We have a saying carved behind the bench of the MacDonald Court Room, ‘The law must be stable, and yet it cannot stand still,’” says Stewart J. Schwab, the Allan R. Tessler Dean and Professor of Law. “Generations of students have seen that quote, and I think it’s equally true of the school itself: The Law School must be stable, and yet it cannot stand still. Even in the midst of transition, there is a sense of majesty, an attention to detail, a timeless quality to these buildings, reminding us, each time we pass by the Collegiate Gothic of Myron Taylor Hall or walk into the Gould Reading Room or gaze up at the Peace Tower, of our part in this grand tradition.”
“We should look into the future with reference to those departments which will round out our existing institution to full university proportions, especially the departments of law and medicine,” he wrote in 1884, describing his own position on the topic as “most favorable.” Acting on White’s goal of graduating “well-trained, large-minded, morally based lawyers in the best sense,” which stood in stark contrast to the “swarms of hastily prepared pettifoggers” he saw practicing in courts around him, the Department of Law formally opened its doors in September 1887. Compared to the apprenticeships and clerkships that were then the norm, it was an enormously ambitious, systematic undertaking, with three resident professors, four nonresidential lecturers, fifty-five entering students, and a law library of 7,000 volumes filling the fourth floor of Morrill Hall.
Built in Second Empire style, using bluestone quarried from the foot of Libe Slope, Morrill Hall comprised three unconnected sections, each with its own separate entrance: faculty offices in the south, student dormitories in the north, and classrooms in between. With few amenities, the building had its early critics—Professor Goldwin Smith dismissed Morrill Hall and its neighbors, saying, “Nothing can redeem them but dynamite”— and within three years, as law enrollment almost doubled, the administration recognized the need for a larger space.
““While the accommodations thus far have been ample, yet, if the attendance continues to increase, more spacious quarters must be provided,” wrote Professor Harry B. Hutchins, one of the school’s original faculty members. “The authorities and the friends of the school realize this; and a building, to be devoted exclusively to its use, will, without doubt, be erected in the near future. Although young in years, the School of Law of Cornell University must, we think, be regarded as far beyond the experimental stage, and as giving promise of a future that will more than meet the most sanguine expectations of those who were immediately instrumental in its founding.”
By 1891, as enrollment continued to boom, trustees approved a plan to build Boardman Hall, named in memory of the school’s first dean, Douglas Boardman. It was a three-story Romanesque building, constructed from Cleveland sandstone and designed by William Henry Miller, who had also built Uris Library, McGraw Tower, and the A.D. White House. At the 1893 dedication, with attendance nearly doubling again to 205 students, a trustee praised its numerous advantages over Morrill Hall, especially its vaulted ceilings, oak paneling, elegant furnishings, fourteen fireplaces, expanded library, steam heat, electric lights, and ventilation system, finding Boardman Hall “admirably adapted for law-school purposes.”
“It is no wonder that attendance has grown during the five years of [the Law School’s] existence . . . nor is it a matter of doubt that with our greatly improved facilities, the numbers will increase more rapidly in the future,” predicted Jacob Gould Schurman, the university’s third president. “I think it entirely within the mark to say that we are likely to have 500 students of law before the close of the century. But Boardman Hall, which we now formally dedicate, will accommodate them; and the Moak Library, which we now formally accept, will serve to instruct them—them and their successors, so long as the building and the books endure.”
More than a century later, many of those books still endure, though the world around them has changed in ways no one could have foreseen. Looking back, Dean Robert S. Stevens described those forty years at Boardman Hall as “the period when the Law School became of age. It had become a graduate school.” But instead of steadily increasing, student enrollment leveled off at the start of the twentieth century, and though Boardman Hall remained in use until 1959, the Law School had again outgrown its home before the end of the 1920s. (Of the original exterior, all that remains are eight carved stone heads near the entrance to Olin Library, where the building once stood.)
Faced with a shift toward more modern, seminar-based teaching, the Law School needed a building with much greater flexibility and found its benefactor in Myron C. Taylor, LL.B. 1894, chief executive officer of United States Steel Corporation. Preliminary sketches of the new law campus by F. Ellis Jackson appealed immediately to Taylor, depicting an imposing central tower flanked by wings at the north and south, which would hold a large reading room, moot courtroom, library, lecture halls, seminar rooms, faculty offices, men’s and women’s lounges, and student locker rooms. On the exterior, carvings by Lee Lawrie, who would later sculpt the bronze Atlas that stands at Rockefeller Center, symbolized the establishment of international peace through law, as well as caricaturing archetypes of the judge, the jailer, the court crier, the pettifogger, the scrivener, and four symbols of the profession: the quill, the book, the seal, and the money bag.
