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The Carnegie Building 1911-2015

carnegie building fire 1-27-2015 (4)In the early hours of January 27, 2015, fire broke out in the Carnegie Building on the UR’s historic Prince Street Campus. The building was being renovated at the time, and was largely empty. Structural engineers will look at the building today to see if it can be saved.

History of the Carnegie Building, from May’s History of the University of Rochester:

It was revealed on March 28, 1905, that the steel magnate, Andrew Carnegie, would donate $100,000 for an applied science building on condition that the U. of R. acquired an equal amount in endowment. William R. Willcox, non-graduate 1888, a lawyer and politician of New York City and an intimate of Carnegie, helped to obtain the offer. Notwithstanding Carnegie’s almost complete commitment to financing libraries, Willcox and Rhees, working in double harness, managed to get the promise of $100,000, which would be adequate not only to erect but also to equip a building for both mechanical and electrical engineering, it was optimistically supposed…

It was clear to Rhees that it would be an exceptionally hard task to match the Carnegie offer, not least because two wealthy Rochester friends of the college, George Eastman and Hiram W. Sibley, had just promised to finance other University projects…Trustees estimated that if alumni and friends living outside of Rochester contributed $30,000 to the “Applied Science Fund,” the rest could be secured within the Genesee community itself. Great reliance was placed upon the graduates in the New York City area, for whose information, primarily, a special brochure, “The U. of R.: its Story,” was prepared. In synopsis form, the pamphlet reviewed the history of the institution (not accurate in every detail) and it contained an attractive “Plan for Progress.” SitePlan1906A diagram of the college grounds depicted the existing academic structures and spotted sites that had already been selected for residence halls, an auditorium, an art museum, and other buildings without designation. Photographs of university buildings, homes of the fraternities among them, embellished the most elaborate production on the University, that had yet been printed.

It seems that New York graduates pledged about $17,500, much less than had been anticipated, and the campaign as a whole was lamed by the previous solicitation of funds and by a business recession in 1907. Hiram W. Sibley, son of a generous benefactor, told Rhees “quite kindly, but frankly” that his entire interest in scientific education was focused on Cornell. Perhaps John D. Rockefeller, Sr., would come to the rescue…

Instead of a direct approach, Rhees sought an appropriation from the Rockefeller-financed General Education Board, headed by Frederick T. Gates, class of 1877. This gambit paid off, for the Board promised $30,000 if the remainder of the $70,000 required for the Applied Science Fund were raised. By the end of 1908, three years after the solicitation began, the necessary sum was in hand.

The building opened in 1911, and was was renovated in 1930 for the study of geology, psychology, and sociology, and in 1944 the upper floors were converted for dormitory use by the College for Women, according to Melissa Mead, the John M. and Barbara Keil University Archivist and Rochester Collections Librarian. The University sold the building in 1955, after the merger of the Men’s and Women’s campuses.

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