History of the Campuses and Buildings of the University of Rochester
United States Hotel Prince Street Campus Eastman School of Music Medical Center River Campus Mid-Campus South Campus Mt. Hope Campus Graduate, Family and Veteran Housing Central Utilities Other Off-Site Buildings
Prince Street Campus Cutler Union

Cutler Union from old postcard

Cutler Hall was funded by a bequest from James G. Cutler and his wife Anna Cutler.  The building became the center for student life at the College for Women, and was transferred to the Eastman School for $650,000 after the College for Women moved to River Campus in 1955.  Cutler Union was connected to the Memorial Art Gallery in 1987 with the opening of the Vanden Brul Pavilion.

1932 "Women's College to Begin Cutler Union To Help Employment in Building Trades," Democrat and Chronicle, May 19, 1932, Page 15. | Part 2 |

1933 "Cutler Union Will Welcome U.R. Students," Democrat and Chronicle, September 25, 1933, Page 13.

1940 "Lights of Cutler to Blaze Forth," Tower Times, November 8, 1940, Page 2.

1977 History of the University of Rochester, by Arthur J. May (on-line version with footnotes)
Chapter 22, Oak Hill Becomes River Campus
It was thought of overhauling the former men's gymnasium to render it more suitable for women, but, instead, it was soon decided to tear down that quaint edifice and erect on the site a student union, made possible by a handsome bequest from Trustee James G. Cutler.
Chapter 27, Undergraduates and Graduates in the Thirties
Of the new facilities easily the most distinctive and significant was the Cutler Union, "a beautiful building, beautifully furnished." The Union, on which work started in 1932, was situated on the southeast sector of the college grounds, the three-decade old Alumni Gymnasium being razed to provide the site. At the ground-breaking ceremony, Dean Bragdon accurately predicted that the Union would become the focus of extracurricular cultural activities, a college forum, and "the home of gracious hospitality." Committees of undergraduates and alumnae shared in decisions on the design and layout of the building.
In accordance with the tastes of the late James G. Cutler, whose liberal bequest financed the construction of the Union, academic Gothic architecture was decided upon, and Indiana limestone was used, Ezra Winter served as designer; a lofty clock tower surmounted the three-story edifice. Inside, a spacious auditorium seating 800 was equipped with a large stage, and, by removing the chairs, the hall could be transformed into a dance floor or used for banquets. Ceiling panels in red bore symbols of the fine arts, the lyre, for instance, representing music, while snowflakes spotted blue panels. Sidewalls carried the coat of arms of the Cutler family and "Meliora" and curtains were decorated with dandelion motifs.
Small meeting and reception rooms occupied the balance of the first level; on the floor above, areas were set aside for various undergraduate activities, while a cafeteria, adjoining dining alcoves, and cloakrooms were laid out in the basement. Before long, a chapel was laid out on the third floor and assigned the name of Kay Duffield in appreciation of a religious worker at the college. Counting furnishings and equipment, the Union cost slightly in excess of $500,000, and it proved to be one of the most potent arguments against recurrent proposals to move the women undergraduates to the River Campus.
It was singular good fortune that Ruth A. Merrill, sometime assistant dean at Radcliffe, her own college, and more recently a student at the University of Minnesota where she received a doctorate, was chosen as director of the Union; for a time in the 1950's she was dean of women and acting dean of students. Not very long after her arrival in Rochester, a Croceus dedication hailed her as "the symbol of graciousness and hospitality." Student employees (remuneration thirty-five cents an hour in the depth of the depression) supplemented the small staff in the operation of the Union. Student use of the amenities far exceeded advance calculations; in 1934-1935, to illustrate, this "hive of activity" was the scene of 450 gatherings of one sort and another attended by more than 23,000. Careless smoking, even "wanton mutilation, " brought reproof from the director and thievery here and in other campus buildings necessitated the hiring of a security officer.
A trustee meeting in June of 1933 informally opened the Union, hundreds of visitors inspected the facilities during an autumn "Open House." The formal dedication took place on December 13, 1933, Professor Julius Seelye Bixler, a relative of Mrs. Rhees, speaking on "Some Neglected Aspects of Women's Education." Not surprisingly, Professor John R. Slater composed a "Tower Song."