“Law reigned supreme on the Cornell campus on October 15,” read the October 1932 edition of the Cornellian Council Bulletin. “In an impressive ceremony in the beautifully appointed Moot Court Room, Mrs. Myron C. Taylor formally handed over the keys to President [Livingston] Farrand, and Myron Taylor Hall, America’s newest center for legal training and research, was auspiciously launched on its career.”
At the celebration, Taylor talked about the building’s “higher significance, expressing inspiration, preparation, faith, cooperation, achievement, and reward.” Gazing around him, assistant law librarian Lewis W. Morse questioned whether failure was even possible: “Nurtured in this environment of architectural beauty,” he wrote, “how can the youth who here gain a splendid professional training fail to become imbued with the ideals envisioned by the generous founders for the advancement of the administration of justice?” The principal address by Cuthbert W. Pound ’87, chief judge of the New York State Court of Appeals, called upon the assembled Cornellians to “arise to meet and solve” the problems confronting the world by striking a balance between old and new, “not as the disciples of a rigid social philosophy, either conservative or liberal, but as students of the needs of today to be expressed in the legal formulas of the past.”
Opening in the depths of the Depression, the new building helped provide a renewed sense of optimism, a faith in the power of law, but there was little it could do to restore the ailing economy. All over the country, universities witnessed a significant decrease in enrollment, which continued until the end of the decade when the Second World War triggered a second decline, with particularly drastic repercussions at law schools. By 1943–44, after terms were shortened, courses eliminated, and faculty positions left unfilled, the Law School averaged thirty-one enrolled students, with much of Myron Taylor Hall pressed into service for the 800 attendees of Cornell’s Naval Training School.
With the end of the war and the return to civilian life, everything changed again. In 1945, a year after the passage of the G.I. Bill, 93 students were enrolled at Cornell Law, followed by 347 students in 1946, 375 students in 1947 and 1948, 412 students in 1949, and 459 students in 1950. The influx of veterans and the rise of post-war tensions helped spark a new focus on international and comparative law that quickly became one of the Law School’s greatest strengths, and even after enrollment peaked in 1950, many more people were using Myron Taylor Hall than the building had been intended to hold.
One solution was to build a residence hall, and in 1956, when Dean Gray Thoron approached Myron Taylor with a list of requests, the idea of creating “suitable living and dining facilities” was one Taylor found particularly satisfying. In the conversation that followed, he reminisced about Charles Evans Hughes, his favorite professor, who had sent a telegram to be read at the dedication of Myron Taylor Hall, describing the new building as “a far cry from the time we met on the top floor of one of the oldest buildings on the campus, and when a little later we first enjoyed the advantages of Boardman Hall.”
Though Taylor died while Hughes Hall was in the planning stages, it was his million dollar gift that made the building a reality, providing housing for 120 law students, along with a dining facility that served both students and the university community at large. Writing in the Cornell Law Review, Professor W. David Curtiss called it “a handsome building [that] permits the School to operate in the historic tradition of the English Inns of Court,” echoing Chief Justice Earl Warren, who wired his remarks to be read at the 1964 dedication. “I do not underestimate the educational importance of dining,” he wrote, unable to land at fogged-in Tompkins County Airport. “At the Inns of Court, England’s time-honored legal training bodies, the discussions about law which occur at the dinner table have over the centuries been a very significant part of a young barrister’s education.”
As intended, Hughes Hall proved attractive to potential law students, but the larger problem remained: After decades of increasing use, Myron Taylor Hall was beginning to show its age. “Myron Taylor Hall had been built for a much, much smaller student body and faculty than the school had grown into,” says Peter W. Martin, the Jane M.G. Foster Professor of Law Emeritus and former dean, who arrived at Cornell as a freshman in 1957. “It had been designed as if things wouldn’t change over time.”
