Chapter VI: Selecting an Architect

The year of 1947 was to be the eventful year in the beginnings of St. John Fisher College. Sometime in late winter or early spring, Father McCorkell, Bishop Kearney and I agreed on a campaign for the college to be launched in the fall of that year.

There was certainly a lot to be done in the few months remaining. A definite site had to be procured which would appeal to the citizenry, both Catholic and non-Catholic. A definite plan for building would be needed. This meant the selection of an architect.

The story of how the architects were selected is a brief one because only a few people were involved in it. From the old office of the Superintendent of Education of the Diocese of New York, I phoned around to get started from scratch.

This is exactly how we got started: I talked to Jerry Sullivan, the Vice-President of the George A. Fuller Company. He had built the new plant at St. Michael's College in Toronto, had lived in Holy Rosary Parish, Toronto, and had an affecti6n for the Basilians inasmuch as our Father Michael Oliver had instructed and baptized his wife during their stay in Toronto. I had come to know him well while the Institute of Medieval Studies, More, Fisher, and Teefy halls were being constructed on Queens Park in Toronto.

That day in New York, I asked Jerry how to go about selecting an architect. He told me that one doesn't shop for an architect like he would for an automobile. Jerry suggested that we do it this way: have lunch with Mr. Crandall, the president of the George Fuller Company, and talk it over. The three of us went to lunch at the Union Club in New York, a plush place with a wonderful menu. Crandall and the Fuller Company were then building the Cardinal Hayes High School for Archbishop Spellman. Although not a Catholic, Crandall was quite interested in Catholic affairs. He said simply, "Father, there are three architectural firms that could do this job for you - we've worked with all three of them and one of them is just as good as the other. They are Eggers and Higgins; Foley, Voorhees and Walsh; and Maginnis and Walsh."

The first two firms were located in New York, the last one in Boston. That afternoon I walked over to the Eggers and Higgins office and talked to someone there. They were the architects for the new LeMoyne College in Syracuse to be conducted by the Jesuits. The Foley, Voorhees people whom I also visited, were more expert on hospitals and similar institutions. The Eggers and Higgins firm did not appeal to me because it might appear that they had the job of building a college at every main stop on the New York Central main line. Looking back, it was rather flimsy professional thinking with regard to architect selection, but we had to get started at once with a competent firm.

A strictly unexpected event took place next. The firm of Maginnis and Walsh were already engaged in New York City, repairing St. Patrick's Cathedral. Mr. Charles Maginnis, Jr. was in and out of the old Cathedral College building in the basement of which I had my New York office, working with a Mr. Kelly who was married to Helen Cramer from Guelph, Ontario. She had been a student at St. Joseph's College when I was an undergraduate at St. Michael's. Father John Voight, working at a neighboring desk, told me that Maginnis, Jr. was in the building this particular day, and if I wished, he would phone Kelly's office and ask him to come down and talk with me. Mr. Maginnis came in and from that instant we were great friends. Maginnis had had a skiing accident during the winter and was on crutches with his leg in a cast. I recall him as a tall, handsome, jovial man with a winning laugh and smile. He told me that day that his firm (his father's) would be very much interested in the contract to build St. John Fisher College. His quick resumé of the competence of the firm included the building of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception at Washington, the entire plant for the Jesuits at Boston College, all the buildings at Notre' Dame except the Rockne Memorial, Emmanuel College in Boston, and other works. We decided then that after I returned to Rochester, he would come up and talk things over.

At this point we had not yet selected the site for the college. For me, the Fairport Road site was about the only one to consider. Charles Maginnis, Jr. came to Rochester with Eugene Kennedy of the Maginnis and Walsh firm. The three of us coursed around the city and looked over the other possible sites, and then, standing in the shadow of the present site, agreed that there was no doubt about it at all: this was the place to build the college. Young Maginnis left most of the talking to Gene Kennedy who said that the site, if we could get it, would be a wonderful challenge for any firm of architects. The hill and its slope were ideal. I say this took place almost in the shadow of the present site because we lunched and had cocktails in the basement room of a restaurant which was located in the triangle where Fairport Road and East Avenue divide. It proved to be a kind of field office for the architects, the surveyors, and myself. It has since become a professional office building, with some additions to the original structure.

At this point it should be noted that the property we had in mind was composed of two parcels. The 15-acre parcel lay at the intersection of the two roads and to the west of the hill; the hill portion adjoining was the major portion and comprised about 55 acres. Father McCorkell at one point had asked, "Don't you think the 55-acre parcel would be sufficient for the college?" My answer was that we should control the property at the intersection of the two highways. It would be needed to give a landscape sweep to the new college. More important, it would protect us from future buildings which did not blend into a college layout. Father McCorkell agreed that we should acquire both parcels which would give us a total of about 70 acres.

The selection of Maginnis and Walsh as architects was approved by Father McCorkell and the General Council, and there was an evident agreement to leave things in my hands.