Chapter 31, Women, Music, Medicine in Wartime
By In regard to the President's suggestion that the Eastman School take over Cutler Union, however, the Director had reservations. Because of the beauty of its architecture and surroundings, he wrote de Kiewiet, his first impulse was to welcome it as a magnificent addition to the School plant. On second and more sober thought, he feared that the School could not make efficient enough use of the building to justify the expense of its acquisition and upkeep; there was no real need for the auditorium, he felt, dining facilities could not be effectively used, and lounges and conference rooms would duplicate those at Hutchison House. To de Kiewiet Hanson's attitude was a "bit of a bombshell." By adding so substantially to its holdings, the Eastman School would make sound and prudent provision for future growth. It would be an irrevocable mistake, both President and Treasurer believed, for the School not to take over Cutler, one Hanson and his successors would bitterly regret; student spirit would improve immeasurably when men, women, and all student activities were housed together in the Prince Street area, and the School's competitive position with other schools of music would be greatly enhanced. Another possibility, not followed up, was to retain Hutchison House as a student union and make Cutler into an Eastman School graduate center. Sibley Music Library would have been housed in the great hall, and the rest of the building devoted to graduate work and seminars; undergraduate work, applied music, and practice rooms, would have remained downtown.
By the time the merger was well under way, Hanson's attitude had modified. Cutler, Munro, and a large part of the Prince Street campus, together with the Gibbs Street buildings, would give Eastman the most luxurious facilities ever possessed by any music school in all history. In June, 1954, Hanson reported to his faculty that he had recommended the purchase of Cutler Union. Cutler and Munro were accordingly turned over the School at their combined book value, $931,000, and that sum was transferred from the Eastman School reserve to the College of Arts and Science building fund. Included without cost was the land on which the buildings stood, and in addition six tennis courts and a field for sports activities. On the whole, it was a mutually advantageous transaction; architects estimated the current cost of reproducing the two buildings, exclusive of the value of the land, at about two and a half million. Admittedly, Cutler was large and contained some facilities not required by a music school, and James Gould Cutler's cherished Oxford Gothic tower would not have been deemed essential.
The great hall at Cutler proved in fact to be most useful. Seating 700 and with a well-equipped stage, it was larger than Kilbourn but more intimate than the vast Eastman Theatre auditorium; it served for musicales, concerts, chamber music symposia, Opera Workshop productions, and weekly meetings of the Collegium Musicum, of which more below, as well as for student dances. The remainder of the building provided recreation rooms, lounges, and headquarters for student and alumni activities. By the late 'fifties Cutler was also serving as a dormitory, accommodating twenty-four men, an overflow from Munro, in a barracks-like setup on the third floor. In 1961 the University took over a share of the maintenance costs and endeavored to work out ways to make Cutler more useful to the University as a whole. The Memorial Art Gallery proved a beneficiary, making use of the lounges and auditorium while the Gallery was closed for expansion and renovation, and remodeling (1966) the basement extensively for its Creative Arts Workshop. 5
To honor the Director's thirty-five years of leadership; and as a tribute to his "deep spirituality and his love for all peoples," in 1958 alumni, students, and friends raised funds for a Howard Hanson Interfaith Chapel. A large room on Cutler's second floor was remodeled; stained glass windows, lectern, Bible, and other furnishings were gifts of individual donors. Dedicated October 23, 1960, services for the three main faiths were held there each week, and the Chapel remained open at other times, providing Eastman students with a place of quiet retreat for prayer and meditation.
Shortly after its acquisition by the School, Cutler Union performed yeoman emergency service made necessary by a near tragedy--the collapse of part of the ceiling of the Eastman Theatre and the consequent forced closing of the Theatre for repairs in the winter of 1954-1955.

1990 "Council OKs site of school," Democrat and Chronicle, July 7, 1990, Page 1B. | Part 2. |
School of the Arts to move to Eastman dormitory.

2021 Morris A. Pierce