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July 1, 1986

The Department of the Interior designated Vassar’s Main Building—architect James Renwick Jr’s third building in the mansarded French Second Empire style—a National Historic Landmark, making it one of only six in the state. in the nomination for historic landmark status, Elizabeth Daniels ’41 cited architectural historian Henry Russell Hitchcock’s assessment of the building, modelled by Renwick at Matthew Vassar’s order on the Tuileries Palace in Paris:For such things as the Smithsonian and his churches Renwick had plenty of visual documents on which to lean, either archaeological treatises on the buildings of the medieval past or illustrations of contemporary foreign work. But for Vassar College, very evidently, he was dependent for his inspiration on rather generalized lithographic or engraved views of the Tuileries. Nor could he, at this relatively early date, borrow much from published illustrations of contemporary English work in the new international Second Empire mode. The particular plastic vitality of the Americanized Second Empire is already notable in this early example, however, even though the rather crude articulation of the red brick walls is remote from anything French of any period from the sixteenth century to the nineteenth. Later buildings by Renwick in the same mode are richer and closer to Parisian standards, but their architectonic vitality is considerably less.”

In recognition of the new honor and of the 125th anniversary of the college’s charter, plans and elevations for Main Building by James Renwick Jr. were displayed in the Vassar Art Gallery.

Henry Russell Hitchcock, Architecture: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, “National Register of Historic Places Inventory—Nomination Form: Main Building, Vassar College (Vassar Female College)”, The Miscellany News

The Years