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New Research on the Academical Village Model: Constructed for the 1926 Philadelphia’s World’s Fair

New Research on the Academical Village Model
Constructed for the 1926 Philadelphia’s World’s Fair

Elizabeth Hicks

 


If it weren’t for Mr. Lindwood H. Warwick, all information that exists about the architectural model of the Academical Village might have been lost. After several trips to the Special Collections Library, I finally came across a file that mentioned an architectural model in Mr. Warwick’s personal files. Mixed in amongst his personal letters, memoirs and other work-related documents, was a folder containing considerable information about the architectural model and the University’s cloudy history at the 1926 Philadelphia’s World Fair. Highlights of Warwick’s personal documents include original blueprints of the model, a formal invitation from the Exposition Committee, blueprints to the Palace of Education with a space clearly designated for the University of Virginia, and even the original shipping tags from the Sesquicentennial Association. Despite all of the evidence pointing to the University’s participation, a careful reading of the correspondence in the file would confirm otherwise.

The first question one might ask is who is Linwood Warwick and why would all of this information be stowed away in his personal files? Letters reveal that Warwick was the personal secretary to a Mr. Wilbur A. Nelson, head of the Geology Department at the University of Virginia. In 1926 Nelson was appointed chairman of the committee designated to organize the University’s participation in the Exposition. It is not quite clear why Mr. Nelson, a Geology professor, became the head of this project, but his role would be pivotal in securing a spot for the model at the Exposition.

The file’s correspondence begins with a formal invitation sent to president Edwin A. Alderman (1905-1931) by the Sesquicentennial Association on February 25, 1926. After appointing Nelson chairman of the University’s Exposition Committee and charging him with the organization of the University’s exhibit, Alderman turned to securing funding. In a letter dated May 1st, 1926, Nelson wrote on behalf of Alderman to Governor Harry Byrd (who would later lead the “Virginia Day” at the Exposition) requesting $2,500 to be used towards the University’s exhibit at the Exposition: “as you know, this entire Exposition is built around the signing of the Declaration of Independence and Thomas Jefferson. On this account, it is impossible for the University of Virginia to refuse the request of the officials of this Exposition for an exhibit.” Unfortunately, Byrd replied a few days later denying Alderman’s request, stating that the funds were “vested entirely in the new Commission on Conservation and Development.”

Without financial assistance from the state, President Alderman found himself in a difficult situation. According to a document entitled “Estimated Cost of Expenses for the University Exhibit at the Sesquicentennial Exposition, Philadelphia, PA,” the initial breakdown of costs totaled to $5,125. Even with the $2,500 he was hoping to receive from the state, Alderman would still need to raise an additional $2,600 to send the University’s exhibit to Philadelphia. This document also mentions the model for the first time, which was projected to cost $650.

With Byrd’s letter of rejection, and no other funding prospects , Alderman was forced to make the difficult decision to withdraw the University from exhibiting in the Palace of Education. Consequently, Nelson wrote to Joseph Wilson, the Director of Education and Social Economy for the Exposition on May 29th, stating that the University would not be able to exhibit in the Educational Building at the Exposition “due to the lateness of getting started and due to the fact that he (Alderman) feels that we have not sufficient funds to make an exhibit in this building which would be in keeping with the University.” However, by the time this letter was sent and Alderman had made his final decision not to exhibit in the Palace of Education, the construction of the model was already well underway. Without an official exhibition space, Alderman now focused all his efforts in finding a suitable space to display the model which would now serve as the University’s sole representation at the fair.

On June 5, 1926, Alderman received a letter from close friend, Fiske Kimball—former head of the Department of Art and Architecture at University of Virginia (1919-1923), who had since become Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and would serve as such until 1955. Kimball directed Alderman to a Miss Caroline Sinkler, who was serving as the temporary chairman of the “Southern Woman’s Committee” which had taken on the task of reconstructing the historical “High Street,” one of the many highlights of the Exposition. Kimball had been charged with reviewing architectural sketches and plans for the Committee and suggested the “Jefferson House” to Alderman as an ideal venue for the University’s model. Monticello had already secured space in the house for some period furniture and the famed “Jefferson Gig” which would be escorted up to Philadelphia by Governor Byrd later in the year to celebrate “Virginia Day.” In response to a June 10th letter from Alderman requesting space for the model, Miss Sinkler stated that the Committee for the Jefferson House would “be delighted to accept the model” and has reserved space for it and even a “few handsome pictures.”

