We Keep Getting Better: The Evolution of 17 Lexington Avenue

Baruch College is in the process of upgrading its campus and the Lawrence and Eris Field Building at 17 Lexington Avenue is one of the renovation projects. The building as well as the site where it sits, has undergone many changes since opening in 1849, and has withstood many challenges to its future and its place in the collegiate education of New Yorkers.

The building at 17 Lexington Avenue is the site of the original Free Academy which in 1849 was the first tuition-free institution of higher education in the United States. In 1866 its name changed to the College of the City of New York and it went on to educate young men who would pursue distinguished careers such as our own Bernard Baruch.

The school by the beginning of the 20th century operated as a multi-functional institution, with not only a college but also a high school. In addition, it offered an evening program and specialized training classes by the second decade of the 20th century, open to men and women students. In the Board of Estimate Minutes of 1911 it stated:

“Since then [1907] the Board of Trustees has maintained a high school annex to the college in the original college structure, and the 22nd Street section has been used as an annex by the Normal College. At present 650 boys of the City College and 600 girls of the Normal College, or a total of 1,350 pupils, are registered in the two annexes.” [1]

In 1926 the Board of Estimate of the City of New York authorized funding a new building on the site. Remaining at 17 Lexington Avenue was not a given, since economy was an issue. 51st Street between Park and Lexington Avenues was considered and for a time before the final decision was reached on the fate of the old building, an interim location was used. Classes were held in the Grand Central Palace on 42nd Street. [2]

Grand Central Palace

Classes were temporarily held here at the Grand Central Palace.

The major impetus for approving the building of a new structure were the dangerous conditions of the old campus, but it also was the movement to legitimatize business education. The first collegiate business school established in the country was the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1881, but many followed including New York University in 1900. The time was right for the municipal colleges in New York City to also offer degrees in business.

17 Lexington Avenue under construction

From the Baruch College Archives and Special Collections. Construction of 17 Lexington Avenue.

In December 1928, the cornerstone for the new Commerce Building was laid. Mayor Walker sealed the cornerstone which contained the communications of the speakers, and Mayor Walker’s official letter of felicitation. Dr. Robinson’s speech followed:

“Today we lay the cornerstone of a temple of truth for the service of our city, state and nation through the lives of devoted teachers and their students.” [3]

In the New York Times article on September 1, 1929, the new educational institution was praised and its objectives were described.

“The eightieth anniversary is marked by another development on that same corner. Wreckers began an attack on the old City College two years ago, and now on its site has arisen a handsome, modern edifice, the Commerce building of City College, which will be put into use this fall. Here will be housed the School of Business and Civic Administration, in the largest structure anywhere devoted to the teaching of up-to-date business methods.” [4]

New York Times, Sept. 1, 1929

New Building at 17 Lexington Avenue

On October 16, 1929 the building was dedicated with much fanfare. On that day while the construction crew was working on the upper floors of the new building, Mayor Walker dedicated the lower section.

“Both Mr. Tuttle¬† [U.S. Attorney] and Dr. Robinson referred to the ceremonies held on the same spot on January 27, 1847, for the dedication of the free academy, the first unit of The City College, and President Robinson read from the account of the speeches made on that occasion.” [5]

The mission of the college housed at 17 Lexington Avenue is not much different than it was when it first opened in 1929. Mayor Walker said:”I am particularly interested in this institution, which is necessary to maintain the commercial prestige which New York has not only on this continent, but throughout the world.” [6] It has fulfilled the expectations of its champions, and will continue to educate and enrich the lives of future generations of students.

17 Lexington Avenue

From the Baruch College Archives and Special Collections. The completed 17 Lexington Avenue.


[1] Minutes of the Board of Estimate and Appointment of the City of New York. New York, 1911, p.1778.

[2] Baruch College Archives & Special Collections exhibit “History of Baruch College” based on the book¬†Getting Down to Business: Baruch College in the City of New York, 1847-1987. Chapter 1.

[3] Abraham H. Raskin, “Cornerstone of New Building Cemented by Mayor Walker As Civic Dignitaries Look On,” in The Campus, December 6, 1928, v.43, no. 28,p.1.

[4] “A Huge School for Teaching Business,” New York Times, September 1, 1929, p.Xll.

[5] “Mayor Dedicates City College Unit,” New York Times, October 17, 1929, p.13.

[6] Ibid.


One thought on “We Keep Getting Better: The Evolution of 17 Lexington Avenue

  1. Terrific post, Sandra! Beau James (Walker) and Frederic Robinson, now there was a pair! Robinson who invited Italian Fascist students to visit CCNY, and the playboy mayor. You nailed it!

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