Dear Members of the Monmouth University Community:
On this Juneteenth 2020 – a day when we celebrate the end of slavery in the U.S. – we continue to seek ways to foster a genuinely fair, inclusive, and supportive community for all. Through numerous conversations with students, faculty, staff, and alumni over the past few weeks, one thing is clear: we must do more, especially as we prepare to enroll this fall our most diverse incoming class ever.
To that end, our Board of Trustees advanced the University’s commitment to ensuring a diverse and inclusive community by taking the following actions at its spring Board meeting yesterday.
Wilson Hall. The Board voted unanimously to remove Woodrow Wilson’s name from our marquee building and then voted to rename the building — the Great Hall at Shadow Lawn. Wilson was a controversial politician, who never actually set foot in the current building. Removing his name, and incorporating these earlier names, connects the centerpiece of our campus more accurately to our historical roots and eliminates a symbolic barrier to the important work of creating a truly welcoming and inclusive space in the Great Hall. In support of that goal, we will accelerate our existing plans to reestablish the Great Hall as a true hub of activity for our students, outfitting the main areas with study tables and gathering spaces, opening a coffee bar on the main floor, and generally making it more inviting to students in an effort to build community in the heart of our campus. The Board has also directed the administration to take action to honor the contributions of Julian Abele, one of the first professionally trained African American architects, who was the lead designer of the Great Hall.
· Diversity Initiatives Fund. The Board also voted unanimously to establish a permanent endowment to support the University’s diversity initiatives, dedicating $3 million in inaugural funds for this purpose. In addition, growing the size of this fund will become a key philanthropic priority for the University’s next fundraising campaign, which will launch in the years ahead. This restricted endowment will support diversity programming and educational initiatives, curricular and co-curricular integration, diverse faculty and staff recruitment, and other related efforts, all aimed at cultivating a welcoming and inclusive campus environment for all members of our University community.
As we have previously made clear, our University has not yet met our goals for diversity and inclusion. These initiatives represent just a few ways that the Board of Trustees can support our ongoing efforts. We know you share our appreciation for the Board’s vital leadership in this area. Expect to hear more from the administration in the weeks ahead as we develop a comprehensive plan with ongoing input from student, faculty, staff, and alumni leadership. Thank you.
According to the Monmouth University website, Woodrow Wilson Hall, formerly known as Shadow Lawn, was built in 1929. The mansion stands in the footprint of an earlier mansion, which was destroyed by fire in 1927 shortly after $1 million had been spent on its renovation. That former colonial, wood-frame structure, also known as Shadow Lawn, contained fifty-two rooms and was built in 1903 for John A. McCall, president of the New York Life Insurance Company. The current mansion, which has 130 rooms, cost $10.5 million to build and was the private residence of the F.W. Woolworth Company president, Hubert Templeton Parson, and his wife, Maysie.
Philadelphia architect Horace Trumbauer and his assistant Julian Abele (the first African-American professional architect) designed the current mansion in the American Beaux-Arts style—a popular style derived from the neoclassical tradition of the French École des Beaux-Arts. The mansion features limestone quarried in Belford, Indiana (also used in the Empire State Building), fifty varieties of Italian marble, and steel and concrete framing to ensure the mansion would be fireproof.
Before it was purchased by Hubert Parson in 1918, the original Shadow Lawn was last owned by Joseph B. Greenhut, head of the Siegel-Cooper Company, which ran a New York department store known as “The Big Store”—the largest of its kind at that time. During the presidential campaign of 1916 Greenhut loaned Shadow Lawn to President Woodrow Wilson, who used the mansion as his summer White House that year.
The current mansion fell under municipal ownership in 1939 and later served as the site of a private girls’ school until the University (then known as Monmouth Junior College) acquired the property in 1955 at a cost of $350,000.
In 1985, Woodrow Wilson Hall was designated a National Historic Landmark by the United States Department of the Interior and was recognized as possessing exceptional significance. It had been entered in the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. In 1980, Wilson Hall was the location for scenes in the musical film Annie. It served as the Park Avenue mansion of the film’s Daddy Warbucks character.
Wilson Hall includes 130 rooms on its three main floors, along with rooftop and lower-level rooms. In the main portion of the building there are ninety-six rooms, including what once were seventeen master suites and nineteen baths. Each suite was decorated in the style of a different historical period. The baths also vary in style and had gold- or silver-plated fixtures.
Because Wilson Hall is a National Historic Landmark, its original features are maintained in accordance with the strict guidelines established by the Department of the Interior. The mansion underwent restoration in the 1980s as part of Monmouth University’s 50th anniversary celebration.
Monmouth University is the grateful recipient of numerous grants and awards that preserve, restore, and recognize the historic significance of Woodrow Wilson Hall. Recent grants include substantial funding from the New Jersey Historic Trust and Save America’s Treasures. Our five-year roof restoration project received the 2006 Monmouth County Planning Board Planning Merit Award for Historic Preservation.