History of these Halls: The legacy of Harrison Tweed

On April 17, 1959, the President of Sarah Lawrence, Harold Taylor, sent a letter to the 20 students living in Glen Washington House informing them that a ceremony would take place there on Tuesday, May 5 in order to name the house after Board of Trustees member, Harrison Tweed. He wrote them in the hopes that they could join in the festivities. Lloyd Garrison, Chairman of the Board, opened the event. “This is the first time I’ve ever brought a meeting to order with champagne glasses,” he announced.

Harold Taylor then presented a plaque bearing the inscription of the house’s new namesake. “It’s very heavy. I do not know whether I can stand up to this,” Tweed remarked as the plaque was handed to him. Contrary to his concern, however, in the eyes of his colleagues and the students, he did stand up to it.  Tweed was remembered as “a man of the world, educator, jurist, writer, sailor, and person of great character”. He was said to be a proponent of social justice and placed value in the education at Sarah Lawrence. He served as President of the American Law Institute, was former president of the American Bar Association, an overseer of Harvard College and former president of the Harvard Alumni association. He also worked to reform the courts in New York State following the Second World War. There was an award named after him, given still to local and state bar associations, to increase access to civil legal services as well as criminal defense services: Harrison Tweed Medallion, created by the American Law Institute.

Tweed was born in 1885. 18 years later, he nearly refused to go to Harvard Law School had his dad not bribed him with a polo pony, which Tweed then proceeded to take with him to university. Upon arrival, he studied with nothing short of determined diligence. Many years later he arrived on the Board of Trustees at Sarah Lawrence College, where his career led to the naming of Tweed House, a distinction that, in his words, made him very “proud and happy”.

Plans for buying the Tweed House first emerged on paper in 1954, during Tweed’s Board membership. At this time, the building was referred to solely as the Brost House, after Ray F. Brost, its owner at the time. After the College purchased it, it was dubbed Glen Washington House—a name marked by brevity as the house was renamed Tweed soon after in 1955. Originally, the residence was the solution to the pressing need to expand living facilities for students. Tweed House was seen as an investment for the future campus, and a place where at least 15 to 18 students could live during the coming year. For a short period of time, retrofitting Tweed in order to accommodate a faculty apartment was also an idea but, evenetually, the plans for student housing were realized. An old floor plan of the building shows various bedrooms, a living room, library, powder room, breakfast room, and a playroom and laundry room in the basement, among other spaces, thus enough room to admit the desired number of new students.

In addition, Ray Brost left most of the existing furniture to the College. This included a good number of rugs, oak desks, venetian blinds, a ping-pong table and a Coca Cola machine, among other items. Harold Taylor, president from 1945-1959, was a close friend of Tweed’s and wrote in one of his many letters to him, “It is a damn good house and there could be no better man anywhere whose name should be on a part of an American college. Bully for you! As ever. Signed, Harold Taylor”. Now, the former Brost house stands as a nod to Tweed for the years to come.

Tweed’s career at Sarah Lawrence began in 1940 when he was voted in as a member of the Board of Trustees, by a ten to one majority. He served as a member for 14 years, as Chairman for eight and spent a year as President of the College in 1959 (immediately before Esther Raushenbush accepted the job). He occupied many roles and weighed in on issues facing the campus at any given time. At the onset of his career at Sarah Lawrence, one issue facing the world at large, as well as the college, was the Second World War  and the political and economic climate surrounding it. Tweed’s response in partnering with faculty, students and administrators during this time came very early on in his time at Sarah Lawrence, and he handled it with clarity and focus. Constance Warren, president of the college from 1929-1945 wrote to Tweed in 1942 to discuss the situation.

“Dear Mr. Tweed, I want very much to have a chance to talk with you further about the specific things you think the College ought to do with regard to the war”.

At this time, students at the college were participating in training for pre-medical work, and laboratory assistance; they were studying mathematics and physics in order to enter one of the three-month courses offered at technical colleges, if they wished to work in aviation or munitions plants. A number of students were being fit for civil service examinations and for positions in Washington requiring economic and statistical training. Many were taking Red Cross First Aid and Air Raid Warden courses as well as automobile mechanics and nursing aid courses. Tweed corresponded frequently with Warren on these subjects. He also asked about the presence of a war committee of the students, saying that it would be interesting to hear from them. In addition, he sat on the Trustee War Committee “discussing possible changes due to war conditions”.