By 1972, when Martin returned to teach at the Law School, the world had clearly changed, and the university had changed along with it. In what Martin calls “a dramatically different pattern of instruction,” there was a shift toward smaller class sizes, an expansion in the masters program, and a rising need for a range of different-sized classrooms. To address the increasing demands on the Law School, a proposal to convert Anabel Taylor Hall was raised, then dropped, while two other suggestions—building a new academic space underground and converting the stacks of Myron Taylor Hall to create more classrooms—were considered prohibitively expensive.
Instead, the Law School opted to create an extension adjoining both Myron Taylor Hall and Hughes, adding two floors for the library’s growing collection, along with a computer lab, study carrels, and administrative space for faculty and programs. Designed by Boston architects Shepley Bulfinch, the Jane Foster Library Addition fit seamlessly alongside Myron Taylor Hall, its Collegiate Gothic façade striking a balance between past and present.
“The architects did an exceptional job, and everyone applauded the way they dealt with the external challenge of building an addition onto Myron Taylor Hall,” says Martin, who oversaw the project as dean from 1980 to 1988. “The architects made sure to use essentially the same vocabulary, reopening the quarry that had been used on Myron Taylor Hall, bringing in roofers and stonemasons who knew how to work with these materials, and creating a sizable addition that’s perfectly compatible with the original. They designed a building that students and faculty alike enjoy working in, a space that is as successful viewed from the outside as it is used on the inside.”
Much of the design was driven by the need to expand and modernize the library, with an emphasis on installing the newest in computer technology and allowing greater networking capabilities for students, staff, and faculty. With the world still in the early stages of the digital revolution, the ways that people accessed data were starting to shift, but books remained the center of legal scholarship and research as universities scrambled to create new shelving for collections that were rapidly outgrowing their libraries.
“The Law School was a leader, both on campus and nationally, in the use of personal computers,” says Martin. “There was an enormous concern about space in the library—ironically, the wave of digital information was about to break, but the shift from printed to digital material wouldn’t hit legal scholars full force for another twenty years.”
President Frank H.T. Rhodes underlined the uncertainty of that transition at the building’s 1989 dedication, where he said the addition represented “a leap forward into a future full of trouble, full of difficulty, but full of promise.” Even at the cutting edge, those difficulties were encountered soon after the building opened, as research grew increasingly reliant on the Internet. Meanwhile, in another growing trend, students began opting out of Hughes Hall, choosing to live in the wave of newly constructed Collegetown apartment buildings and sparking plans to repurpose the dormitory and its dining hall.
At the start of this century, when faculty members met to discuss the next set of renovations, six main priorities were identified: additional classrooms; additional faculty and staff offices; additional room for new and existing academic programs, institutes, and centers; additional offices for student services; additional spaces for studying and informal gatherings; and improved circulation and accessibility across the Law School campus. “Currently, space for all Cornell Law programs is limited, but classrooms, student services, and gathering spaces are particularly inadequate,” concluded the Boston firm Ann Beha Architects (ABA), which had been chosen to create a new master plan. “Even with student enrollment anticipated to remain near the current level, the registrar and faculty agree that a substantial increase in classrooms and a reorganization of sizes and room configurations is urgently needed.”
As it had in the eighties, discussion began with a proposal to construct a building at the west side of Myron Taylor Hall and quickly reached the same conclusion: No, the Law School needed to expand without changing its existing footprint. But in the years that passed, the ground had shifted again, and in re-asking old questions, planners received new answers.
“In the past, we’d been told it would be very difficult to remove the library stacks without significantly impacting the structural integrity of the building,” says Richard F. Robinson, associate dean for administration and finance. “Essentially, the stacks have been holding up the roof since Myron Taylor Hall was built. But as part of planning this project, structural engineers have shown us how to add new supports that will allow us to remove the stacks from the center of the building. With that reduction in shelving space, we’ll be able to reconfigure about one-third of the square footage of library, which the digitization of the collection has, in part, made possible.”
In response to another old question, planners learned it was now cost-effective to construct a new classroom space beneath the lawn that stretches from Myron Taylor Hall in the south to Anabel Taylor Hall in the north, and from College Avenue in the east to the stone wall bordering Purcell Courtyard in the west. With those two answers, the rest of the master plan began taking shape.
“The plan we have adopted is distinctive in focusing on dramatically improving Myron Taylor Hall as an integral part of a larger plan that involves three phases,” says Professor Robert A. Green, one of three faculty members on the building committee. “We believe that centering the focus on Myron Taylor Hall results in a more coherent overall plan for the entire Law School campus than would have been the case with any of the other options, which focused more on the peripheries of the complex. Myron Taylor Hall is a beautiful Collegiate Gothic building, and this new plan will greatly enhance its attractiveness and functionality.”
