Black Mountain College Project
Photograph: Trude Guermonprez Elsesser. Courtesy Lisa Jalowetz Aronson.
On June 14, 1937, as insurance against a sudden ouster from the Blue Ridge property, Black Mountain College purchased the Lake Eden property from the trustees of the E.W. Grove estate. The property was located two miles northwest of the village of Black Mountain which meant the college did not have to change its address.
The Lake Eden property consisted of
approximately 674 acres plus the “Royal
League Property” of 52 acres. The purchase price was $35,000 of which
$17,500 was paid in cash, with the balance due in four equal installments
of $4,375 on or before 2, 3, 4 and 5 years at 6% interest. The purchase
was made possible by a gift of
$12,500 by Stephen Forbes, a former student, and $800 of the $2,000 in
underwriting which Edward and Ethel Dreier, parents of Theodore Dreier,
pledged at the college’s founding and of which they made a gift.
In 1939 Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer were commissioned to design a complex of modern buildings for the college. (Gropius-Breuer Plans) The model and plans were exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in January 1940 and a fundraising campaign was begun. The faculty found, however, that in order to raise the requisite $500,000, it would have to assure donors of continuity of purpose and at least the probability of longevity. This would have required a restructuring of the college's organization to include a Board of Trustees and ultimately a more traditional curriculum. Fundraising was complicated both by the impending entry of the United States in the European conflict and by notification by Blue Ridge that it had another occupant and that the college had to move by June 1941.
In the summer of 1940 A. Lawrence Kocher, an American architect who had been editor of The Architectural Record and a proponent of modern architecture was hired to design simpler buildings which could be constructed by faculty and students. The building which he designed had four wings for administration, a library, student studies, faculty apartments, and socializing. (Kocher Plan)
Construction was begun in the fall of 1940 and over the next twelve months, the community constructed the Studies Building, one wing of the Kocher design; built a faculty cottage and a cottage for the kitchen staff; started work on a barn; and winterized all of the existing buildings. Although some construction -- primarily finished the buildings begun the previous year -- continued through the war, limitations on building materials and the loss of most of the men students who left to join the war effort prohibited any serious construction.
After the war Black Mountain hoped to resume its building program both because extra space was needed for the larger student body and because it hoped that a common task would unify the diverse group of new students and faculty all of who arrived with different ideas of what the college had been and should be. The Architects Collaborative was hired to design a dormitory for women, but when the plans were presented, students presented an alternative plan for small units combining sleeping and study space. There were community meetings and finally there was agreement on several small dorms with only sleeping space to be placed in designated "neighborhoods." By the time the architects had returned to the drawing board and produced new plans, the college had obtained surplus army barracks from the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) to alleviate its postwar needs.
The architecture program as it evolved, though not ideal, provided a unique learning experience for members of the community as well as those architects who were commissioned to make designs for the campus. Dreams for a well-designed, coherent campus gave way to the reality of the college's financial situation and its unconventional structure. Democracy was not an efficient process. Conflicts, both external and internal, altered the college's plans. Yet, the program as it evolved, not only met the college's needs for housing and activities, but it captured the imagination of educators and architects throughout the United States who were in the process of creating new departments of architecture and transforming existing programs from the usual beaux-arts curriculum into ones relevant to the present time.
The Black Mountain College
Project gratefully acknowledges a grant from the Graham Foundation