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  1. The Architectural Evolution of Prospect Avenue

Ivy Club circa 1890

Prospect Avenue's architectural history spans only the short, frenetic period at the turn of the century when the clubhouses that stand today were actually designed and built. Indeed, one of the most extraordinary aspects of the entire club phenomenon is the speed at which the clubs formed and raised their own buildings. By the time this boom in club construction ended, Princeton's 19 eating clubs would occupy dozens of different buildings in a bewildering array of moves, renovations, and new facilities.

Keeping track of the various incarnations of the clubs as they jitterbugged around Prospect Avenue can be confusing. To provide some context for this intricate dance -- and to help make sense of the architectural evolution of Prospect Avenue as a whole -- it is possible to divide the development of the clubs into three loose phases. Although it wasn't apparent at the time, each of these phases is marked by corresponding shifts in club architecture.

First, there was the period of creation, lasting from the late 1870s roughly through the turn of the century. This era saw the first clubs take root at Princeton (go to Origins of the Club System ) and also saw the construction of the first custom- built clubhouses on Prospect Avenue.

In keeping with the times, the overall style of these early clubs was in line with the domestic architecture of the period -- informal, suggestive of the idyllic, pastoral life deemed appropriate for young gentlemen of the late 19th century.

Ivy Club circa 1890

Princeton University. Property of the Trustees of Princeton University.

Source: Princeton University Archives, Mudd Library, Grounds \& Buildings, Box 34

Ivy's first building on Prospect Avenue...


Tiger Inn in 1899

Tiger Inn in 1899

Princeton University. Property of the Trustees of Princeton University.

Source: Bric-a-Brac, 1899, p.158

...and Tiger Inn are representative of the choice of a domestic rather than institutional style. (Go to Early History of Prospect Avenue )


Ivy Club in 1900

The second period, the decade of 1900-1910, saw the clubs ascendant, and it was during this era that the clubs became firmly and forever established as Princeton institutions. And as the clubs grew more established and adopted increasingly formal models and practices, so too did their architectural tastes and ambitions mature. Thus we see a progression from the more countrified early clubs to the extremely formal, luxurious buildings of the early 1900s.

Built variously in Colonial, Gothic, and Georgian styles, these structures reflect the club phenomenon at its ostentatious and competitive height.

Ivy Club in 1900

Princeton University. Property of the Trustees of Princeton University.

Source: Bric-a-Brac, 1900, p.155

The building rivalry between Ivy, ...


Cottage Club after 1904

Cottage Club after 1904

Princeton University. Property of the Trustees of Princeton University.

Source: Princeton University Archives, Mudd Library, Grounds & Buildings, Box 30

... Cottage, ...


Colonial Club after 1907

Colonial Club after 1907

Princeton University. Property of the Trustees of Princeton University.

Source: Princeton University Archives, Mudd Library, Grounds & Buildings, Box 30

... and Colonial was particularly intense.


Cap and Gown Club in 1910

Cap and Gown Club in 1910

Princeton University. Property of the Trustees of Princeton University.

Source: Bric-a-Brac, 1910, p.208

These clubs and others of this period, notably Cap & Gown, also set a tone for the future. Virtually all the clubs built afterwards would echo these same formal styles. (Go to The Clubs Ascendant )


Key and Seal Club after 1925

Finally, the clubs went through a period of consolidation before and after World War I, when Prospect Avenue assumed its current form. During this phase, such buildings as Charter, Tower, Quadrangle, and Dial Lodge were built. If stylistically consistent with existing clubs on the street, however, none of these later structures aspired to the same grandeur as the clubhouses of the early period.

In part, this deliberate scaling back in the size and opulence of club buildings reflects the rising costs of club construction and the more limited means of the newer clubs. But it also reflects an architectural response to the assault on the extravagance of the club system that was led by Woodrow Wilson. Although Wilson's "Quad Plan" was ultimately derailed by alumni opposition, it did much to influence the last phase of club development.

Dial Lodge, for example, was organized during the midst of the turmoil over the Quad Plan, and its members deliberately selected the name "lodge" to distance their new organization from the older, more elitist clubs. (The word "Lodge" also helped appease Wilson, who as President could have scuttled the club's charter.)

Key and Seal Club after 1925

Princeton University. Property of the Trustees of Princeton University.

Source: Princeton University Archives, Mudd Library, Grounds & Buildings, Box 64

Further, the last several clubhouses built -- Key & Seal...


Cloister Inn after 1924

Cloister Inn after 1924

Princeton University. Property of the Trustees of Princeton University.

Source: Princeton University Archives, Mudd Library, Grounds & Buildings, Box 30

...and Cloister, for example -- were relatively modest and influenced more by academic models (especially the Collegiate Gothic of the university campus) than by their older peers. (Go to Prospect Stabilizes: 1910-1935 )

As a cohesive unit, then, Prospect Avenue was essentially complete by the mid-1920s and none of the subsequent changes have dramatically altered the basic architectural perspective along Prospect. Walk along the street today and you can still discern traces of all three phases of the architectural development of the clubs.