“Myron Taylor Hall is a huge asset,” agrees Scott Aquilina, senior associate at ABA. “That’s Cornell Law’s iconic building, and it retains its enduring value. When we looked at Myron Taylor, we saw this beautiful, inspiring law library surrounded by offices and classrooms. But the library is no longer up to date, and at this point, it’s holding back the building. To change that, we’re celebrating the best of Myron Taylor, like the Gould Reading Room, and adapting other areas that have outgrown their original function. Our goal is to provide spaces that are commensurate with those at peer institutions, and to foster the level of community engagement that is at the center of the Law School’s aspirations.”
The first phase of construction, which began on July 2, will add 23,000 square feet of building space, creating a below-ground academic center with three tiered, state-of-the-art teaching spaces: a flexible 170-seat auditorium that will be the Law School’s largest classroom, with a 70-seat case study classroom on either side. Connecting the rooms at ground level, a breakout lobby will provide a view of the courtyard through four bay windows, and the addition’s one-story fieldstone façade, which replaces the current retaining wall, will unify the exteriors of the surrounding buildings into a Gothic quadrangle.
“By adding new lecture halls below grade, the school’s pressing needs for growth are accommodated without adversely impacting the existing architectural fabric,” says university architect Gilbert Delgado. “The architecture of the new lecture halls carefully considers and addresses the existing context, while maintaining its own reserved identity, and reinforces the central green as the heart of the Law School.”
As part of Phase I, the formal entrance to the Law School will be moved from the west side of campus, where it was placed to overlook Ithaca and Cayuga Lake, to the east façade of Myron Taylor Hall, where a new entryway, framed in bronze and limestone, will be inserted underneath the windows of the Gould Reading Room. “After years facing the parking lot, the main entry to the Law School will be now on College Avenue, which is the way most people come into the building,” says Kevin M. Clermont, the Robert D. Ziff Professor of Law, who chairs the building committee. “Coming through the doors, you’ll pass directly through the new lobby, the student center, and into the new academic addition. There will be a flow to the school, so that old and new classrooms will be much better integrated, and instead of having the library blocking access from one to the other, everything will be more closely connected, which will transform the way we go about our daily lives.” To simplify the circulation between the buildings for greater ease in passing from one to another and to create a more inviting place for gatherings, the Purcell Courtyard is being lowered three feet to meet Myron Taylor Hall at ground level with openings expanded (doors and windows) in the locker room.
In the second phase of construction, which planners hope to begin within five years, the stacks in Myron Taylor Hall will be removed—“melon-balled” in the architects’ lingo—and replaced by five floors that align with the rest of the building, two mid-sized classrooms, several seminar rooms, and offices for students services and programs. The locker room will be replaced with a common gathering area open to the courtyard. The library will be reconfigured on the new third, fourth, and fifth floors of the building, with flexible, modular shelving, improved study spaces, and new areas for library services.
In the third phase, the ongoing conversion of Hughes Hall will be finished, and the building will be rededicated to the Law School’s expanding academic programs, institutes, and centers. The footprint of the campus will remain unaltered, and years from now, another faculty committee will meet to discuss the next set of renovations, debating those same questions of change and stability. “The great advantage of this project is the way in which it offers these new resources, yet leaves the space around the buildings for future generations, should they need to build,” says Ann M. Beha, FAIA. “It is a very holistic plan for the Law School, offering the chance to expand and enhance its program, while preserving opportunities for future construction.”
With Phase I just begun and the sounds of heavy machinery all around, it’s difficult to imagine how the campus will continue to grow, which makes long-term planning so daunting. “Predicting the future is a humbling task because none of us really know the direction the world is going to take thirty, forty, fifty years from now,” says Schwab. “Certainly, the Law School has undergone significant changes in the previous thirty-to-fifty years, but just as many things have remained constant.
“While staying connected to our history, the Law School and its buildings must reflect the twenty-first century,” he continues. “More than ever, we need to emphasize the accessibility of the law, the relation between law and culture in an increasingly diverse world, and the need for law to be understandable by all our citizens. To do that, we need buildings that reflect the highest goals of transparency, accessibility, and adaptability to changing times.”