Hall of Fame of Great Americans – New York, New York - Atlas Obscura
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New York, New York

Hall of Fame of Great Americans

They live forevermore—the forgotten "Hall of Fame of Great Americans." 

The Hall of Fame of Great Americans at Bronx Community College, the original “Hall of Fame” in this country, is a New York landmark institution founded in 1900 to honor prominent Americans who had a significant impact on this nation’s history.

Built on the crest of the highest natural peak in New York City in a sweeping semicircular Neo-Classical arc, it provides a panorama across the Harlem River to the Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park and beyond to the Palisades. The principal feature of the Hall of Fame is its 630-foot open-air Colonnade, which houses the bronze portrait busts of the honorees. Designed by the celebrated architect Stanford White and financed by a gift from Mrs. Finley J. Shepard (Helen Gould) to New York University, the Hall of Fame was formally dedicated on May 30, 1901.

The Colonnade was designed with niches to accommodate 102 sculptured works and currently houses the busts and commemorative plaques of 98 of the 102 honorees elected since 1900. The 98 bronze busts that line the Colonnade are original works by distinguished American sculptors. The bronze tablets recessed in the wall beneath the busts carry inscriptions of significant statements made by the men and women honored.

In the first half of the twentieth century, there was no higher honor in America than to be made a “Hall of Famer” – in The Wizard of Oz Dorothy is told by the Munchkins that “You will be a bust, be a bust, be a bust in the Hall of Fame!” But by the 1970s interest in this national institution had waned. New York University abandoned its Bronx campus in 1973. New York State assumed ownership, and the Colonnade has become an awkward appendage to the Bronx Community College, shunned by students who find it “creepy.”

Recently it has reappeared as a movie college setting, standing in for Princeton in The Good Shepherd and MIT in A Beautiful Mind. But after commanding the attention of the nation for three-quarters of a century, it is now almost entirely unknown to both tourists and residents of New York City.

Know Before You Go

Enter through Bronx Community College gates