As these trials came early in his career, it seems they gave him the foundation upon which to build the rest of his time at the college. Tweed spent 25 years total at Sarah Lawrence.  He retired in 1965 and became an honorary trustee from 1965-1969, a time frame marked by frequent visits to the college as well as the people whom he had befriended there. Well into his retirement, parents would ask if he could put in a good word for their children’s admittance to the school and, though his official duties had ceased, he still did. He also continued to play a significant role in decisions there, despite his retirement. Though he could not always be on campus in person, his letters proved frequent whenever something new should go into effect at Sarah Lawrence. For example, in 1966, when the proposal came along to make Bates a space more central to activities, he was consulted by Raushenbush, President at the time. In this case his response was: “in general I am entirely sympathetic to the plan to move more activities to the vicinity of Bates, although, of course, it will introduce some difficulties for those who do not like walking uphill”.

Here, joke aside, he would often remind Rausenbush of the “wonderful job” she was doing in her presidential role. Thus, his humor and capacity for support was ever-present. Taylor was another figure with whom he joked endlessly. Their numerous letters, telegrams, correspondences of all sort stand as evidence for Tweed’s wit and commitment. One evening, both were guests at a dinner party given by Raushenbush. Taylor later told Tweed his impression of the evening. “I have never heard you in better form, nor have I ever seen anything better calculated to make everybody feel at home, to put them in the mood for celebrations, and to give that sharpness of wit to an evening”. This is one of many letters demonstrative of Tweed’s character. Tweed also gave a great deal of time to his family; he had three daughters and, during one summer, toured New England, camping in a trailer with the entire family. Other summers were spent in a similar manner, in castles in Ireland, or Austria. Towards the end of his life, his movement became more and more restricted, and he wrote to Rausenbush, in a letter dated 1967, “the going doesn’t get any easier”. Tweed passed away two years later.

Harrison Tweed was once described—at a Sarah Lawrence event in his honor—in terms of the weather: “when the barometer is falling, the Tweed spirits rise to face whatever bad weather is ahead”, an accurate summary of his contributions to Sarah Lawrence, as well as his overall demeanor.

by Svea Conrad '17

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

History of These Halls: Heimbold Visual Arts Center

Miniature of Heimbold made during its planning phase.   2014_208 & 2014_210 – Courtesy of the Sarah Lawrence College Archives

Miniature of Heimbold made during its planning phase. 2014_208 & 2014_210 – Courtesy of the Sarah Lawrence College Archives

Sarah Lawrence College was among the first universities at its founding to have both a liberal and visual art program, simultaneously. It was also among the very first liberal arts schools in the country to give curricular prominence to the creative and performing arts equally. One creative nucleus of the college today is Heimbold, a space devoted to SLC’s visual arts programs.

Heimbold’s home on Kimball Avenue is relatively young, especially in comparison to the nearly 80 years that its various departments were sprinkled around campus. Sculpture, painting, printmaking, and photography all took place in Bates. Drawing and Visual Fundamentals classes met in the Performing Arts Center, and filmmaking was distributed amongst Rothschild, the Performing Arts Center, and Dudley Lawrence. The number of students enrolled in those programs has undergone many changes throughout the years. From 1980 until 1984, approximately 145 students were enrolled in the Visual Arts. This was a manageable number for the existing spaces, whose individual rooms could accommodate 10-12 students at a time.

However, after 1985 enrollment increased to over 200 people and studio classes were stretched beyond capacity, with around 15-16 students in each. According to Alice Ilchman, (president of SLC from 1981-1998) some 30 to 40 students were turned away each year due to space limitations. When enrollment peaked in 1999 with 286 students—a number that included 42 students in painting, 30 in sculpture, 55 in film, 60 in photography, 34 in printmaking, 17 in drawing, and 30 in Visual Fundamentals—it became clear that spatial limitations were becoming too restrictive.

