Columbia University Walking Tour (Self Guided), New York

Established in 1754, Columbia University is the oldest institution of higher education in New York and the fifth-oldest in the U.S. It is one of nine colonial colleges founded prior to the Declaration of Independence, a member of the prestigious Ivy League, and is ranked among the top universities in the world.

Columbia's main campus was designed along Beaux-Arts planning principles and occupies more than six city blocks in Morningside Heights, New York City. Several buildings on the campus are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Low Memorial Library, the centerpiece of the campus, is a declared National Historic Landmark.

Follow this self-guided walking tour to visit the university facilities on the Columbia campus.
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Columbia University Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Columbia University Walking Tour
Guide Location: USA » New York (See other walking tours in New York)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 16
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.3 Km or 1.4 Miles
Author: Daniel
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Butler Library
  • John Jay Dining Hall
  • Low Memorial Library
  • Alma Mater Sculpture
  • St. Paul's Chapel (Columbia University)
  • Avery Hall
  • Columbia Business School (Uris Hall)
  • Pupin Hall
  • Dodge Fitness Center
  • Teachers College
  • Union Theological Seminary
  • Milbank, Brinckerhoff, and Fiske Halls
  • Barnard College
  • Riverside Park
  • General Grant National Memorial
  • Riverside Church
1
Butler Library

1) Butler Library

Butler Library is the university's largest single library with over 2 million volumes, as well as one of the largest buildings on the Columbia University campus. The Neoclassical style (Stripped Classicism) building was built in 1931–1934 and was designed by James Gamble Rogers The new library was funded by Edward Harkness, a Columbia alumnus who was also donor of Yale's residential college system and Harvard's houses.

Originally called "South Hall", in 1946 it was renamed for Nicholas Murray Butler, the president of Columbia University from 1902–1945. Butler first proposed a new library building when plans to expand the Low Memorial Library did not come to fruition.

The library's facade features a colonnade of columns in the Ionic order above which are inscribed the names of writers, philosophers, and thinkers: Homer, Herodotus, Sophocles, Plato, Aristotle, Demosthenes, Cicero, and Vergil on the northern face, towards College Walk and the Low Library. Cervantes, Shakespeare, Milton, Voltaire, and Goethe on the east, facing John Jay Hall and Wallach Hall; and Horace, Tacitus, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Dante on the western facade, facing Alfred Lerner Hall and Carman Hall.

The large mural in the entrance lobby, titled Videbimus Lumen, (based on the university's motto In Lumine Tuo Videbimus Lumen, or In Thy Light Shall We See Light) was painted in 1934 by Eugene Francis Savage. The composition is anchored by the figure of Athena, echoing the large sculpture of Alma Mater in the center of the campus. The mural contains references to light, social struggle, fascism, and the architecture of Columbia and New York City.

Several books and screenplays have been written in Butler, including Nobel Prize‑winning novelist Orhan Pamuk's The Black Book and the script for the film Capote. It also plays a role in Paul Auster's 2009 novel Invisible: the novel's main protagonist, Adam Walker, takes a job as a page in the library's stacks. This section of the novel is set in 1967 when the stacks were closed to library users. The page's task was to retrieve requested books from the stacks and re‑shelve returned books. The library is also referenced in Erica Jong's Fear of Flying.

Butler Library remains at least partially open 24 hours a day during the academic year.
Sight description based on wikipedia
2
John Jay Dining Hall

2) John Jay Dining Hall

The 15-story John Jay Hall is located at the corner of 114th St. and Amsterdam Avenue. Along with freshman housing, the university health services center and the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, the building is home to the John Jay Dining Hall.

John Jay Dining Hall was Columbia University's only full-service dining facility until 2010. The dining hall, along with the rest of the building, opened in 1929. It continues evoke its roots with paneled walls, arched windows and pendulous chandeliers.

Renovations on the hall took place in 2011 and again in 2013. The dining hall was updated in order to make needed repairs and to replace existing kitchen equipment with more efficient, modern models. The cafeteria has a smoothie station, a vegan station, a salad station, pizza and sushi on a daily basis.