The architects had been consulted on the selection of the site. In June of 1949, when we turned the first sod of St. John Fisher College, Charles Maginnis, Jr., one of the speakers at the ceremony, said, "This is the first job we have ever had in which we were consulted before the site was purchased; therefore, we have an unusual responsibility to design and construct a set of buildings appropriate to this land."

Daniel E. Macken had succeeded Eugene Dwyer as the lawyer for Aquinas Institute. I visited at his home many times, usually discussing Christian Culture Lecture series, and gradually he became associated with our purchase of the college land as well as the purchase of the stadium site. I began a whole series of visits with Mr. Robert H. Parks, who owned the 55-acre parcel, and lived on the hill part of the property. The 15-acre parcel directly in front of his home and to the west, reaching down to and past the intersection of Fairport Road and East Avenue as it bent toward downtown, was owned by Mrs. O'Donnell Iselin of New York City, whose Rochester representative was the president of General Railway Signal Company. He had looked after the property for her for many years. Mr. Parks had been a superintendent at the same company for many years, was now retired, and knew the other owner very well. Visiting the president of Railway Signal in his office, I explained how we needed the purchase of the triangular parcel of 15 acres to complete the layout with the Parks property. He explained that the owner had been holding the land and paying taxes on if for many years, but he felt she might sell in view of the worthy use to which the land would be put. I then made a direct offer to him of $2000 an acre.

At this point I had given no firm figure to Mr. Parks. He and I became great friends. I often visited his home on his property. He lived in the house on the hill close to Fairport Road; and the caretaker lived in a neat little cottage nearby. Mrs. Parks had been an invalid for many years, and her husband and daughter were most constant and tender in their care of her. After we finally secured the property, Mr. Parks called me one day to come out quickly, Mrs. Parks was dying. I hurried out and in the little room where she lay dying were Mr. Parks, their daughter, and a family friend. Not knowing exactly what to do at the death-bed of a non-Catholic, I instinctively knelt down and recited several Hail Marys. At the very first one, the friend responded with the second half of the Hail Mary. She introduced herself afterwards as Mrs. Patricia Culhane (her husband was Judge Thomas Culhane).

If this was to be the site, it became important to know exactly what land was there. I called Bill Ginnity, a private surveyor, and requested him to make a complete survey of both parcels of property. His daughter, Bernice Ginnity, was a graduate of Nazareth College, active in its alumnae association which I had addressed at several Communion breakfasts, and for which I had given at least two retreats. Bill Ginnity and I were good friends. When we had the survey completed, Gene Kennedy and Charles Maginnis, Jr. and I met again in our "field office," the basement of the Round House Restaurant at the intersection of Fairport Road and East Avenue. This would be the working plot plan for the architects who were to return to Boston that afternoon. The atmosphere was congenial and after lunch I drove them the back way to the Rochester airport, just in time for them to catch the plane for Boston.

Father McCorkell had told me that for this job I had better get a car. This was easier said then accomplished. Cars were still on a rationed basis after the end of the war but Mr. Daniel Meagher, then the local Pontiac dealer, arranged for me to get a new Pontiac. I would have settled for less, but Dan Macken and others insisted that since this was to be a big undertaking, the automobile of the promoter ought to match the project. The green Pontiac, with white-wall tires, became an institution in that far eastern part of Rochester, Father Timmy Dolan at Aquinas dubbed it "The Green Hornet." Father McCorkell told me that it ought to be bought in my name, and although Father Duggan could use it judiciously for Aquinas business, I was not to let it become a community car. Otherwise, when I wanted it and needed it, it would not be available. How would the car be paid for? By arrangement with Father Duggan, I paid for it with funds borrowed from the Aquinas Mission Crusade, to be repaid as soon as we realized any money from the college campaign.

In the late spring and very early summer of 1947, the campaign for funds was becoming more of a reality. Bishop Kearney and I agreed that we should set one million dollars as the campaign goal. Such an amount had never before been attempted in any Catholic campaign in Rochester. The St. Mary's Hospital Campaign had not touched this figure. The Nazareth College Campaign was far below this amount. The St. Andrew's Seminary Campaign, however, which was for $500,000, had been a decided success. I was at the meeting in the hall of Sacred Heart Church when Bishop Kearney announced the seminary campaign to the pastors of Rochester. They were overwhelmed. They had never attempted anything like it before. Father Pete Randall's skillful handling of the campaign convinced me that if the parishes could raise a half million dollars for a college for men, then I could raise a matching amount from business and industry. Neither of the latter had contributed or been asked to contribute to the St. Andrew's Seminary Campaign.