After securing space for the model, Alderman dropped out of all correspondence concerning the Exposition and the model (according to Warwick’s files) and handed the reigns off to Nelson, who would be responsible for ensuring the historical accuracy, timely completion and delivery of the model to Philadelphia—a task which would prove to be more complicated than anticipated.

Nelson first contacted Victor Mindeleff, of Mindeleff Studios (as indicated on the model’s plaques) about constructing a model of the University’s grounds in May, 1926. Although Mindeleff promised to complete the model by August 1st, it was not completed and delivered to the venue until October 12, two days before “Virginia Day” and only a month before the end of the entire Exposition itself. One reason for the delay was uncooperative weather and separation of the model maker from his subject. To ensure accuracy, William Partridge, the architect constructing the miniature buildings of the model, had requested detailed photographs of the structures that were to be included in the model. Weeks of rain and overcast weather prevented the photographer from taking any good shots to send to Mindeleff’s studio in Washington.

Another factor that contributed to the model’s late completion included last minute additions of buildings that had not been included in the original blueprints, such as Carr’s Hill by request of Alderman. These inclusions also affected the overall costs which jumped from $650 to $1152.30 (with the new price allowing for a wooden frame and glass case).

Despite the cost and delay, it was clear through Alderman’s letters to Nelson that the commission and inclusion of the architectural model at the Exposition was considered of utmost importance, especially due to the University’s inability to install an official exhibit at the Palace of Education. Its presence, even if only for a month, was the opportunity for the University of Virginia to be represented and recognized by millions at the World’s Fair.

 

October 14, 2009     Comments Off on New Research on the Academical Village Model: Constructed for the 1926 Philadelphia’s World’s Fair

The Detectives: Richard Guy Wilson

The Detectives
Richard Guy Wilson

Drawing of Pavilion I, October 1820 - March 1821
John Neilson, American, d. 1827
Drawing of Pavilion I, October 1820 – March 1821
India ink, watercolor, pencil on hand-ruled paper, N-344
 
Above
Window detail from Pavilion II
 

Interview by Karol Lawson

 


When did you begin researching Jefferson’s plans for the University? What are the sources you study in your research?

I came to the University in 1976, and while I was vaguely interested in Jefferson and his architecture at that time I was more focused on later things. However, you stay around long enough and “they get you” and I found myself increasingly drawn to Jefferson’s creation. It is quite simply one of, if not the greatest, American design ever done. Certainly for its time it is the top, but also it has survived while at the same time changing. I was first interested in the survival story, how it changed—the work of McKim, Mead and White
for instance—but then you get pulled back to the origins. We are very lucky to have such a landmark right here in our front yard and also most of the documents and papers are here. The story of their survival is a tale in itself.

What is the most surprising fact you’ve uncovered about Jefferson’s construction of the University?

I think the most interesting and surprising element about Jefferson’s design is that yes, he asked for some help but, ultimately it was his own design and it shows his full maturity as an architect. He follows the rules of classical design and then he breaks them.

What is the most exciting document that you’ve come across in your study of the Academical Village?

There has been lots of excitement over different things, but I think the most important was the realization that the original plans were done back in 1814 and then how he changed and modified them as circumstances changed…money…site…different purpose (upgraded from an academy to a college to a university)…and then also the relationship of the different pavilions and his sources. It is a complex of buildings loaded with meanings, some explicit, others hidden.

Colonnade view
Colonnade view
 

What part of the University, what detail or view, do you think best embodies Jefferson’s vision of his Academical Village? What spot at the University should every visitor see
in person?

Well on one level you have to see all of it… and experience each part, but two of my most favorite views are walking up a colonnade with the sun coming through the columns, casting shadows and looking out across the Lawn with the trees to the other side, and the second is just walking onto the lawn from underneath or the side of the Rotunda and seeing it all spread out. I could go on.

 

 

 

 

 

February 27, 2009     1 Comment

The Detectives: Brian Cofrancesco

The Detectives
Brian Cofrancesco

Drawing of Pavilion VIII, October 1820 - March 1821
Detail of John Neilson, American, d. 1827
Drawing of Pavilion VIII,
October 1820 – March 1821
India ink, watercolor, pencil on hand-ruled paper, N-337, K Pl. 1, L-08-04
 
Above
Detail of Pavilion
 
 
Column on Pavilion IV
Column on Pavilion IV
 

Interview by Karol Lawson

 


In your work for Professor Wilson have you done research with Jefferson’s own plans and original documents?

