A common reaction to Marcel Breuer and Associates’ 1959-61 Colston Hall at Bronx Community College, an arcing slab of concrete and steel hard by the Major Deegan Expressway and overlooking the Harlem River, is What’s that? (This is not an uncommon reaction to Breuer.) I’ve been tagged in blurry Instagram photos and even craned my neck in vain on Metro-North to get a peek. One passes the building so quickly that, when leaves are on the trees on the slope below, it can seem like a modernist mirage, its boomerang curve chiming with the semi-circular colonnade of Stanford White’s Hall of Fame for Great Americans higher up the bank.
Breuer would have been driving at a slower speed in 1960, commuting between his office on 57th Street and his famous house in New Canaan. Checking on the construction from the driver’s seat of his Jaguar, he noticed not the slab but an error in the rubble retaining walls below the building. “He saw some stone that was not proper,” recalls architect Bernard Marson, Clerk of the Works for Colston and the three other buildings Breuer had designed for what was then New York University. “He made a little drawing of how he expected it, and he said, ‘That’s not right.’ I felt very apologetic about it. I said, ‘Do you want it removed?’ He said, ‘No, that’s history,’ that it was done. Everybody would have done what he requested, but he thought that it was important to leave it.” A concrete wall near the staircase in the former Whitney Museum (1964–66) bears a similar flaw where a form board came loose during the pour. That mistake is also, now, history.