Great Architects of New York: Henry J. Hardenbergh
The Palmer Physical Laboratory (now the Frist Campus Center)
Location
Princeton University: West side of Washington Road, between Prospect Avenue and Ivy Lane.
Princeton, N.J. 08540
Built
1907-1908; enlarged, 1999-2000 by Robert Venturi of Venturi, Scott Brown & Associates.
Style
Collegiate Gothic
Use
Originally the Physics Department's classrooms and offices. Now a student center.
Web resources
Frist Center's Homepage
Architect's Description
Before-and-After

Einstein once lectured in this academic hall, which was designed more for utility than for looks. This is the Palmer Physical Laboratory, built in 1907-1908. It was donated by Stephen S. Palmer, a trustee who was also the benefactor of the old Palmer Stadium, also designed by Hardenbergh but demolished in 1998. According to a Princeton history, "Palmer Physical Laboratory was not intended to be an architectural showpiece. Instead, as Dean Howard McLenahan wrote, 'the first aim … of the donor, architect, and department has been to get a workshop, a building every feature of which had to meet the test of utility.' To that end, the new structure had its own internal telephone system; gas, water, air, vacuum, and electricity supplied to each lab; two refrigerated rooms; and large faculty offices."

The university's continuing expansion has obscured much of the west and south facades of the original building. Fine Hall (now Jones Hall) was built to Palmer's west and attached to it in the mid-1930s. In 1999-2000, Palmer was renamed the Frist Campus Center after it was renovated and enlarged with money from the family of Senator Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee, the Senate majority leader since 2002. The addition was designed by Robert Venturi, a Princeton graduate and co-author of the classic, Learning From Las Vegas (1972). A 20-foot-high limestone colonnade stands in front of building's north facade, blocking the view of the building from a grassy quad to the north.

Note the sturdy Flemish bond brickwork, contemporary with that at Natirar, and the white trim, which is akin to the Hotel Albert and the All Angels' Church Parish House. Two statues adorn the north entranceway to the building, but the most notable element of this building is the six square gargoyles adorning each gable: two on the north facade, two on the south that remain above the Venturi addition, and one each on the east and west facades.



The north side faces a grassy quad, and a colonnade.


The main entrance on the north side. A sign above reads "A.D. 1907." A sign above that reads:


Ben Franklin, who investigated electricity, and Joseph Henry (1797-1878), a leading 19th century scientist and student of electricity and magnetism.


The east facade faces sloping Washington Avenue.


Hardenbergh's south facade is obscured by the 1999-2000 addition.

The Gargoyles


Southwest gable: Teddy Roosevelt, who said "speak softly but carry a big stick," with caricatured famous grin.

Southeast gable.

Northeast gable: Ben Franklin famously experimented with electricity with the help of a thundercloud, lightning bolt, and key. Less obviously, he used the key when sneaking home after a night drinking at Fraunces' Tavern, only to meet his unhappy wife, who turned on the light, represented by the lightning bolt.

Northwest gable.

West gable.

East gable.


Here's Ben again. When the light is right, one notices a subtle "HH" in the folds of the streamer that encompasses each gargoyle. Did Henry Hardenbergh sign this building?