FDU Historical Perspectives IV: Guest Blog Contribution by Clifford J. Brooks: “Lollipop, Bon-Bon, or White Elephant?”

FDU Historical Perspectives IV:   Guest Blog Contribution by Clifford J. Brooks

FDU Historical Perspectives IV: “Lollipop, Bon-Bon, or White Elephant?”

Guest Blog by Clifford J. Brooks

One of Sister Margherita Marchione’s favorite stories concerns a trip to Paris where she was to secure posters for an art museum owned by Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU).  The story is also recounted in her autobiography, but only takes up one or two paragraphs.  If asked, Sister will talk about the gallery, but does not go into detail.  However, like all of the Sammartino endeavors, when one scratches beneath the surface, one discovers another project born of vision far in advance of its time.

It all starts with Huntington Hartford, the heir to the A&P fortune. His is a story in itself.  Suffice it to say that he is best known for squandering one of the largest fortunes in America. However, he was an avid art lover, with defined tastes and opinions that would rival even the harshest of critics.  Having amassed quite a collection of masterpieces, he decided to erect an art gallery in New York City to house his collection.  Choosing Edward Durrell Stone as his architect, his Gallery of Modern Art, dubbed the “white marble bonbon” by many, opened at 2 Columbus Circle in 1964.  The entire project created quite a stir in the world of art and architecture.  The goal of the gallery was to display his eclectic art collection, specifically chosen to make a statement against what Hartford saw as the “reign of abstraction” at the Museum of Modern Art.   (Glueck)

Architect Stone created a building resembling a Venetian Palazzo (later nicknamed the Lollipop building by Ada Louise Huxtable, then the architecture critic at the New York Times), that did not work well as a museum.   The galleries, although paneled with expensive woods and equipped with the best lighting and costly fixtures, often seemed too small for the type of art displayed, yet even the most negative of critics felt that the building made an impression on the average New Yorker. (Goldberger)

By 1965, Mr. Hartford, running out of money, began contacting local universities about taking over some aspects of the museum.   He also quietly began selling paintings from his collection, as his wanton spending had reduced him to selling his assets.

At this point Dr. and Mrs. Sammartino enter the story. They were as usual engaged in a number of projects.  But, to quote Dr. Sammartino, fate has a strange way of altering human plans.  Thus was born the deal to acquire an FDU foothold in New York City– the stuff of which doctoral theses are made.  To fully understand how this came about, it is better to quote Dr. Sammartino directly:

“It was in the late spring of 1968 that I received a call from Mr. Huntington Hartford inviting me to lunch at the River Club in New York. I happened to be free that day. Through his friend Sandy Williams, son of our very good friend Peggy Williams, former publisher of the Paterson Call, I learned the story later. Sandy had come home to Paterson, which home shares with his mother. He had told her that Mr. Hartford, having reached the age of 57, felt that the time had come to put the Gallery of Modern Art under a broader sponsorship, probably under the aegis of the university. Peggy had immediately suggested that Mr. Hartford contact me. The luncheon led to a few other meetings, including one with Ted Sorenson, his lawyer. The financial requirements were out of our range and I dropped the matter. Sometime later, while I was at the Hilton in London, I received a transatlantic call at 1:30 A.M. from Mr. Hartford, who asked me whether I was still interested. I told him we were, but that financially we couldn’t handle it. He told me that some arrangement could be worked out. When I returned to the United States, I asked Ned Feldman, an international banker and a member of the University’s Board of Fellows, to look at the proposition from a very-hard point of view to see whether it made sense for us to consider it. He studied the new proposal and reported that we should by all means try to reach an agreement. Financially, the University could not lose out: From the point of view of prestige, it would be a great achievement. After interminable meetings…the final agreement was reached.” (Sammartino, Castles and Colleges—chapter on Huntington Hartford)

