dining hall was located there. Today, Cunard Hall houses the administrative offices for business and finance, the registrar, and financial aid, as well as classrooms and offices for the physician assistant program.
Around 1905, the Bellevue resort built these two Prairie Style cottages. When Wagner bought the property in 1917, it winterized them to make them serviceable year-round. For many years, two professors and their families lived in each cottage. After World War II, Wagner began using the cottages for new purposes. In the 1956 college catalogue, one of them was identified as the Senior Honor House, home to seven female students. By 1958, Ivy House (as it came to be called) was a residence for 14 women. By the early 1980s, the old cottages were being used for the admissions and security offices. In 2001–02, the cottages underwent a dramatic metamorphosis. Henry V. Pape ’36 dedicated about $300,000 to refurbishing buildings from his days on campus. This gift allowed the College to add a connecting structure between the two cottages and build a new porch and exterior. Today, it is known as the Pape Admissions House.
Reynolds House has always been a part of Wagner College’s Grymes Hill campus. It was built around 1905 as part of the Bellevue resort. It featured a two-tiered entry porch with two-story columns, giving it an elegant look in the old color photo from a 1958 postcard. At that time, the building was North Hall, a women’s dormitory. In the 1970s, it became the Music Building, and the College removed the grand front porch. The Japanese cherry trees framing the view, however, still bloom every spring. They were planted around 1940. Today, Reynolds House is home to the College’s alumni, communications, and development offices. It was dedicated in 2001 in memory of William Reynolds (1918–1998), a former Wagner trustee. He and his wife, Margaret “Peggy” Bambach Buck Reynolds ’40 H’98, have been instrumental in strengthening the financial foundations of the College and enhancing its beauty.
The archival photo was identified as “New parking lot, fall 1956.” In the new photo, you see the typical cars of 2018 and a relatively new emergency call box, sitting in the approximately same old parking lot. The old photo also shows the side of the Sutter Gym, built in 1951. The gym underwent a major expansion in 1999, tripling the building’s original size. It was named the Spiro Sports Center in honor of benefactors Dr. Donald W. ’49 H’88 and Dr. Evelyn L. ’49 H’92 Spiro.