From the start of the Depression until the end of World War II, construction activity at Princeton, like at other universities, was at a near standstill. The first buildings to be erected here as part of the post-war building boom on American campuses were the Dillon Gym and the Harvey S. Firestone Memorial Library. The four silent films discussed on this post, which are all in color, capture the beginning of the construction of Firestone Library, the dedication of the Dillon Gym in June 1947, and other activities at the close of the bicentennial celebrations of 1946-1947 and the immediate years thereafter.
As can be seen on this campus map, the space between Washington Road and the then library (what is now Chancellor Green and Pyne Hall) was quite open. During most of the film the camera is facing the Engineering Building on Washington Road (now Burr and Green Hall), and moves between the Joseph Henry House, home of the Dean of the College (the white house seen on the left) and the ’77 Laboratory (the square brick building with the crescent shaped windows on the right). This biology laboratory, donated by the Class of 1877 at its tenth reunion, was demolished in the summer of 1946, which is captured starting at 9:15. The ’77 Lab appears as a pile of rubble at 9:21, when the Bracket Dynamo Laboratory behind it becomes visible. This second lab is gradually broken down in the footage that follows.
The Joseph Henry House, however, was not destroyed but moved instead, for the third time since it was built in 1837. Although the camera focused on the excavation work, preparations for the move to its present location, which according to the Prince started in April 1946, can be followed from 8:40 at the top of the screen. The actual move took place at the end of May, and the house can be seen to have moved a few yards between 9:45 and 9:48. Most of the footage concerns the digging and excavation work prior to the construction work, which had started on Christmas Eve 1945, and was subcontracted to George M. Brewster and Sons (Turner Construction Company was the contractor). The work of Brewster’s “blasting crew,” which according to the Prince in March consisted of a “blast expert,” a “powder monkey” and twelve drillers, can be followed from 3:28, with two explosions visible at 4:35 and 6:48.
Only the last few minutes of the film (10:39-14.15), capture the beginning of the construction of the Firestone Library itself, starting with the lowest floor. The snow at 11.31, surrounding the concrete columns, indicates that a year has passed since the time lapse filming began. On January 15, 1947 the Prince wrote that most of the underground structure had been completed. The footage at 11.53, which includes a view on Nassau Street, must have been filmed during or shortly after February 1947, when the library, according to the Prince had risen above the ground. The film ends with footage of the building of the steel structure of the library’s three floors (13:11), the last shots of which indicating that it is springtime now (13:32).