Now and a Long Time Ago: 37th and O St.

 

This week on Now and a Long Time Ago, GM swings by Georgetown University. That steel frame you see above turned into this:

 

The old photo is dated October 18, 1932 (just think, they were weeks away from electing FDR for the first time. Well, not if they were DC residents that is…) According to Georgetown, “The White-Gravenor Building takes its name from Andrew White, S.J., and John Gravenor, S.J., two of the first Jesuits to come to Maryland in 1634. The building was completed in 1933.” Either that date is wrong, or they really knew how to finish a building fast back then.

Speaking of construction, it is somewhat surprising for GM to see that such a Gothic stone building has a steel skeleton.

The building’s retro look provides a nice northern bookend to the massive and similarly Gothic Healy Hall. The south side? Not so much.

 

10 Comments

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10 responses to “Now and a Long Time Ago: 37th and O St.

  1. RobRob

    The windows probably give it away. They’d likely need flying buttresses to support those walls if they were purely made of stone.

  2. Topher

    I got the years mixed up when I questioned the completion date. I was thinking that the photo was from late October 1933, not 1932. Finishing in 14 months seems a lot more reasonable than finishing in 2 like I thought.

  3. Nemo

    The great Professor Carroll Quigley, of happy memory, maintained that Fr. Coleman Nevils, President of Georgetown from 1928 to 1935, proceeded with construction of White-Gravenor as an act of faith in the future of the country during hard times: the W-G project provided much-needed employment to a wide range of building trades workers for several years during the depths of the Great Depression. Faith in action has always been a Jesuit value. Perhaps regrettably, White-Gravenor and the adjacent dormitory, Copley Hall, were the only elements of Fr. Nevils’ much grander vision of Georgetown to be completed. The “Greater Georgetown” initiative would have erected a large ensemble of “collegiate gothic” buildings in a new quadrangle grouped around the north lawn fronting 37th Street, NW. The GU archives has an architect’s conception of Greater Georgetown stashed away somewhere.

  4. Dizzy

    Closer to 37th & P, really 😛

    Healy actually isn’t Gothic but “Flemish Romanesque style with elements of Baroque.” Copley and WGR are Gothic. Lauinger… exists as a shining (actually, it is the very opposite of “shining”) exemplar of why we should not trust anything about the 70s when it comes to aesthetics. It could be worse – I live down the street from an entirely Brutalist university campus.

    Lauinger would be a lot more tolerable if this happened. Not holding my breath, though.

  5. Nemo

    Dizzy, thanks for the link to the proposals for Lauinger expansion — too bad Georgetown doesn’t have the money to build it — maybe later. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn, however, that Lauinger has acquired “protected” status by this time. John Carl Warnecke was in great vogue during the late 60s — he had been court architect to Camelot, so to speak. Under the circumstances, it was perhaps logical for GU to select him to design Lauinger, but his firm was also retained to do the appalling dormitory complex next door — cheap materials, cheaply built. Instant slum. Ugh. Sadly, Lauinger and the dormitory blocked what had been a lovely downriver view from the campus — a pleasant promenade overlooking the old tennis courts and the river below.

  6. Dizzy – your neighbor is UDC at Van Ness?

  7. As a side note, the stone facing of this building was originally the stonework piers of the Aqueduct Bridge, the bridge preceding the Key Bridge. One stone pier still stands on the Virginia side, as well as the abutment on the DC side.

  8. Dizzy

    @Nemo

    Aww, no love for Village A? I don’t think it’s a slum at all. I very much enjoyed living there – your own porch with amazing views! – and I think it’s a very interesting design and a creative way of building into the side of a hill. The downriver view may be obstructed for people on Library Walk, but now the residents get to enjoy it. And from the opposite bank, I think it adds an interesting bit of texture at the bottom of the campus silhouette. You can still see all of the more prominent, taller buildings, including the somewhat ostentatious Ryan Hall columns.

    @Peter L’Enfant

    Yep, the one and only. I honestly don’t know whether the new student center they’re plopping down on the main front plaza will be an improvement or not. On the one hand, it’s not Brutalist and will hide some of the grayness from Connecticut Avenue. On the other hand, my ‘consumer confidence index’ for UDC is… not high. Looks pretty in the renderings, but don’t they all.

    @Alan Newman

    I had no idea that’s where the stone for the WGR skin came from. Fascinating! There’s some good construction photos of it in the President’s suite on Healy 2 IIRC.

  9. Nemo

    Dizzy, you should have seen the view from Library Walk — we didn’t call it that back then for obvious reasons — it was a million-dollar prospect! Of course, Rosslyn didn’t command the eye quite to the extent it does now, but one could see further out into Virginia. As to Village A, the concept was interesting, but the realization, in my opinion, was dreadful — cheap and nasty materials, and like, almost everything on the Hilltop, not very well maintained. Joan Caryl swore that Warnecke put his name on the plans, but that his junior associates did all the work. I always assumed the reason it was called “Village A” from conception to completion was because it’s so ugly that no plutocrat was willing to pony up the dough to have his/her name slapped on it. For goodness sakes, the University Fathers held it in such disdain, they didn’t even name it after an obscure Jesuit! “Newer South,” anyone?

  10. Dizzy

    The lack of proper name is mostly due to a combination of outsized hopes for a naming donor crashing into the reality of Georgetown’s day-late-and-a-dollar-short fundraising and development efforts. Hence the three alphabetic villages – they eventually cobbled together enough donors to officially rename Village B into Alumni Square, but no one calls it that – and all the Med Campus mediocrities (the Basic Research Building? Building D?!?!). Village C is attractive enough, I think, and it remains nameless.

    Anywho, I think Village A certainly could’ve been done up nicer, but I’m ok with it as is. The maintenance thing is a real issue, although they seem to finally be getting around to playing catch-up on it, much like WMATA.

    It totally wouldn’t surprise me if Warnecke’s junior associates did all the actual design. I’ll take your word for it on the view from the old promenade. I did enjoy having the river view from my Village A patio – made for good beer sippin’ scenery 🙂

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