Return to Bard Hall


Norbert Hirschhorn’62

Dr. Hirschhorn in front of Bard Hall. Photo Jennifer O’Rourke.

Alumni remember Bard Hall as a lovely art deco building, 11 stories high, erected in 1932. Inside the doorway is the bronze floor plaque dedicated to Samuel Bard, founder of the medical school in 1767. Beautiful wrought iron gates (a gift from the Class of 1953) guard the entrance. Visitors are now requested to enter next door through Tower One, a residential hall that doubles as a kidney dialysis center.

I was a guest in Bard Hall last fall, renting a vacant dorm room while researching my diaries that are archived at the medical center’s library in preparation for writing my memoir. Compared with any Airbnb, the price was right, even if the room was somewhat austere, not to say monkish. I shouldn’t have been surprised; we were recluses while in medical school. Except for a lightweight wood armoire and matching chest of drawers, nothing seems to have changed. The same hard levers opening the same iron-clad awning windows; the same clanking, paint-chipped radiator; the same kind of plain wood-frame bed, hard pillow, polyester sheets, and coverlet. Outside, the long corridor carpet looked as I remembered it although I was assured it had been renewed 10 years ago. Eighty percent of freshman are now required to live in Bard Hall to “promote class bonding.” The rest take up rooms in residential towers along Haven Avenue or live off campus.

My room had a spectacular view of the Hudson River, with morning sunrise glinting off the columnar high-rise condominiums on the Palisades. It was one of the few rooms without a sink, but, as before, all residents use common toilets and shower rooms. The taps, ceramic sinks, tiles, and shower heads are possibly antique. It might cost too much to retrofit the building but one would hate to lose it to another high-rise. Perhaps it should be listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The fourth and ninth floors are for women only, the seventh just for men. The rest are what is now termed “gender inclusive.”

A new gymnasium has taken the place of the old basketball court where some of us played volleyball. The swimming pool is still there. I once worked as a lifeguard for pocket money and the attendant was surprised to hear this. He didn’t think the pool was that old.

We used to take all our meals in what is now the Ballroom, cliques of classmates at round tables. Now, buffet suppers are served there only on Mondays and Thursdays. I asked some students where they eat at other times. They mentioned a couple of fast food grills nearby; two take-out hole-in-the-wall Chinese eateries; a Thai restaurant; pizza and pasta at Famous Famiglia; a McDonald’s; and a decent hospital cafeteria. Fresh food and produce are available at Super Foodtown at 160th and Broadway; the nearby Gristedes grocery store closed for good while I was visiting.

Campus map: from time Dr. Hirschhorn was on campus

Coming out of Bard Hall today is like flying out of Kansas into the Land of Oz. Take a look at the map from about 1965 compared with the present map. Decades of wealthy benefactors have created a fabulous biomedical research complex, spreading out and rising high. Buildings are now named after their donors. Who among the young would know of our medical professor Dana W. Atchley? His namesake pavilion is now the Herbert Irving Pavilion. If you graduated before 2017 your diploma read Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. Now it’s Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons (after Roy Vagelos, president and CEO of Merck). Out of the munificent $250 million gift from Diana and P. Roy Vagelos’54, $150 million is being used to provide scholarships for students who would otherwise go into long-term debt to get through school. The scholarship funding is important. My tuition was $1,500 a year, which is about 13,000 in today’s dollars, but tuition now far exceeds that.

Campus map: current

Just south of Bard Hall is the New York State Psychiatric Institute’s Kolb Research Building. Lawrence Kolb was one of my professors in psychiatry when the institute occupied what is now the Mailman School of Public Health. Same building, totally revamped. I had worked there for room and board in my last year at P&S as a psychiatric attendant on a locked ward. Several young staff in the Mailman communications office were amazed to hear that I might have bunked down in their space.

At the curved entrance to Haven Avenue, and for a full city block, a new pedestrian space has been created. The entrance from Fort Washington Avenue is set off with white, color-decorated concrete cubes, and a grassy patch rises in front of the Neurological Institute. Columbia Medicine describes it as “a public outdoor plaza shared by the medical center community and our Washington Heights neighbors.” In the past, the medical center had an uneasy co-existence with a neighborhood that includes the mammoth Armory, which now houses the New Balance Track and Field Center and a small homeless shelter. In the 1980s, Washington Heights was a retail center for the cocaine trade, and Broadway a border Columbia people seldom crossed. The medical center has now made the crossing itself, with buildings on St. Nicholas Avenue and further east. 

In a remarkable coalition of town-gown and government, the Mary Woodard Lasker Biomedical Research Building preserves the Audubon Ballroom next door where, in 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated. The Columbia property is neighbor to the expanded Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center, which is intended to “harness the legacies of its namesakes to continue the worldwide movement to advance human rights, social justice, and education.” 

Gaudeamus igitur. We were young. I was happy to return even if just this once. I still remember all my classmates and can call up a face to each name. The names of the 39 classmates who have passed—one-third of our class—are listed below. Ave atque vale.

A. Bernard Ackerman

Bernard L. Allen

Peter B. Barlow

Richard M. Brown

Peter A. Cassileth

Solan Chao

Donald S. Cohen

Despine L. Coulis

William G. Covey

Howard V. Dubin

William C. Duncan III

Howard A. Fox

Herman M. Frankel

Robert B. Gollance

John B. Grant Jr.

Parke H. Gray

Robert A. Gutstein

John Kelley

James D.S. Kim

Joel A. Kraut

Jonathan I. Levine

Clement E. Marks Jr.

Richard S. McCray

Scott Murphy

Edward A. Oppenheimer

Robert R. Pascal

Paul J. Pease

Ganson Purcell Jr.

Robert E. Reber

Elihu N. Root

Barbara J. Rosen

Gabriel H. Schwartz

Frank Rees Smith

Thomas H. Steele

Robert Thompson Jr.

James W. Valuska

K. William Waterson

John J. White Jr.

Robert B. Winslow