Master Plan for the University of Virginia
Master Plan for the University of Virginia, ca. 1898-1910 McKim, Mead & White, architects University Archives (RG-31/1/2:2.421)


In March 1898, McKim, Mead & White left the University in frustration and were not mentioned at the buildings’ dedication just a few months later. They returned in 1906 at the request of President Alderman. They designed and built two buildings that signaled the modernization of the University: a house for the new president and a substantial dining hall. Alderman wrote to McKim, Mead & White: “While these structures are not to be pretentious, it is our feeling and wish that they may harmonize with the spirit of our architectural standards, and knowing with confidence that your exhaustive studies and highly successful creations in our architectural lines, renders you more than any other completely equipped to aid us in this matter, we turn to you naturally for counsel and assistance.”  

The site for “The Commons,” as Garrett Hall was often known, is on a cross axis suggested by McKim, Mead & White for expanding the University out from the Lawn. Though the refectory was the only building of the Beaux-Arts-inspired plan designed by the firm, their concept of tightly and symmetrically organizing the campus was highly influential well into the 20th century.


Garrett Hall front elevation<br /><br />
Rendering of the front elevation of Garrett Hall (The Commons), ca. 1906 McKim, Mead & White, architects Avery Library, Columbia University [only thumbnail size available]
Garrett Hall interior<br /><br />
Rendering of the interior of Garrett Hall, ca. 1906 McKim, Mead & White, architects Avery Library, Columbia University [only thumbnail size available]
Once again, Stanford White led the design of the new University buildings. While his façade for Garrett Hall was more restrained than those of the monumental Cocke, Rouss, and Cabell Halls, the interior of the dining hall complemented the exuberance of White’s Rotunda interior. With oak paneling, an elaborately sculptured plaster ceiling, and enough seats for half of the student body, Garrett Hall was far larger and more elegant than Jefferson’s hotel dining rooms. When budget constraints threatened the plans for the two new buildings, Alderman stated: “I am determined, above all things, that the dining hall shall not fail, and shall be a worthy building, such as will take a real place in the life of the University of Virginia…. The President could get along very well for a number of years, I think, without the house.” He believed that the refectory was essential for bringing the University community together.
The interior of Garrett Hall, when it was known as “The Commons”
Photograph of the interior of Garrett Hall, when it was known as “The Commons,” ca. 1910 U.Va. Visual History Collection
Detail of Refectory (Garrett Hall)
Detail of Refectory (Garrett Hall), 1907 McKim, Mead & White, architects Blueprint, 22 x 30 in. University Archives (RG-31/1/2:2.872)