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The Hall of Fame for Great Americans, is the original "Hall of Fame" in the United States. "Fame" here means "renown" (rather than today's more common meaning of "celebrity"). Its originator, Chancellor Henry Mitchell MacCracken, acknowledged inspiration from the Ruhmeshalle (Hall of Fame) in Munich.
It is a (secular) "national shrine" on the grounds of the Bronx Community College of the City University of New York. Though the Hall's renown has itself has faded, its glorious architecture remains, and the hall stands as a shrine not just to great men, but to Roman ideals of fame favored at the beginning of the 20th Century.
Completed in 1900, as part of the original New York University campus at the site, the building was donated by Helen Gould and was formally dedicated on May 30, 1901.
Origin and inspiration
Other monuments of a similar nature had been built earlier. King Ludwig I of Germany actually built two: a Walhalla Ruhmes- und Ehrenhalle near Regensburg, Germany, completed in 1842, and a Ruhmeshalle auf der Anhöhe (Bavarian Hall of Fame), in Munich, completed in 1853. Chancellor Henry Mitchell McCracken described the evolution of the idea for the Hall of Fame:
The Hall of Fame... owes its inception in large part to hard facts of physical geography. After the three buildings which ere to form the west side of the quadrangle of the New York University College of Arts and Science at University Heights had been planned, it was decided, in order to enlarge the quadrangle, to push them as near as possible to the avenue above the Harlem River. But since the campus level is 170 feet above high tide, and from 40 to 60 feet above the avenue, it was seen at once that the basement stories would stand out towards the avenue bare and unsightly. In order to conceal their walls, a terrace was suggested by the architect, to be bounded at its outer edge by a parapet or colonnade.
But while aesthetics compelled the architect to invent the terrace with its parapet of colonnade, the university's necessity compelled the discovery of an educational use for the architect's structure. Like most persons who have visited Germany, the chairman was acquainted with the "Ruhmes Halle," built near Munich by the King of Bavaria. Like all Americans, he admired the use made of Westminster Abbey, and of the Pantheon in Paris. But the American claims liberty to adopt new and broad rules to govern him, even when following on the track of his Old-World ancestors. Hence it was agreed that admission to this Hall of Fame should be controlled by a national body of electors, who might, as nearly as possible, represent the wisdom of the American people
The memorial structure is an open-air colonnade, 630 feet in length with space for 102 bronze sculptures, designed in the neoclassical style by architect Stanford White. The library is comparable to Low Library at Columbia, designed by White's partner Charles McKim.
Carved in stone on pediments of The Hall of Fame are the words "By wealth of thought, or else by mighty deed, They served mankind in noble character. In worldwide good they live forever more."
The base to each sculpture holds a bronze tablet bearing the name of the person commemorated, significant dates, achievements and quotations. Each bronze bust must have been made specifically for The Hall of Fame and must not be duplicated within 50 years of its execution.
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