1968: Columbia in Crisis

Causes > Morningside Park Gymnasium

The New Columbia Gymnasium

Brochure: "The New Gymnasium"

Cross section of proposed gymansium that highlights the inequality between the Columbia and community spaces.

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In 1959, at the urging of trustee Harold McGuire, the University initiated plans to build a gymnasium for Columbia College students that would sit on two acres of public land just inside Morningside Park. The New York Legislature approved Columbia’s gymnasium plans, which included limited community access, in 1960. Initially, this project boasted the support of the administration, the University trustees, College alumni, the local community, and government officials. Unfortunately, fundraising delays held up construction of the building for several years, allowing interested parties ample time to revise their opinions about the project. By the mid-1960s, the University’s allocation of public land for the project provoked increasingly negative feelings among government officials, community groups and Columbia students.



Protestors tearing down protective fencing at the gymnasium construction site in Morningside Park, April 23, 1968.

Courtesy of Steve Ditlea '69C, photographer, 1968

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Those opposed to the gym were particularly critical of its design.  The building provided access to the University community at the top of Morningside Park along its western boundary, while residents of the surrounding Harlem community would enter on the basement level, along the eastern edge of the park, where they would have access to only a small portion of the building. Separate and unequal access to the facilities prompted cries of segregation and racism.  The gym, moreover was intended for the exclusive use of Columbia College students, a fact that did not provide graduate and professional students, as well as Barnard and Teachers College students, much reason to support it. Almost immediately after Columbia began construction on the gym in February 1968, demonstrating Columbia students and neighborhood residents descended on the site in protest.

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