Mcbryde Hall, The Pacesetter
Looking back on those days I am free to admit that Mr. Cram's influences on Collegiate
Gothic in America show itself in our decision to design a Gothic building. Our problem
was complicated, thought, by having to design a Gothic building to house a foundry,
machine shop, and woodworking shop and still meet Dr. Eggleston's dictate that it
should 'look like a college building.'
The answer to our problem was found in giving the building two fronts, one a "college like" front to face the campus and the other utilitarian front to face an off-campus street. It was previously decided that the location of the building should form an integral unit of a proposed new group of buildings.
Do Matthews, superintendent of buildings and grounds at the College, told us that he could save considerable money if the new building were built of native stone. He said that bricks would have to be brought from a distance and laid up by high cost labor, whereas, there was a quarry on the campus (back of the present Burrus Hall), and there were dozens of old, unemployed Scotsmen, former stone workers in the community, who would gladly return to their trade to earn a little cash.
Dr. Eggleston then boldly proposed a demolition of one of the Faculty Row houses to make way for the new structure and its monumental facade, "looking like a college building" facing the parade ground. The utilitarian rear section, with its one story housing the shops, was a scheme later adopted at Yale, North Carolina, and again on campus in the design of Davidson Hall.
Next came the problem of the sculptured panels. It was decided to have the panels represent, from left to right: bench work in metal,
foundry, machine tools, bench work in wood, and lesser symbols of wood and metal
The Economy Concrete Co., of New Haven, Conn., gave us a most attractive quotation on the trim stone for the new building; and this included the sculptured figures. I went to New Haven to inspect the plant and make certain decisions concerning the finish of the cast stone. While there, I met the company president, EW Wheeler, a veteran of the Civil War. After exchanging a few stories about the War, we got down to business, and Mr. Wheeler became almost as interested in the sculpture as was I. Neither of us wanted practical 'tombstone culture art,' and Mr. Wheeler happened to know a young man in the art department at Yale who had real talent and promise and who would be glad to model the figures for us at a nominal fee. The young man was no less than Lee Laurie who later would receive countless honors and become known throughout the nation. In later years, Laurie undoubtedly would have charged a hundred times what he was paid for the McBryde figures.
When the building was dedicated in 1914, the artistic features were lauded, pictures were taken, and articles were written; but they were soon forgotten. Years later students and visitors to the campus would never see or understand this early effort to lift VPI out of the appearance of a trade school or cow college; yet its spirit has continued. And the McBryde Building did what Dr. Eggleston wanted; it set the pace for everything on campus since.