Beyond the Hall: A Day of Conversation about Commemoration, Historic Preservation, & the Study of History

Hall of Fame

Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The Hall of Fame for Great Americans, the first hall of fame in the United States, is a historical landmark on the Bronx Community College campus.  Designed by Stanford White when the site housed New York University’s uptown campus, the monument is a 630-foot open-air colonnade with busts of 98 honorees, which wraps behind three other White other buildings. It was dedicated in 1901. Honorees had to be American citizens who had “distinguished themselves by their accomplishments in the arts, sciences and other pursuits directed toward the betterment of mankind.” When the NYU Chancellor Henry MacCracken first spelled out the qualifications for election in 1900, honorees had to have been dead for ten years; in 1925, the requirement was changed to twenty-five. Electors came from every state, with elections held every five years. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, there was intense lobbying by organizations ranging from the American Bar Association to the United Daughters of the Confederacy leading up to the elections, which attracted national attention. The hall became a touchstone in American popular culture. Mickey Rooney walks among the busts in the film Andy Hardy Meets Debutante (1940), and, in The Wizard of Oz (1939), the munchkins sing to Dorothy, “You’ll be hist, you’ll be hist, you’ll be history, and we will glorify your name. You will be a bust, be a bust, be a bust in The Hall of Fame.” The City of New York purchased the campus from NYU in 1973 to house Bronx Community College, and  BCC entered into a joint arrangement with NYU to maintain the hall. NYU promised to contribute $125,000 annually to its upkeep, but stopped funding the hall by 1977. The last election took place in 1976; busts of the last four honorees elected have never been installed

(History adapted from Culkin, Kate. “A Bridge, Not a Wall: Uses of The Hall of Fame for Great Americans at Bronx Community College.” In Remaking the American College Campus, edited by Jonathan Silverman and Meghan McSweeney.  Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2016.)


Further Reading

Ackerman, Dan. “Fame’s Fortune.” Wall Street Journal, October 12, 2007.

Arenson, Karen. “Rebuilding a Bronx Landmark: Getty Gives Community College a $228,000 Architectural Grant.” New York Times, July 20, 2004.

Bolt, Julie. “The Paradox of Freedom: Engaging the Tension between Representation and Canonization in the Classroom.” The Scholarship of Teaching: Faculty Development Through Cross-Campus Collaboration (Fall 2007): 73-77.

Chronopoulos, Themis. “Urban Decline and the Withdrawal of New York University from University Heights, the Bronx.” Bronx County Historical Society Journal XLVI, no. 1 and 2 (2009): 5-24.

“Continuum of Greatness.” Bronx Community College Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology. Accessed August 21, 2015.

Domlick, Sam. “The Hall of Fame, Forgotten and Forlorn.” New York Times, Dec. 4, 2009.

Dunlap, David W. “Bronx Community College Gets a Library, and Building, Truly its Own.” New York Times. Sept. 2, 2012.

Dunlap, David W. “An Opulent Library in Decay, and in Search of a Purpose.” New York Times. Nov. 18, 2015.

Easton Architects LLP. “Conservation Master Plan for the Stanford White Complex, Construction Phrasing Strategy, Phasing Recommendations.” Campus Heritage Network. Dec. 30, 2005.

Farkas, Diane, and Robert Farkas. “Henry Mitchell McCracken and the Hall of Fame at New York University.” Bronx Historical Society Journal VIII, no. 2 (1971): 51-63.

Friss, Evan J. “From University Heights to Cooperstown: Halls of Fame and American Memory.” Journal of Archival Organization 3, no. 4 (2005): 87-104

Frusciano, Thomas J. and Marilyn H. Pettit. New York University and the City: An Illustrated History. Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1997.

Great Americans: A Guide to the Hall of Fame for Great Americans. New York, NY: New York University, 1976.

Landmarks50 at the City University of New York. Produced by Robert Issacson. 2014. New York, CUNYTV.

McGrath, Charles. “The All-American Pedestal Complex.” New York Times, May 21, 2006.

“National Park Service Press Release.” National Park Service. Oct. 17, 2012.

Pollock, Julia. “Info-graphic on the Hall of Fame for Great Americans.” CUNY Academics Works 2014. .

Rosenstock, Morton and James D. Ryan. A Half-Century in Pursuit of Excellence: Bronx Community College of the City University of New York. Bronx, NY: Bronx Community College, 2007.

Rubin, Richard. “The Mall of Fame.” The Atlantic, July 1997.

Sassi-Lehner, Christina. “Blueprints for Writing: Using Architecture, Literature, and History in Freshman Composition to Help Students Develop Their Authorial Voice.” In Who Speaks for Writing: Stewardship in Writing Studies in the 21st Century, edited by Jennifer Rich and Ethna D. Lay, 157-166. New York: Peter Lang, 2012.

Sassi-Lehner, Christina “Starting to Reflect on the American Dream in Freshmen Composition.” The Scholarship of Teaching: Faculty Development Through Cross-Campus Collaboration (Fall 2007): 68-72.

Schosser, Catriona. “The College on a Hill: A History of New York University’s Bronx Campus Through Its Architecture.” Last modified May 2012.

Shenkman, Harriet, Susan Polirstok, and Carl James Grindley. “Exploring History, Architecture, and Art Across the Bronx.” In Making Teaching and Learning Matter: Transformative Spaces in Higher Education, edited by Judith Summerfield and Cheryl C. Smith, 237-252. New York: Springer Science Business Media, 2011.

Skiena, Steven and Charles Ward. Who’s Bigger: Where Historical Figures Really Rank. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013,

Thompson, William N. and M. Ernita Joaquin. “The Hall of Fame for Great Americans: Organizational Comatosis or Hibernation.” History News Network, January 4, 2012.

Treasures of New York: Stanford White. Directed by Mary Lockhart. 2014. New York: PBS.

Thorn, John. “The Legendary Hall of Fame.” Voices: The Journal of the New York Folklore 38 (Spring/Summer 2012). .

Tourist in Your Own Town #30—Gould Memorial Library and the Hall of Fame.” New York Landmarks Conservancy. Accessed August 21, 2015. .

Ultan, Lloyd and Shelley Olson. The Bronx: The Ultimate Guide to New York City’s Beautiful Borough. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2015.