The dining hall was named after the first Chief Justice of the United States, John Jay, an alum of King's College.
3
Low Memorial Library

3) Low Memorial Library

The origins of Low Memorial Library date to 1895. The Columbia University president, Seth Low, funded the construction of the library himself. He named the library after his father, businessman Abiel Abbott Low.

Low Memorial Library has become something of an icon and a central feature of the university. Students commonly meet on the steps of the library. It has been used for celebrations and for protests alike.

Images of the building are often synonymous with the university itself. This is likely due to the fact that it was the first building constructed on the university's current site in Morningside Heights.

The library was designed by Charles Follen McKim. It was patterned after the Pantheon in the neo-classical architectural style. It uses ionic columns and the shape of the Greek cross in its layout. The interior of the library includes busts of Zeus, Apollo and Pallas Athena.

Low Memorial Library was given the distinction of being a New York City landmark in 1967. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.
4
Alma Mater Sculpture

4) Alma Mater Sculpture

Alma Mater is a bronze sculpture by Daniel Chester French which is located on the steps leading to the Low Memorial Library on the Morningside Heights campus of Columbia University in Manhattan, New York City. It is a personification of the traditional image of the University as an alma mater, or "nourishing mother". French designed the statue in 1901 and installed it in September, 1903. It was donated in memory of alumnus Robert Goelet of the Class of 1860 by his wife, Harriette W. Goelet. Alma Mater has become a symbol of the university.

An owl, a symbol of knowledge and learning, is hidden in the folds of Alma Mater's cloak near her left leg and college superstition has it that the first member of the incoming class to find the owl will become class valedictorian. The legend at another time was that any Columbia student who found the owl on his first try would marry a girl from Barnard.

When the statue was originally installed it was gilded. Over time, the original gilding wore off and the few remaining flakes were removed in 1950. In 1962, the University made the decision to have the gilding reapplied; however, the new gilding was removed after protests.

In the early morning hours of May 15, 1970, a bomb was planted on the statue. The resulting explosion caused significant damage to Alma Mater's throne. The damage remained until 1978, when the statue was removed from Columbia. The throne was recast and the sculpture was cleaned, refinished with a new patina, and returned to the Low steps.
Sight description based on wikipedia
5
St. Paul's Chapel (Columbia University)

5) St. Paul's Chapel (Columbia University)

St. Paul's Chapel, on the Morningside Heights campus of Columbia University in Manhattan is an Episcopal church built in 1903-07 and designed by I. N. Phelps Stokes,of the firm of Howells & Stokes. The exterior is in the Northern Italian Renaissance Revival style while the interior is Byzantine.

Although the chapel was part of their master plan, it was the first building on the campus that was not designed by McKim, Mead & White. The chapel was the gift of Olivia Egleston Phelps Stokes and Caroline Phelps Stokes, the sisters of philanthropist Anson Phelps Stokes, in memory of their parents. Attached to their donation was the requirement that their nephew, I. N. Phelps Stokes, the author of The Iconography of Manhattan Island, design the building.

The chapel's exterior of red brick with limestone trim – with terra cotta and bronze ornamentation – fits in with the original McKim, Mead buildings on the campus. The building's dome stands 91 feet (28 m) above the ground, and was possibly the first self-supporting dome in an American church. The 24 windows around the drum of the dome carry the names of prominent New York families connected with the university, such as Philip Van Cortlandt, DeWitt Clinton and William C. Rhinelander. The entablature on the chapel's front facade is PRO ECCLESIA DEI, meaning "For the Assembly of God". The wrought-iron gates in front came from the North Reformed Dutch Church, which closed in 1875.

The chapel's Byzantine interior features Guastavino tile vaulting in intricate patterns on almost every curved surface. Three stained glass windows by John La Farge adorn the apse; other windows are by D. Maitland Armstrong, Henry Wynd Young, and J. Gordon Guthrie. The chapel contains an "Altar for Peace" by George Nakashima, a wooden table with natural edges in his signature style.

The chapel has "sonorous" acoustics, which makes it an excellent venue for the long-running concert series "Music at St. Paul's", and its Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ is renowned for its fine tone.

