From its founding in 1883 until the end of World War II, Wagner had been a very small institution — enrollment never broke the 500 mark before 1942 — but with the postwar boom fueled by the GI Bill®, enrollment nearly tripled in 1946. By 1951, we had nearly 2,000 students.
And it wasn’t just soldiers, sailors, and marines returning from the war who were enrolling in record numbers. Women (first admitted in 1933) accounted for more than a third of total enrollment — and the need for new housing was acute.
To design a women’s dormitory, we turned to one of our own: noted architect Herbert E. Matz, whose work has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A member of our Board of Trustees from 1936 to 1958, Matz also served in the Department of Church Architecture for the United Lutheran Church. His firm, Bessell & Matz, was also responsible for the design of the Sutter Gymnasium, now a part of the Spiro Sports Center, and a men’s dormitory opened in 1957, Campus Hall.
The architectural style of Matz’s Guild Hall is difficult to identify. The May 1949 issue of the Wagner College Bulletin said that “the style of the new dormitory is Georgian, Dutch origin,” but the actual execution is more eclectic than that. It has the identifying architectural features of 15 different styles, but it doesn’t entirely fit into any one of them.
“Although it is a big building, what it’s really trying to be is a large vernacular country house of masonry construction with a simple fenestration, a broad roof and just a few distinguishing architectural details,” said architectural historian Stephen Engelhart, executive director of Adirondack Architectural Heritage — in other words, the new women’s residence hall was designed for “hominess,” not for monumental impact. Engelhart suggested the French Eclectic style as a good description.
At the December 1, 1951, dedication, the program was opened by Ave Holthusen Futchs, president of the Wagner College Guild and daughter of the College’s first president, Pastor Adolf Holthusen. It seems appropriate that this dorm, with its homelike architecture, was named for the Wagner College Guild, a group that has provided constant support and helped students feel at home on campus since the College’s earliest days on Staten Island. — Lee Manchester