I was very lucky this past fall in that I was able to take Professor Wilson’s Thomas Jefferson: Architect course while also doing work on the Academical Village exhibition, and during this course had the rare opportunity of viewing and handling Jefferson’s original drawings of the University in the Special Collections Library. As someone who has the utmost admiration for Jefferson as an architect and for his incomparable masterpiece that is the Academical Village, the experience of seeing the original relics of Jefferson’s hand was surreal and something that greatly moved me as a historian.

What is the most surprising fact you’ve learned about Jefferson’s Academical Village?

The most surprising fact I have learned about the Academical Village is that the columns are not made of concrete or stone, but of brick. Using local materials, Jefferson had the columns crafted of rounded bricks (made from clay retrieved from the area near present-day Memorial Gym) and faced with a sand and water mixture.

What is it like to be an assistant for Professor Wilson?

Working as an assistant for Professor Wilson has been an incredible experience. The opportunity to do research for the “guru” of the Academical Village himself and help prepare for this exhibition which showcases his years of research is inspiring and is a great honor. I learn more and more every day about the wealth of knowledge Professor Wilson has and how much he has accomplished as a world-renowned historian. He is very personable with all of his students and has been especially encouraging to me as a growing architectural historian. This has motivated me a great deal in my time as an assistant.

Historic photograph of the lawn, c. 1890
Historic photograph of the lawn, c. 1890
 

How do you support his research? What are your tasks?

As Professor Wilson’s assistant for the exhibition, I do a great deal of work in the Special Collections Library locating documents, photographs, and other sources which aid in his research. I also do research outside of Special Collections for images and items to be used in his book and in the exhibition. Other tasks include cross referencing and compiling his research and preparing lists of exhibition items.

As a student you are at the University every day and as an architectural history student you know it better than most. What view of the University always catches your attention no matter how many times you see it?

My favorite view of the University is from the South—from the Cabell Hall end of the Lawn—Jefferson’s original entrance to the Academical Village. The view is absolutely spectacular, and the vantage point provides the visitor with a panorama of all ten Pavilions leading up to the crowning Rotunda, rising majestically over the central Lawn which harbors lively interaction day and night.

Outdoor “covered” walkway
Outdoor “covered” walkway;
a double row of trees parallel each row of Pavilions
 

Even more stunning however is the experience of walking up the Lawn towards the Rotunda. I encourage all students and visitors to the University to take a walk up the Lawn, strolling not down the center or through the colonnades, but through the double row of trees which parallel each row of Pavilions. This outdoor “covered” walkway truly gives a new perspective of the Lawn and brings you closer to the excitement across the Lawn while allowing you to enjoy a peaceful stroll.

 

 

 

February 27, 2009     Comments Off on The Detectives: Brian Cofrancesco

Researching the Academical Village Model: Constructed for the 1926 Philadelphia’s World’s Fair

Researching the Academical Village Model
Constructed for the 1926 Philadelphia’s World’s Fair

Elizabeth Hicks

 


When I began to research the Academical Village model, I came to realize that there is very little known about the architectural model which resided in the University’s Architecture School for so many years. Like Brian, I too spoke with professors and architectural historians within the University who know little about its history except that it had been on display in the architecture school and was originally constructed for the 1926 Philadelphia’s World’s Fair.

According to K. Edward Lay, Cary D. Langhorne Professor Emeritus of Architecture at the University, the model was originally housed in the lower level of the Rotunda, then moved to the Architecture School, then to the Admissions Office of the University, and then finally back to the A-School during Jaque Robertson’s term as dean, between 1980 and 1988. The model remained in the Architecture School until March 23, 2006, when it was removed and placed in an off-site storage facility owned by the University where it now resides under the care of Architectural Conservator Mark Kutney.

 

There are two small plaques located on the outside of the model and an index card on the inside which provide some clues to the object’s history. Professor Lay believes the outer plaques, which identify the maker as William Partridge, AIA associate, and the Mindeleff Studio in Washington DC as the location of the model’s production, to be “original and correct.” To date, I have yet to locate additional information about the model’s construction.