St. Paul's is referred to as "Columbia's most spectacular building" in the Eyewitness Guide to New York and as "the best of all Columbia's buildings" by the AIA Guide to New York City. It was designated a New York City Landmark on September 20, 1966.
Sight description based on wikipedia
6
Avery Hall

6) Avery Hall

The Avery Hall hosts The Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University, also known simply as GSAPP. It is regarded as one of the most important and prestigious architecture schools in the world. It is also home to the well-regarded Masters of Science program in Advanced Architectural Design, Historic Preservation, Real Estate Development, Urban Design, and Urban Planning.

Among the school's resources is the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library. It is the largest architecture library in the world. Serving Columbia's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation and the Department of Art History and Archaeology, Avery Library collects books and periodicals in architecture, historic preservation, art history, painting, sculpting, graphic arts, decorative arts, city planning, real estate, and archaeology, as well as archival materials primarily documenting 19th- and 20th-century American architects and architecture. The architectural, fine arts, and archival collections are non-circulating. The Ware Collection, mainly books on urban planning and real estate development, does circulate.

Avery Library is named for New York architect Henry Ogden Avery, a friend of William Robert Ware, who was the first professor of architecture at Columbia University in 1881. Soon after Avery's death in 1890, his parents, Samuel Putnam Avery and Mary Ogden Avery, established the library as a memorial to their son. They offered his collection of 2,000 books, mostly in architecture, archaeology, and the decorative arts, many of his original drawings, as well as funds to round out the book collection and to create an endowment.

The Library now holds more than 400,000 volumes and receives approximately 900 periodicals, with legacy holdings of approximately 1,900 serial titles. The library's historic first-level reading room is a significant example of work by the New York architectural firm McKim, Mead, and White. The library building itself, also designed by McKim, Mead, and White, celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2012.
Sight description based on wikipedia
7
Columbia Business School (Uris Hall)

7) Columbia Business School (Uris Hall)

Columbia Business School (CBS) is the business school of Columbia University. Established in 1916, Columbia Business School is one of the oldest business schools in the world.

The school was founded in 1916 with 11 full-time faculty members and an inaugural class of 61 students, including 8 women. Banking executive Emerson McMillin provided initial funding in 1916, while A. Barton Hepburn, then president of Chase National Bank, provided funding for the School's endowment in 1919. The School expanded rapidly, enrolling 420 students by 1920, and in 1924 added a PhD program to the existing BS and MS degree programs.

In 1945, Columbia Business School authorized the awarding of the MBA degree. Shortly thereafter, in the 1950s, the School adopted the Hermes emblem as its symbol, reflecting the entrepreneurial nature of the Greek god Hermes and his association with business, commerce and communication.

Columbia Business School is primarily housed in Uris Hall, at the center of Columbia's Morningside Heights campus. In front of the building one can find The Curl sculpture.

“Curl” was installed on the campus of Columbia University south of Uris Hall in 1968. It is the first large-scale commission completed by Australian-born artist, Clement Meadmore. It consists of a twisting form that maintains its square section as it torques and rolls in a series of curves. Over 13′ tall at its highest, and 30′ long, the black abstract shape contrasts with the formal geometry of the surrounding buildings.
Sight description based on wikipedia
8
Pupin Hall

8) Pupin Hall

Pupin Physics Laboratories /ˈpjuːpɪn/, also known as Pupin Hall, is home to the physics and astronomy departments of Columbia University in New York City. In 1965, Pupin was named a National Historic Landmark for its association with experiments relating to the splitting of the atom, achieved in connection with the later Manhattan Project. In 2009 the American Physical Society named Pupin Hall a historic site and honored Isidor Isaac Rabi for his work in the field of magnetic resonance.

Pupin Hall was built in 1925-1927 to provide more space for the Physics Department which had originally been housed in Fayerweather Hall. In 1935, it was renamed after Mihajlo Idvorski Pupin (also known as Michael I. Pupin), a Serbian-American scientist and graduate of Columbia. Returning to the university's engineering school as a faculty member, he played a key role in establishing the department of electrical engineering. Pupin was also a brilliant inventor, developing methods for rapid x-ray photography and the "Pupin coil," a device for increasing the range of long-distance telephones. After his death in 1935, the university trustees named the newly constructed physics building the "Pupin Physics Laboratories" in his honor.

