Martha Cook Building
The Martha Cook Building was erected as a residence for women in 1915 as the result of a gift from William Wilson Cook ('80) in honor of his mother, Martha Walford Cook. As early as 1911 Mr. Cook had already made the University Page 1721a gift of $10,000 toward a proposed residence for undergraduate women (R.P., 1910-14, p. 96). In his letter of presentation to the Regents, on February 10, 1914, Mr. Cook wrote:
In memory of my mother, Martha Cook, I will build a Women's Dormitory Building for the use of women exclusively … on land now owned by you, on condition that the occupants shall have sole and exclusive charge of its income, expenses and management (subject to the approval of a woman or board of women appointed by the Regents); and, on the further condition that the University shall at times hereafter furnish heat, light and power for the building free of charge, and shall not derive any income from such building; and on the further condition that so much of the surplus income or profit from the building shall be used by the occupants for furniture, furnishings, works of art and improvements in or to the building as they deem best, and the remainder, if any, at the end of each year shall be set aside as a fund to be used in the following year to give lower or free rates in the building to such under-graduates or post-graduates as the President of the University and the Dean of Women may designate from time to time.
The deed of gift was signed in February, 1914, and the building was occupied with the opening of the school year in the fall of 1915. In selecting residents emphasis has always been on scholarship and campus leadership.
The land, occupying almost a block between Tappan and South University avenues, was purchased by the University, in March, 1913, but the beautiful garden which lies to the east is a further evidence of Mr. Cook's foresight and generosity. The Condon home, facing on South University Avenue, formerly occupied this site, and the family had an attractive and extensive garden thoroughly enjoyed by the residents of the Martha Cook Building. Mr. Cook obtained the deed to the property in 1917 and presented it as a gift to the University in 1918 with the understanding that the University would maintain it for the use of Martha Cook students and their friends. When the house was vacated in 1921, it was removed, and, under the supervision of Mr. Samuel Parsons, of New York City, the entire property was replanted as a garden. The magnolia trees and the rare Japanese locust (Cladrastis lutea) were left where they stood in the Condon garden. The cement terrace which extends along the east side of the building overlooks the garden. The natural teakwood tables, chairs, and benches with which it is equipped were a special gift from Mr. Cook in the spring of 1916. To the south of the building is the tennis court, completed in June, 1918. It was laid out on property purchased by Mr. Cook for this purpose in 1917.
York and Sawyer, architects, of New York City, designed the dormitory, and the Fuller Construction Company, also of New York, was in charge of its erection. The building cost $260,000 and has a floor area of 63,234 square feet. The informal dedication of the building took place in November, 1915.
Architecturally, the Martha Cook Building is reminiscent of late English Gothic and early Renaissance periods. The exterior with its pointed arches, traceried windows, deep buttresses, and battlemented roof of slate and copper is pure English domestic Gothic, inspired by the best work at Cambridge and Oxford. The red brick with its special cross bond, and the limestone window facings are admirably suited to the architectural design. The Gothic entrance with the niche as a central feature is particularly beautiful. The statue of Portia was an added gift in June, 1918.
The style of the interior varies from Tudor Gothic to Early Renaissance, and the details of the furnishings extend to Page 1722Jacobean or later periods. The variety has been blended into an effective whole.
Upon entering the vestibule, one sees first a beautiful Tudor Gothic pierced screen. The entrance lobby, with its oak panels and molded ceiling of the Elizabethan period, opens into a long, cloistered corridor, with floor of marble and red flagged paving, high oak paneled walls of the Tudor period, and majestic, groined, Gothic ceiling — white ribs against blue vaulting. At the far end of this gallery is the statue of the Venus de Milo, a replica of the original.
To the right of the entrance are the offices, and opposite are an apartment for the Director and a guest room. Beyond is the reception room known as the Red Room, furnished in crimson and gold. This room, which measures 18 by 39 feet, has a vaulted ceiling and plaster frieze reproduced from a sixteenth-century English manor house. The ceiling design is an interesting combination of the English rose and French fleur-de-lis, known as "wagon head ceiling." The woodwork is in butternut, and the moldings and general details are reproduced from measured drawings of antique woodwork. The hangings are of red damask and the furniture of the Jacobean period. The room has an open fireplace of Botticino marble. Beyond the reception room is the living room, called the Blue Room because the University colors of blue and gold predominate. It measures 30 by 56 feet and has elaborately carved paneling of Burma teakwood and a plaster ceiling, a replica of one in Sir Paul Pindar's House at Bishopgate, which now forms a part of the collection in the Victoria and Albert Museum at South Kensington. At either end of the room is a fireplace with a stone facing in the form of a Gothic arch. The handsomely carved and inlaid arched head panelings of the mantels form an impressive background for the bust of Mr. Cook, which was placed there as a memorial to the donor, following his death. The furnishings of the room include three blue and gold oriental rugs and upholstered furniture of Jacobean design. Farther along the main corridor is the dining hall, paneled in oak and with beamed firred ceiling of fifteenth-century design. The stone mantel has an arched opening, and the motto of the building is carved in the stone. The small round dining tables are of oak. Beyond the dining room are the serving rooms and quarters for the staff.
A mezzanine floor at either end of the building provides space for seven or eight student rooms. Most of the students, however, are accommodated on the second and third floors, with an additional fifteen on the fourth floor. The student rooms, for the most part, are single and arranged in suites with a few double rooms. Each room is equipped with a full-length mirror, dresser, desk, chair, and a tea table of gumwood. The furniture is finished a light brown. A small guest wing on the fourth floor, in addition to a guest room on the first floor, affords provision for visitors. Each floor is provided with telephone, shower room, and a kitchenette, and the fourth floor has a storage room for extra clothing.
The building is essentially the same today as when it was built, with the exception of the kitchen, in which equipment has been modernized. The plumbing system has been renovated within the last four years. Care was taken to see that the bathrooms, with their white tile, marble walls, and original imported china fixtures, were preserved. This work was done by the Plant Department at a cost of $68,900.