Monday, July 6, 2015

Gargoyles on the Doomed Gymnasium

Monday, July 6, 2015

Loretta reports:

A notice in the local paper, of a building’s possible appointment with a wrecking ball, spurred us* to document it. That was how we discovered the gargoyles on the Alumni Gymnasium of Worcester Polytechnic Institute. However, as I began to research them, I learned that gargoyles are waterspouts. Stony beings like these, which are not, are “chimera” or “bosses.” But when you look at these photos, I’ll bet a majority of you are thinking “gargoyles.” Also, that whoever carved them had a sense of humor.

Since I’m not the art historian of the 2NHGs, I asked Susan/Isabella about this architectural feature. She introduced me to the term Collegiate Gothic, which led me to this very interesting piece in the Atlantic about its origins...

...and then, in the way of nerdiness, to this pdf, which early on makes two intriguing points: “Success of these buildings can be measured, in part, by the fact that these are often the most desirable buildings in which to live, despite the fact that in many cases they have undergone only minimal updates over the years and are in somewhat worn condition.

“Success is also measured by the ability of these buildings to be modified. (Italics mine] During their renovations they have been able to withstand interventions while maintaining their structural and aesthetic integrity. At the same time they are capable of being updated with state of the art systems and programmatic changes.”

Interestingly, as I continued research—about the WPI building in particular—I discovered that a team of engineering students apparently—and only last year—did view the Alumni Gymnasium as “desirable." They prepared this proposal to renovate it. Furthermore a fundraising project was under way in spring of 2014, and appears to be continuing ... for a building WPI wants to raze?


So I guess the the university is saying ... erm ... “Never mind.”

N.B. The building was in use as late as 2012.

Well, at least they’re promising to save the gargoyles/chimera/bosses.


*Actually, I told my husband he had to document it, because he’s a real photographer.

9 comments:

Karen Anne said...

Yet another historic building with character bites the dust, apparently. There are two kinds of people in the world: those who value historic buildings and wreckers.

Yve said...

I think Grotesques is another term for non water spouting critters up high on buildings. When I was a child there was a big old derelict house called Plas yn Dre (which I think means Town Mansion) near my own home, it was quite imposing and had lots of grotesques and Druid screaming heads over the arched doorways. Sadly it was demolished back in the mid 70's and I always wonder what happened to the heads... hopefully, they at least were saved.

Good luck with your campaign :o)

Sarah said...

I'm glad they are at least going to be saving the grotesques, which are in keeping with any medieval carvings of the same type. There are some fine hammer beam bosses in a number of churches locally which are in similar tradition, and I've often wondered if they were portraits of local people, caricatured.... as these might be...

Julie said...

I lived in Pembroke Hall during my freshman year at Bryn Mawr (decades ago -- it has since been renovated), and am happy to say that Bryn Mawr has retained its old collegiate Gothic buildings. The gymnasium that was in use in my day looked like a small castle; it is now the campus center.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Julie, I worked at Bryn Mawr for a number of years - which is why I was able to tell Loretta about "Collegiate Gothic." The buildings there really are extraordinary, aren't they? As you say, the campus center renovation was such a great solution to saving that building (including the basement pool that became the bookstore!) I wish WPI would do the same with this gymnasium. Buildings like this are simply too beautiful to tear down.

currentscene said...

That pool was so small that we used to call it the bathtub.

But, they did take the water spout from the old pool brought it to the new pool. Which isn't that new (that building has been renovated since I left, making me feel extremely old), but it'll always be new to me.

Julie said...

Sorry. That was me.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Yes, and they hid that very modern and un-Mawterish pool down the hill, where it wouldn't show from the main campus. Funny how the newer buildings like the new pool (from the 90s) and Erdman (which was the late 60s, I think) look much more dated than the ones build in the 19thc to look medieval....

Kelly Buffum said...

Well, this is disappointing to hear about. Loosing faith in my alma mater. The last I heard they were going forward with the revamp plan to create a flexible space. Of course, this isn't something they'd broadcast loudly to the alumni...

 
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