The current main entrance to Pupin is on the 5th floor from the plaza above Dodge Physical Fitness Center. This means that many of the seminar rooms in Pupin on floors 2-4, while above ground, are below campus level and, therefore, windowless. The original entryway was on the first floor from the Grove, but got blocked by the construction of Dodge in the 1960s.

The Rutherfurd Observatory is on top of Pupin. The Astronomy Department hosts bi-monthly Public Observing Nights, and serves the Tri-State area in hosting people interested in observing with an optical telescope.
Sight description based on wikipedia
9
Dodge Fitness Center

9) Dodge Fitness Center

Marcellus Hartley Dodge Physical Fitness Center, more often referred to simple as Dodge Fitness Center, is the main recreational facility of Columbia University. It is a unique fitness center in that it is located entirely underground.

The fitness center is comprised of several different facilities. The Francis S. Levien Gymnasium is configured for basketball, soccer and volleyball. The University Gym, often called the Blue Gym, also offers basketball, soccer and volleyball. In addition, the University Gym offers badminton and a rubberized surface rather than a hardwood one, like the Levien Gymnasium.

Dodgley Fitness Center also has a tri-level fitness center with free weights and cardio equipment, indoor running track, squash and handball courts and the 25-yard Percy Uris pool.

This fitness center is only open to students at Columbia or Barnard. This ensures that all students have a safe experience when working out, swimming or playing a friendly game of basketball.
10
Teachers College

10) Teachers College

Teachers College, Columbia University (TC) is a graduate school of education, health, and psychology in New York City. Founded in 1887, it has served as one of the official Faculties and the Department of Education of Columbia University since its affiliation in 1898. Teachers College is the oldest and largest graduate school of education in the United States.

The school offers Master of Arts (M.A.), Master of Education (Ed.M.), Master of Science (M.S.), Doctor of Education (Ed.D.), and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degrees in over sixty programs of study. Despite the college's name, less than one-third of students are preparing to become teachers. Graduates pursue careers, for example, in the social sciences, health and health promotion, educational policy, technology, international and comparative education, as well as educational leadership.

Teachers College also houses a wide range of applied psychology degrees, including one of the nation's leading programs in Organizational Psychology. Every year Captains from the United States Military Academy at West Point are selected for the Eisenhower Leader Development Program (ELDP) and complete the Organizational Psychology M.A. Program to become Tactical Officers (TAC) at West Point.
Sight description based on wikipedia
11
Union Theological Seminary

11) Union Theological Seminary

Union Theological Seminary was founded in 1836. During the late 19th century it became one of the leading centers of liberal Christianity in the United States. It is affiliated with neighboring Columbia University. Since 1928, the seminary has served as Columbia's constituent faculty of theology. In 1964, UTS also established an affiliation with the neighboring Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

UTS is the oldest independent seminary in the United States and has long been known as a bastion of progressive Christian scholarship, with a number of prominent thinkers among its faculty or alumni. In the 20th century, Union became a center of liberal Christianity. It served as the birthplace of the Black theology, womanist theology, and other theological movements. It houses the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, one of the largest theological libraries in the Western Hemisphere.

Among its graduates were the historian of Christianity Arthur McGiffert; biblical scholar James Moffatt; Harry Emerson Fosdick, the pastor of Riverside Church who served as professor during his tenure there; and the Socialist leader Norman Thomas.
Sight description based on wikipedia
12
Milbank, Brinckerhoff, and Fiske Halls

12) Milbank, Brinckerhoff, and Fiske Halls

Milbank, Brinckerhoff, and Fiske Halls are historic buildings located on the campus of Barnard College in Morningside Heights, Manhattan. The three interconnected buildings are collectively known as Milbank Hall. They were designed by Charles A. Rich (1854–1943), built between 1897 and 1898, and contain classrooms, laboratories, administrative offices and dormitory. They are four stories on a raised basement built of dark red brick with white limestone and terra cotta details. They combine Italian Renaissance massing and detail with Colonial Revival inspired features.

