The Field Building at 17 Lex Gets a Makeover
17 Lex Testimonials:
Looking Back, Looking Ahead
The latest chapter in the history of the 17 Lex promises to be a glorious one, with a major overhaul, beginning in 2012, slated to re-establish the structure as a Baruch College campus hub and a source of happy memories for future generations of students and alumni. In anticipation of the renovation, alumni and longtime Baruchians have shared their thoughts about this iconic building—past, present, and future.
Matthew Goldstein, Baruch president (1991 to 1998) and current CUNY chancellor: As the site of the Free Academy, founded in 1847 as the first institution of free higher public education in the country, 17 Lex is hallowed ground.
Larry Field (’52, DCSc [Hon.] ’04):
On the day 17 Lex was renamed the Lawrence and Eris Field Building, my head flooded with memories of my carefree student days—rushing to classes using the staircase (since the elevators broke down a lot), meeting friends before and after class, staying up to 2 a.m. to put The Ticker to bed for the week, marching for some cause or other, checking out the coeds, and running to get to the class of a favorite professor. The memories are a hazy, distant past, but the feeling remains about what we really accomplished. Most of us were the children of immigrant parents, some of whom couldn’t read English. It was our special time, never to be repeated. Allegaroo.
Bernard Feuer (’30): One spring afternoon I went downtown to see the new School of Business building. All of CCNY’s day business students were told that they would be transferring to the ‘23rd Street Branch,’ as it was called, in September 1929. The building was unfinished; only one story was near completion. I entered through an open door and wandered about until I came upon the unlit swimming pool. The pool had already been filled with water, and I decided to take a swim. I truly believe I was the first City College man to have swum in that pool.
Judge Feuer submitted the above recollection previously, and it was printed in the Winter 1993–94 edition of the alumni magazine. He was a member of the first graduating class of the ‘23rd Street Branch’ of City College. His student days, as well as his early life on New York’s Lower East Side and experiences in Europe, are recounted in his autobiography, Third Lieutenant (1st Books Library).
Abraham Briloff (’37, MSEd ’41), Emanuel Saxe Distinguished Professor (Emeritus) of Accountancy: Thinking about 17 Lex sharpens my gratitude: All the wonderful things that have happened to me over the course of my lifetime go back to 17 Lex.
I graduated from high school in 1934, during the height of the Great Depression. I couldn’t find a job; no one wanted to hire a 16 year old. I had to do something (I’m not temperamentally suited to be a hobo). But I was denied admission to City College Uptown because I had a commercial high school diploma. 17 Lex—then City College Downtown—welcomed me.
Here I met my mentor and beloved friend Emanuel Saxe (’23). Manny Saxe was so associated with 17 Lex for decades that the building and school were called ‘Saxe’s 23rd Street.’ It is to him that I owe my broad understanding of accountancy as a discipline that subsumes all other disciplines, not just as debits and credits.
Claire (Rosen) Mason (’40): Eli and I registered for our first freshman class in the 17 Lex auditorium, now called Mason Hall in honor of our 1997 gift to renovate this handsome space. I continue my and my husband’s legacy to Baruch because it continues to do for students today what it did for us.
Richard L. Gilbert (’42): “How I remember all that spirited activity at 23rd and Lex. Snake dances*, discussions, rallies, protests, arguments, freshman hazing. Then I’m drafted, end up in Texas, and wander over to the university. There, students are doing homework in rowboats with feet dangling in the water. Paradise? Hell no! I’ll take that hard-edged cement at 23rd Street and Lex any day.”
*According to Gilbert, “snake dances were spirited, impromptu, line-ups of students, usually to celebrate a City College basketball victory. Then, we were coached by the legendary Nat Holman, and there were many city championships.”
I saw Bernie West* as a student (famous later as the writer for All in the Family) perform for Prof. Lou Levy of the Department of Speech. I also participated in Prof. Levy’s Faculty Student shows.
I listened to Mr. Bernard Baruch lecture in 4 North. At 6’5”**, he stunned crowds at 23rd and Lex.
This page isn’t long enough to list all of my Baruch College memories. But the plaque on my wall doesn’t let me forget that I enjoyed them all.
*Born Bernard Wessler, West was one of the College’s most famous and devoted alumni, a TV legend who gave audiences years of laughter as writer and producer of the culturally significant and long-enduring sitcoms All in the Family, Three’s Company, and The Jeffersons.West was a graduate of the Class of 1939 and was given an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree by Baruch College in 1998. He died in 2010 at the age of 92.
**Baruch was actually 6’4” but obviously so tall that Mrs. Gershberg added an inch!
Allen Aaronson (’48): Bernard Baruch’s visits to his alma mater, then the City College School of Business and Public Administration, were pretty rare. On one such occasion, I was privileged to be seated on the dais in a chair adjoining his at a convocation held in the Edwards Theatre at 17 Lex (now Mason Hall). The speaker preceding Mr. Baruch was pontificating at great and boring length. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Baruch tug on his earlobe, causing his hearing aid to free-fall into his lap. He sat there, hands crossed on his knees, staring straight ahead, unmoving, until he arose to make his own speech.