The small card located beneath the glass explains the reason why the model was produced: “the University’s exhibit at the Sesquicentennial at Philadelphia in 1926”. This fact is incongruous since the Report of the National Sesquicentennial Exhibition Commission on the Exposition states that “Virginia was not represented at the Exposition either by a building or by an exhibit” and in a list of Universities present at the event, the University of Virginia is absent. This inconsistency is troublesome and in need of further research. It is possible that at one point the model was commissioned for the purpose of being included in the Philadelphia Exposition, but, for one reason or another, never went.

 

According to multiple sources on the topic, the 1926 World’s Fair in Philadelphia was, in all respects, a failure. Several reasons are given for this conclusion, one in particular being a lack of confidence in the Exposition commission to complete the building project which they had promised on the scheduled opening of July 4th, 1926 (the sesquicentennial of the signing of the Declaration of Independence). This anxiety caused many states and organizations throughout the United States to deny support or involvement in the Exposition; newspaper articles expressed a national attitude of indifference. It is possible that this initial sentiment and the state’s lack of support could have influenced the University’s decision not to participate.

Interestingly, articles written months after the Exposition’s opening expressed remorse at the nation’s failure to support Philadelphia in its efforts to host such a monumental event honoring the anniversary of its independence.

Possibly in response to this shift in the national attitude, a month before the exposition in Philadelphia was to close, the governor of Virginia, with the support of other Virginia organizations, arranged for a “Virginia Day” in which he would lead a large parade, complete with multiple floats, the Charlottesville Municipal Band, and the Monticello Guard, from the Philadelphia City Hall to the Exposition. While this proves that Virginia was present at the event albeit without an official exhibit, it still seems unlikely that the model in question would be included in this procession due to its large size and nature as a floor model (which should be viewed up-close and from the ground in order to be studied correctly).

Research continues on the model and its importance at the University. One scholar asserts the model’s making and the events that surrounded the decision not to include it in the fair was the catalyst to a resurgence of interest in Jefferson’s Academical Village. We invite you to add any information that may help to uncover the story of the 1926 World’s Fair and U.Va.’s model.

 

February 27, 2009     Comments Off on Researching the Academical Village Model: Constructed for the 1926 Philadelphia’s World’s Fair

Curatorial Internship: Researching architectural models

Curatorial Internship
Researching architectural models

Brian Cofrancesco

 


One of my special tasks has been to search for unique items to feature in the exhibition —three dimensional items that provide a new perspective on the Academical Village and provide further insight into its design and layout; namely, architectural models. I began my hunt in early September 2008 in an effort to track down a 1926 model of the Academical Village and surrounding landscapes built for the World’s Fair in Philadelphia. The model was displayed in the Naug Lounge of the School of Architecture until a few years ago, however its current location was unknown. My search led me from talking to students who had once seen the model in Campbell Hall, to professors in the School of Architecture, to library research, and finally to the Office of the University Architect. I discovered that the model was put into storage after its removal from Campbell Hall and that it remained in a University facility. A team from the Museum scheduled a trip to the storage center and, with the help of University conservator Mark Kutney, evaluated the nearly eight foot square model and discussed how it might best work as a piece in the exhibition. The revived interest in this model has led to a campaign to research its history and repair the damages it has incurred over its 83 years at the University.

Curatorial Internship - model
 

During my investigations for information on the Academical Village and my time spent researching in the library, I came across a photo of a scale model of the Rotunda. Of course, I could not find the photograph several weeks later when I revisited the idea of featuring it in the exhibition, which led me on another “model quest.” Unfortunately, no one had heard of this model, and as it was only featured in, to my knowledge, one publication, making it difficult to provide detail in my queries and descriptions to University professors and faculty. Again consulting students, professors, and faculty, I had little luck and although I continued to track down the image in Special Collections online galleries and University publications, there were no records of the model. I continued my quest by contacting the staff at Special Collections as well as the director of the Rotunda, yet this model remained a mystery. My last move, although I thought there was little chance that it would unveil a lead, was to e-mail the Office of the University Architect, and sure enough the model was in their possession! In the end, the model was found in the office of Senior Historic Preservation Planner, Brian Hogg, and it was determined that the model was built for the 1976 restoration of the Rotunda led by Frederick Nichols.

 

February 27, 2009     3 Comments