They were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.
Sight description based on wikipedia
13
Barnard College

13) Barnard College

Barnard College is a private women's liberal arts college in New York City. It was founded in 1889 by Annie Nathan Meyer as a response to Columbia University's refusal to admit women, and is named after Columbia's 10th president, Frederick Barnard.

The college is affiliated with but legally and financially separate from Columbia. Students share classes, clubs, fraternities and sororities, sports teams, buildings, and more with Columbia, and receive a diploma that is signed by both Barnard and Columbia presidents.

Students' Hall, now known as Barnard Hall, is a historic educational building located on the campus of Barnard College in Morningside Heights, New York. It was designed by Arnold W. Brunner and Buchman & Fox in 1916, and contains classrooms. It is four stories on a raised basement built of dark red brick with white limestone and terra cotta details. It combines Italian Renaissance massing and detail with Colonial Revival inspired features. The front facade features a three-story limestone portico with four monumental Corinthian order columns.

The hall was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.
Sight description based on wikipedia
14
Riverside Park

14) Riverside Park

Riverside Park is a park that runs alongside the Hudson River. The four-mile strip of land is flanked by the river on one side and Columbia University on the other. With over 200 acres of green space and walking trails, Riverside Park has been declared a New York City scenic landmark. It is also on the National Register of Historic Places.

The park is popular among Columbia University students due to its close proximity to the campus. It was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead in 1874. Other architects added to and restored the park over the years.

Riverside Park has a waterfront walkway, several curving pedestrian paths and a bicycle trail. Monuments and statues within the park include the Firemen's Memorial, a monument dedicated to Eleanor Roosevelt, the Joan of Arc memorial and Grant's Tomb, among many others.

The park has numerous play structures for children, three dog runs, a skatepark, nine baseball fields, seven handball courts and a number of volleyball, tennis and soccer areas.
15
General Grant National Memorial

15) General Grant National Memorial

Grant's Tomb, officially the General Grant National Memorial, is the final resting place of Ulysses S. Grant, 18th President of the United States, and his wife, Julia Grant. It is a classical domed mausoleum, located in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Upper Manhattan in New York City. The structure is located in the middle of Riverside Drive at 122nd Street, across from Riverside Church to the southeast and Riverside Park to the west.

Upon Grant's death in 1885, his widow declared that he had wished to be buried in New York, and a new committee, the Grant Monument Association, appealed for funds. Progress was slow at first, since many believed that the tomb should be in Washington, D.C., and because there was no architectural design to show. Eventually they selected a proposal by John Hemenway Duncan for a tomb of "unmistakably military character," modeled after the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, with twin sarcophagi based on Napoleon’s tomb at Les Invalides. The tomb was completed in 1897, and has been under the management of the National Park Service since 1958. After a period of neglect, it has been restored and rededicated.

Grant's Tomb is open to the public from Wednesdays through Saturdays. In addition to being a national monument since 1958, Grant's Tomb was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966 and was designated an official New York City landmark in 1975.
Sight description based on wikipedia
16
Riverside Church

16) Riverside Church

Riverside Church is located across from Grant's Tomb near Columbia University. The interdenominational church is both a Baptist and Congregationalist church founded by Presbyterian minister Henry Emerson Fodsick and John Rockefeller.

The church was designed by Allen & Collens architectural firm and architect Henry C. Pelton in the Neo-Gothic architectural style. Construction began in 1927 and was completed in 1930.

Riverside Church has a 392-foot tower with 21 floors. It is considered to be the tallest steeple in North America. The tower includes a three-level belfry. The carillon, which was the largest in the world at the time of its construction, contains 74 bronze bells. Visitors are welcome to take tours of the tower.

Tourists are welcome to attend worship services on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings. They may also explore the grounds or take tours of the facility. Along with the Tower Tour, Riverside Church offers an Art & History Tour, which focuses on the nave, chapel, stained glass windows and paintings.

Walking Tours in New York, New York

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Midtown Manhattan Walking Tour

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NYC Greenwich Village Walking Tour

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NYC Top Religious Sites Walking Tour

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NYC's Chinatown and Little Italy Walking Tour

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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
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