Bollinger Wins Harlem Renaissance With Columbia Chasing Harvard

Lee Bollinger, president of Columbia University, in New York. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Bloomberg News

By Michael McDonald on April 26, 2012

Lee Bollinger had yet to take over as president of Columbia University in 2002 when he toured a largely industrial area about 10 blocks north of the historic campus on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

Columbia, the fifth-oldest U.S. college, was scouting new sites to expand as it outgrew its century-old, Beaux-Arts home in Morningside Heights. Traveling past faded warehouses, auto shops and scattered apartments above 125th Street in West Harlem, Bollinger could see the ideal location for a modern urban campus, stretching from the elevated subway line on Broadway with its monumental steel trestles to the West Side Highway next to the Hudson River.

“It was an area that I think was beautiful but nobody else thought it was beautiful,” Bollinger, 65, said in an interview last month. “Lots and lots of people said to me why would you move there? It’s ugly.”

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