As the only undergraduate member of the Alumni Association Board of Trustees and chairman of the Centennial Fund, in a small way I participated in our cajoling Mr. Baruch into making his initial contribution of $1 million to our fund drive. For that time, it was an extraordinarily large and generous gift.
Years later, after his death and the Board of Ed decision to make the school a separate entity, I was part of the group that lobbied to rename the school in his honor.
Arlene Kaye (’50) Richards, wife of Bernard Richards (’49): I’ve gotten so much feedback over the years from the plaque in the 17 Lex stairwell, which commemorates the first time my husband, Bernie, asked me out on a date. Once a young man came up to me to tell me how touched he was when he first read the plaque. Its wording is simple: “Bernard (’49) and Arlene Kaye (’50) Richards met here. Baruch College honors them on the occasion of their 50th Anniversary, December 23, 1998.”
I met Bernie in 1947. He had been in the Navy during WWII and had returned to school to finish his degree. I was introduced to him by a friend in my House Plan, Wilde ’49. She thought he and I might be a good match based on geography (“He’s from the Bronx and so are you,” she said). A few days later, when Bernie and I bumped into each other on the staircase in 17 Lex, he asked me out. He was handsome and unaffected. We were married when he graduated and have had a great marriage, soon to celebrate our 63rd anniversary.
Bernie and I have never forgotten 17 Lex and Baruch, where we met and where we received such a great education.
In spring 1959, Eleanor Roosevelt was invited by Professor William Turner Levy to address a convocation. I was president of Student Council, so it became my honor to be her student liaison. I picked her up at the United Nations in my own ’59 Chevy Bel Air and drove her to Baruch. We walked together on stage and were seated, and I was called upon to introduce the former First Lady. During the ride back to the U.N., she invited student leaders (myself included) to lunch with her at Hyde Park. Six of us went and were greeted and entertained by Mrs. Roosevelt.
Also at 17 Lex: As a student leader, I had the chance to meet with Bernard Baruch on one of his visits to the College. Six student leaders met with him. A photo of that roundtable appeared several times in the New York Times.
Dr. Janet S. Weisberg-Samuels (’60): Memories of Baruch—the ninth floor, Boosters, Student Council—are as vivid as if they happened yesterday.
Richard Friedman (’72): During breaks in my class schedule, I frequently played Ping-Pong in hall space on the ninth floor down from the cafeteria. I remember taking third place in the Baruch Ping-Pong tournament of 1971 and receiving a bronze metal.
Dan Clivner (’85): I vividly remembered two of my classes held in 17 Lex. The professor for my U.S. law seminar mused that “half the time it’s too hot and half the time it’s too cold at 17 Lex, so on average the temperature is perfect.“ I also recall Professor John C. Francis’s Introduction to Finance class in the large lecture hall on the first floor. He predicted that the Dow Jones Industrial Average would eventually surpass 1,300, told us never to give free advice to friends and family, and proclaimed that none of us would get jobs on Wall Street. Luckily, he got it only two-thirds right.
Ray Rankis, athletics director and men’s basketball coach since 1983: I take my current basketball players to the old gym in 17 Lex to experience its ‘charms.’ Today’s players marvel at the dilapidated, undersized facility; they’re accustomed to the ARC in the Newman Vertical Campus. But before the ARC, we had to make do with little.|
The ground-floor auditorium (now Mason Hall) was always the scene—and this continues to this day—of fashion shows, cultural shows, talent shows, etc., sponsored by Baruch’s many student organizations as well as a number of midyear Commencements and the annual Freshman Convocations. There was a time when major guest lecturers spoke in the auditorium as well. The likes of Jesse Jackson, Spike Lee, and Ted Turner graced that stage, invited by the student governments, the only campus groups that could bankroll some of their fees.
The Baruch College library was housed on the second floor of 17 Lex for many years before the library moved to the 24th Street building, which in turn was torn down to make room for the William and Anita Newman Vertical Campus (the NVC).
The Day Session Student Government would hold weekly meetings during Thursday club hours in a lounge on the ninth floor. That room was the former meeting room for the Board of Higher Education of the City of New York. A shield on the mantel of the room’s fireplace stands witness to that earlier use, inscribed with “BHE” (the abbreviation for the Board of Higher Education). BHE was the precursor to the Board of Trustees of the City University of New York, which was formed in the late 1960s.
The Skylight Lounge (Room 306) was used by many student groups for receptions and small events as well.
So much Baruch College history lives within the walls of 17 Lex.
Anatomy skeleton, circa 1980: All I know is that I’ve been hanging around in the Natural Sciences labs since the ’80s.
Adrienne (Rayski) Preuss (’07): As a Baruch student in the era of the NVC, I looked to that building as the hub of my college universe—and 17 Lex as sort of an afterthought. It’s hard for recent and current students not to prefer the amenities of the NVC and library building.
Basilio Bernard, 17 Lex security officer since 1987: For me, 17 Lex is not about the building but about the people in it. I’m astonished by the lives I’ve touched. I’m frequently approached off duty by people who recognize me as a representative of the College.