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Sargent Gymnasium and General Thomas Worcester Hyde Athletic Building
ALLEN AND COLLENS
In a disarmingly frank talk in June 1913 at the dedication of the new gymnasium, the architect, Charles Collens, said:
Now I am a great devotee of Gothic and wherever conditions are right, I know of nothing that is so pliant and well adapted to the various services and requirements of a college group as Collegiate Gothic . . . but with the traditions that Bowdoin has behind her, it would seem most fitting that her future development should follow along the simple Colonial lines that our New England forebears knew so well how to employ. As you look this new building over we hope that you will find something that resembles Colonial in spots although I cannot recall that our forefathers employed monitors to light their buildings, or were ever bothered with quite such an unwieldy problem.1
Collens drew together many educational strands in his remarks, not the least of which was the importance of historical clothing to the success of academic buildings. Colonial Revival was joining Collegiate Gothic as a favored style. Allen and Collens was only one of many firms that could design in a variety of historical styles. They were in the business of dressing function in stylish and evocative garb.
The first Sargent Gymnasium was only ten years old when the doubled student body taxed its confines. President Hyde began a long and energetic campaign for a new facility, using his annual report as a prime public vehicle.
In private correspondence with Trustee William L. Putnam in 1900, President Hyde pursued the need for a central heating plant and a new gymnasium:
I have found that the gentleman to whom I referred as likely to give a gymnasium and heating station is not to be counted on at present, for either. His son, while a special student here, was so dissolute that we had to remove him from College, and while I had the pleasantest talk with his father about it, and he professed himself as heartily approving our action in the matter, yet, naturally what we did, did not particularly endear the institution to him . . . Hence the way is open for your friend to provide, say a gymnasium and heating station ... I wish your friend could appreciate how vital a matter this is to us, and how much more valuable such a Gift would be within the next two months, than it would be at any later time.2
Judge Putnam, in reply, felt that attracting the gift of a heating station was unlikely. Yet by late summer, contracts had been signed to convert the lower story of the first gymnasium into a central heating plant, while a new gymnasium was still a dozen years away.
During the decade of planning, three schemes were drawn and published. As early as 1902 Rotch and Tilden prepared ground plans and an elevation for a new athletic facility, their preliminary work paid for by subscription from the alumni. These plans were published in Hyde's Report of the President in 1909, when the general financial situation had improved, but by the report of 1910-1911 Rotch and Tilden's plans had been replaced by some drawn by Henry Bissell Alvord, the College's instructor in surveying, mechanical drawing, and geology, and some by Frank N. Whittier, director of physical training and college physician. In 1912, the plans and elevation of Allen and Collens were published in the Report of the President, along with a lengthy list of contributions to what was called "the new Gymnasium and the General Thomas Worcester Hyde Athletic Building."
Charles Collens, in his talk at the dedication, said:
I am afraid my appearance before you as architect of this building is somewhat unwarranted under the circumstances. The fact is that the real architect is present in the form of Dr. Whittier, who so carefully prepared the general scheme for the Gymnasium, as to leave small chance for any originality, or the opportunity of startling the College world with some new architectural freak.3
The compelling reasons for engaging Allen and Collens were their experience in collegiate architecture and the fact that their young associate for this commission was Felix Arnold Burton '07. The exterior details of the plans prepared earlier by Rotch and Tilden and now by Allen and Collens are not markedly different. Both firms ignored the style of the first Sargent Gymnasium and used instead classical details derived from Renaissance and Georgian repertoires. Whittier's plan alone had echoed the lines of the older, Romanesque Revival structure.
The catalyst in this building project was a major gift from Overseer John Sedgwick Hyde, president of the Bath Iron Works and eldest son of its founder, General Thomas Worcester Hyde, class of 1861. General Hyde had become a brigadier general when he was not yet thirty. Like Generals Hubbard and Chamberlain, he had served courageously and with intelligence during the Civil War. Upon his return to his native Bath, he put together companies to manufacture steel ships and windlasses.
Donors encouraged by the generosity of Hyde and of George Sullivan Bowdoin, a descendant of the Bowdoin family who had contributed $25,000, gave gifts of from five dollars to five thousand dollars. Nine thousand dollars came from undergraduates and medical students. It is not difficult to understand the importance of athletics to students, and already sports and gymnastics were extremely popular with alumni and friends.
Allen and Collens did collegiate work in the Gothic Revival, the Romanesque Revival, and the Colonial Revival styles at Brown, Middlebury, Williams, Mount Holyoke, Harvard, and Vassar, as well as at the Cloisters and Riverside Church. In Brunswick the firm also designed the columned Colonial Revival Maine National Bank on Maine Street. In the new athletic facility at Bowdoin, the problem for the architects was to pull together two quite different and equally unwieldy spaces. The gymnasium is three stories at the west, or entrance, facade and two stories in the main body of the building; its dimensions are 80 by 140 feet. The Hyde Athletic Building (known as the Cage) is one enormous space 160 by 120 feet.
Perhaps the best element of the design is in the monumental entrance pavilion. The central projecting bay comprises a frieze and a triangular pediment supported by brick pilasters and framing an arched window over a classically inspired door. Inscribed within the pediment is the Bowdoin sun. While the door is reminiscent of the Greek Revival, the window above is Federal. The effect is Imperial and bears comparison with McKim, Mead and White's Army War College of 1908 in Washington, D.C.
The granite frieze, door frame, lintels, and sills of the projecting pavilion are smooth; the remaining stone moldings have been left rough. Behind the entrance pavilion is a three-story block, two bays at the corners. The next major division, which corresponds to the gymnasium inside, is articulated by seven bays, each of which consists of an upper arched window, a panel, and paired lower windows set into an arched opening. Thus a rhythm is established, and the brick wall plane is enlivened by the recessed portions. A hipped roof leads up to the ample monitor, which also supplies light to the gymnasium.
What has become less obvious with the passage of time, the growth of trees and ivy, and the addition of buildings, is the awkward relationship between the two parts of this building. Collens chose to articulate the lateral facades:
Thereby we broke the fundamental law of Architecture, which teaches that the exterior of every building must express the interior, and we are now fooling the onlooker by exhibiting a combination of gables and other details to produce the impression of smaller units within.4
Text From: Patricia McGraw Anderson's The Architecture of Bowdoin College (Brunswick, Maine: Bowdoin College Museum of Art, 1988). ©Bowdoin College.