The architects had advised me that a brick building with stone trim, accommodating all the things I had suggested, would run around a million or slightly over a million dollars. Father Dillon smilingly said one day that it would be wonderful to build it in stone. I told him of the difference in price, and he said, "Well, it was just a passing thought." The Jesuits were building Lemoyne College in Syracuse in red brick. On my next trip to the Maginnis and Walsh office in Boston Charles Maginnis, Jr. and Gene Kennedy showed me several buildings which they had done in a type of brick which had the feet of stone about it. This was a light colored brick which they had used extensively in buildings in the Boston area, I told them to go ahead and come up with something in brick with limestone trim. My only charge to them was to give us a building that has a look of modern American Collegiate Gothic - if there can be such a combination.

I met Charles Maginnis, Sr. early in these negotiations and dined with him and the family at his home. He was a gentleman of the old school. Trinity Church in Boston had called for competitive architectural designs for its renewal. It was the church of the famous Phillips Brooks and the pride of all Boston. When the designs were examined, all agreed that one was the best. Only after that did they discover that it had been done by an unknown architect, Charles Maginnis. From then on, Maginnis was a figure in American architecture, receiving the coveted Architects' lnstitute of America Medal some years later.

The pressure I put on the architects' firm was constant. We were to have a campaign in the fall. Every day of preparation now was important. We must have a master plan for the entire site. We must have some detail of the first and principal building we would erect. It would have to be something that people would say, looking at it: "Wouldn't you like to see that building in Rochester?" Many times Charles Maginnis, Jr. would faintly protest the furious pace that I was setting for them. It was, he claimed, upsetting their whole office routine. Their draftsmen were working overtime to meet the deadline I had assigned.

Through these meetings with the younger Maginnis I came to know Archbishop Cushing; he was a great friend of the Maginnis family. Charles, Jr. thought we should meet. I saw no reason why I should take up the busy Archbishop's time, but young Charles, nevertheless, set up a luncheon and an afternoon meeting with His Excellency in his Rectory on the Seminary grounds. We talked about Archbishop McGuigan, from Toronto, who was a frequent visitor in Boston because of the many "bluenoses," as he called them, from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, who lived in the Boston area and frequently entertained Archbishop McGuigan. I remember asking Archbishop Cushing on this occasion if he didn't think there was a possibility of getting state and federal aid for our parish schools and Catholic colleges. He shook his head, negatively, and said, "Father, they'll never give us a nickel of it!" I thought that this was a rather gloomy dismissal. The various contacts I had around Rochester had generated some thoughts of the possibility of such aid. They were quite unorganized, but roughly they took this form: All the good will and understanding of our non-Catholic fellow citizens ought to be cultivated and brought to fruition for the cause of Catholic education. Then others would see the injustice of the tax situation, if it were properly presented. The ingenuity and resourcefulness of this generation of Catholics was becoming more evident. From the Boston scene itself, I could see that since the 1850's, when the great Irish migration took place, the Boston scene was a thorny one for Catholicism. But in some 80 to 90 years so much of this had changed. Catholics had moved up the political ladder, had cracked the shell of old Massachusetts colonials, and were beginning to produce leaders in professional, governmental, and business life. Why could not some of this spirit be absorbed now by churchmen and be brought to flowering for the parochial schools?

Even if this could not be accomplished on the national scene, I was determined to do what I could to secure the support of the good people of Rochester, industry, commerce, business, and non-Catholics as well as Catholics, to establish the St. John Fisher College for men.

On the subject of architects, it might be well to explain why a local architect was not chosen. I had watched the work of two local Catholic architects considered at the time to be the chief ones available and excluded them for several reasons. If St. John Fisher College was to be more than simply a local institution, then we ought to go out of town for architects and select someone with a national reputation. Frank Quinlan had designed and built the Nazareth College buildings alongside the Motherhouse on East Avenue and had later been retained to design the Aquinas Memorial Stadium, which eliminated him from the St. John Fisher job. Mr. Joseph P. ("Stubby") Flynn had designed and built the new St. Mary's Hospital on West Main Street. The two local Catholic architects, then, had been recognized.

There was a kind of justice due Frank Quinlan from the Basilians. Early in the days of Aquinas Institute, Father O'Loane had Mr. Quinlan draw up a set of plans for a faculty residence to be erected just south of the school building. The plans were quite specific and involved considerable expense on the part of Mr. Quinlan. Father O'Loane had moved out of the city and nothing had ever been done to compensate Mr. Quinlan for his expense. The decent thing to do, it seemed, would be to give Frank some role in our plans and that was one of reasons for selecting him as the architect for the Aquinas Memorial Stadium. The other was his recognized competence. Neither Frank Quinlan nor Stubby Flynn ever voiced any objection to my selection of the Boston architects, at least as far as I have ever heard. Indeed, Frank Quinlan had congratulated me upon the choice, feeling that we were doing the right thing by going out of town. I had always the notion that we would balance the non-local architect situation by employing a local builder. Maginnis and Walsh assured me that they would be willing to work with any competent builders.

One other item that favored the selection of Maginnis and Walsh was that the firm was large enough to contain within itself its own engineering department. This would mean that the specifications for many of the sub-contracts could be developed in their own office.

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