Before coming to Wagner College, I was a historic preservation writer for the Lake Placid (N.Y.) News. I brought with me a heightened sense of what “ordinary” buildings have to tell us about the extraordinary decisions that shape our communities.
At Wagner, I was faced with competing institutional values — between preserving the historic nature of our campus buildings, and being able to continue using them for academic, residential and administrative purposes.
We faced that choice in 1977 when we tore down the crumbling two-level porch on North Hall (now called Reynolds House) rather than rebuild it, dedicating our limited dollars to rehabbing the building for continued use. That porch was one of the defining architectural features of a building that had stood on our campus since before it was a campus — but we could have preserved it only by sacrificing the more utilitarian refurbishment of the rest of the building.
We faced that choice again last year when we rebuilt much of the exterior of Cunard Hall, the oldest building on our campus. All of the outside woodwork was disintegrating — the eaves, the window frames, and especially the ancient, ornate, full-length front porch of the beautiful Italianate villa. We knew something had to be done, and quickly — pandemic or no pandemic. The question was, as always: What could we afford? So we did what we could with what we had. In the end, we refreshed the facade of Cunard, but we lost a really significant architectural feature of this historic building: its lovely porch.
After Wagner Magazine reported on the Cunard project, an alumnus with a career in historic preservation, Gene Barfield ’75, wrote to protest.
“I wonder sometimes if I’m the only Wagnerian who understands what a priceless teaching tool the campus itself is,” Gene said. “It is an eclectic collection of sites, structures and objects of such variety that it is the perfect embodiment of the history and development of the American college environment. It is nationally unique in more than one regard.”
The Wagner College community has never really had a conversation about the value of historic preservation, especially in the face of straitened financial resources and the continuing demands of maintaining our building stock in usable condition.
What do you think about the importance of preserving Wagner’s historic assets? Tell us! Write to us, as Gene did … and continue making the gifts that help make Wagner’s preservation decisions easier.
Editor, Wagner Magazine