Original painting studio located in Bates.   2014_209 – Photograph by Sarah Lawrence College Office of Publications. Courtesy of the Sarah Lawrence College Archives

Original painting studio located in Bates. 2014_209 – Photograph by Sarah Lawrence College Office of Publications. Courtesy of the Sarah Lawrence College Archives

So, as the College approached the new millennium, plans for a more suitable arts building began to take shape. The dialogue in defining a space and the importance of discussing the future of Sarah Lawrence as a visual arts college became a major topic of discussion. It was noted that the building should cater to the growth of the art program itself, as well as its ability to adapt as art changed.

One prominent figure in this idea was Mr. Carmen Colanguilo, director of the Lamar Dodd School of Art at the University of Georgia, who had recently headed the development of arts facility buildings there. His familiarity with what challenges the project would present and his knowledge of architecture that fit art instruction in higher education, lent themselves to the issues at hand at SLC.

One task force meeting in particular, during which he acted as facilitator, focused on a new way of looking at the building process. He emphasized the question, “With whom do you interact?” Rather than asking, “How many square feet do you need?” It was this angle of thinking that propelled forward many of the plans for the building.

Another integral factor moving forward with the building plans was faculty involvement. In this realm, questionnaires were created in order to address any needs or concerns faculty members wished to express. The questionnaire included questions such as: “What do your students require for their individual atelier/studio space?”, “What type of critique spaces are desirable?”, and “What type of spaces afford opportunities for exchange, communication and dialogue among students and faculty?”. Each of these are part of careful consideration that surrounded the project in its many stages.

Next, logistics such as location needed to be addressed. Originally there were two options for where Heimbold should stand; the first was the Lynd site and the second was Slonim. Furthermore, the space in use for the visual arts before Heimbold existed totaled 22,126 square feet, and hopes for the new site ranged between 60,000 and 70,000. Construction began on November 19, 2002, and two years later the building was complete.

A large team contributed and through the help of a number of donors and alumnae, including Monika A. Heimbold and her husband Charles A. Heimbold, the structure was erected. One speaker at the Groundbreaking Ceremony noted that the Heimbolds should be recognized as a few of the people who gave the project “momentum to move ahead… through their leadership and generosity.” Monika A. Heimbold graduated from the Center for Continuing Education in 1985, the same year as her daughter Joanna Heimbold, who quoted her mother’s word of gratitude in regards to the building: “I want to thank all who turned our need into a desire, and the desire into a reality.”

The Heimbold family thus helped to inaugurate the building on its grand opening weekend Nov. 4-6, 2004. Over 600 people attended. Festivities included a ribbon cutting, presided over by President Michele Myers (1998-2007) as well as speeches by various alumni. The Mayor of the City of Yonkers and various friends, family and community members all gathered for this Grand Opening weekend. A screening of alumni John Avnet’s film “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” was included in the main events. In addition, the inaugural exhibit of the Barbara Walter’s Gallery, titled “Forging New Visions” and including current and former faculty art, was a central draw of the program.

Heimbold has stood now for 10 years. It encompasses 61,000 square feet of space and was built to be environmentally sound. It sustains most of its basic needs via recycled materials such as rock excavated from the sight, cork floors, and use of existing sunlight, each of which cater to the building’s green initiative. Furthermore, the rear façade is covered in local stone and the building in its entirety is heated by way of geothermal wells. Special venting systems reduce exposure to chemicals and vapors, and the exterior wood slats are from renewable forests and the grass of the front quad doubles as the roof of the lowest level of the building. Heimbold also caters to the art created within its walls.

In fact, it is stated that in many ways Heimbold is representative of the abandonment of the old idea, “separation of disciplines in the studio”. It instead allows for the collaboration of ideas and encourages dialogue between disciplines. Faculty member and sculptor Kirt Roesch, who taught at Sarah Lawrence from 1934-1972, noted, “Art education makes sense only if art is conceived to be as central to life and to education as any other activity, and is not merely tolerated as a ‘cultural ornament.’” Heimbold embodies this goal.

by Svea Conrad '18