Pardee Hall

The earliest edifice at Lafayette College with it exterior intact as originally conceived is Pardee Hall. The building was designed in 1872, completed in 1873 and named after Ario Pardee, who donated $250,000 for its construction. It originally housed the college’s scientific departments, and currently is home to most of Lafayette’s humanities and social science departments.

Pardee has survived both natural disasters and renovations. It burned to the ground in 1879 and was rebuilt identically eighteen months later. A second fire in 1897, set by an irate professor who had been dismissed from the college, gutted the building. It was restored again in 1899. During World War II the building’s cast iron roof railings were contributed to the war effort. In a major renovation during 1964-65, the roof was rebuilt in a somewhat altered state and the interior was redesigned with modern classrooms. All internal vestiges of the earlier building were removed.

Pardee Hall was one of the larger collegiate buildings of its era. Lafayette’s early historian, David Skillman, believed the building was responsible for significant growth of Lafayette’s freshman class, the size of which in 1872 was apparently third only to those of Harvard and Yale universities. Generally Pardee Hall reflects the national growth that took place during the prosperous Grant Administration, a flowering that was particularly evident in America’s colleges. In fact, the mode of Pardee Hall is sometimes referred to as the General Grant Style.

A more accurate term for the style of Pardee is Second Empire. During the 1850s and 1860s, the eyes of the western world had turned to Paris. There Emperor Napoleon III, together with Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann, undertook a major building campaign that transformed Paris into a city of grand boulevards and monumental buildings.

One of Napoleon’s most famous projects was the enlargement of the Louvre (1852-57), which brought back into popularity a roof developed by the 17th-century French architect François Mansart. The mansard roof–a double-pitched roof with a steep lower slope–was the hallmark of the Second Empire style. Practically, that roof made the attic an additional usable floor, while symbolically it looked back to the picturesque roof-lines of France’s great Gothic edifices. Other aspects of the Second Empire style were tightly constricted and mostly vertical buildings, suitable to urban settings, and extreme ornamentation. French architects coined the term horror vacui–the fear of unadorned surfaces. Such elaborate decoration further symbolized the grandiose ambitions of Napoleon III. It is worth noting that the Second Empire style was viewed by its practitioners as progressive because it referred to contemporary architectural events in Paris rather than to distant Classicism or Gothicism.

The first major Second Empire building in America was the Concoran Gallery (1859-61, Washington, D.C., now the Renwick Gallery) by James Renwick. The largest was Philadelphia’s City Hall, whose architect was John McArthur, Jr. McArthur was also the architect of Pardee Hall.

Pardee Hall stands out both for its affinities to the Second Empire Style and for some important differences. Of course, this French mode was particularly appropriate for Lafayette because of its attachment to the Marquis. Pardee is marked by its monumentality and austere power, particularly on the major south facade, the direction that all the college’s earlier buildings faced. Its four stories rise dramatically in rough-cut, or rusticated, brownstone. The windows are segmentally arched, emphasizing the massiveness of those walls. Windows, columns, entablatures and quoins are dramatically set off in white sandstone.

The original roof of Pardee was its only decorative element. That roof was more steeply pitched than the present one and was outlined in a more decorative band of contrasting color; its dormers were simultaneously more elaborate and coordinated more closely with the other windows in the building. The roof culminated in a final flourish–its airy wrought-iron rail. It is unfortunate that these features have been lost to the present building. Pardee Hall is articulated horizontally by three pavilions. These pavilions not only give rhythm to the 256-foot facade but, projecting as they do, they lend the building a vital plasticity. The entrance pavilion, with its own projecting corner towers, receding center and free-standing columns on the second floor, repeats in microcosm the rhythm of the entire building.

Second Empire features are certainly evident in Pardee Hall; even so, its horizontal extensiveness, use of pavilions, and powerful simplicity through lack of excessive decoration are at odds with that flamboyant style. The monumental severity of Pardee is, in fact, much closer to such 17th-century French architecture as Salmon de Brosse’s famous Luxembourg Palace (1614-24) than it is to the Philadelphia City Hall. Perhaps when contemplating a building intended for a less urban setting or thinking about the uncomplicated life of the college student, McArthur resolved to look back at the sources for Second Empire architecture. In any case, the resulting building is much more pleasing to the modern eye than the frills usually associated with the Second Empire.

From “Lafayette College Architecture: In Context” by Robert Saltonstall Mattison. Easton, PA: Friends of Skillman Library, 1991.