Under Dr. Sammartino’s direction, in July of 1969 ownership of the gallery was formally transferred from Mr. Hartford to the University.   The terms of the transfer were interesting.  Dr. Sammartino, always interested in promoting FDU, saw to it that the he gallery’s name was changed to the New York Cultural Center in Association with Fairleigh Dickinson University (NYCC).  According to several sources, including the New York Times (Glueck) and Dr. Sammartino’s book, Of Castles and Colleges, (see chapter on Huntington Hartford), the agreement provided that Mr. Hartford would donate $1 million in working capital to the museum, while Mrs. Fairleigh S. Dickinson Sr., widow of one of the university’s founders, would contribute $2.5 million toward retirement of a $3.8 million mortgage. For a five‐year period, which ended in 1974, Mr. Hartford and Fairleigh S. Dickinson Jr., then a New Jersey State Senator, were to each meet one‐quarter of any annual deficit over $200,000 (not to exceed $100,000 annually).   In addition, Dr. Sammartino makes it perfectly clear that FDU did not receive the existing art collection.

The negotiating committees had no problem deciding on Dr. Sammartino’s name for the building. The Center was incorporated as a non-profit autonomous body within the state of New York. There existed a cooperative arrangement with the University, but no fiduciary responsibility was held by the University or its trustees.   Everyone on the FDU side thought it was a win-win situation.  The acquisition of the New York Cultural Center, which always carried a subheading “in association with Fairleigh Dickinson University,” increased awareness of our institution in the metropolitan area. All public notices mentioned FDU. According to Dr. Sammartino, there was a period of years when 90% of the clippings dealing with FDU were generated by the NYCC.  (Sammartino, Castles and Colleges)

Dr. Sammartino’s vision for the Center encompassed a number of functions.  He saw an alumni and faculty club located in the center of Manhattan for Fairleigh Dickinson graduates, staff, and instructors, with a Polynesian restaurant opened to all on the top floor. Since the Center was easy to reach from Bergen County, its proximity to Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Museum, The Frick Gallery, and to the theater district and Lincoln Center made it a convenient meeting place for the Fairleigh Dickinson community. Various groups in Bergen County, including the two Town and Gown Societies, would be able to hold social events.  In addition, the Sammartino’s wanted to create a senior citizen cultural arts club.  What better place to meet than an art gallery in Manhattan?  (Sammartino, Castles and Colleges; Marchione, The Fighting Nun)

Dr. Sammartino served for a while as the gallery’s fulltime director, on a volunteer basis, until the appointment of Mr. Donald Karshanin 1970. The gallery’s exhibition program, which Dr. Sammartino saw as “involving the cultures of all segments of our population,” expanded to include such other art forms as photography, architecture, and design.  Sister Margherita talks about being sent to Paris by Peter Sammartino to purchase 1968 Student Riot Posters for an exhibit.  Sister jokingly states that materials were available “blackmarket.” However, Instead of buying them illegally, I nonchalantly walked the streets of Paris and appropriated several torn and burned posters. No one could deny their authenticity. With books and other items I purchased, the posters were exhibited at the New York Cultural Center!  (Marchione, The Fighting Nun)

In April, 1972, Mario Amaya was named director of the center, and during his tenure the gallery became noted for the liveliness of its programs.  True to Dr. Sammartino’s vision, Mr. Amaya mounted more than 150 exhibitions, among them “Belgian Symbolists and Surrealists”; “Naked Clay,” a show of American Indian pottery over 4,000 years; “Tribute to Max Reinhardt: shows of work by women and by black artists;” retrospectives of work by the photographer Man Ray and the 19th‐century French academic painter, Adolphe Bouguereau; and a Bicentennial show, “Three Centuries of the American Nude.”  (Glueck, Goldberger, Muschamp)

But, although attendance picked up considerably under Mr. Amaya’s direction, the Center never achieved the broad‐based membership and financial support that it had sought. FDU finally announced that it would phase out its relationship with the gallery and in March it put the building up for sale for $6 million.

The FDU trustees had decided that without the support of the Fairleigh Dickinson University family, discontinued in 1974, the Center was no longer financially viable. Over a five-year period, the New Jersey family, which also supported the university that bears its name, gave almost $4.5 million to the Center, whose annual operating expenses were $700,000.   Thus, The New York Cultural Center, the maverick art gallery conceived by Huntington Hartford and later adopted by Fairleigh Dickinson University, closed its doors after 11 years of life, a victim of acute fiscal anemia.  (Glueck)

“It’s sad that an institution which satisfied a great need in the New York area could not find the broad financial support that was needed for its modest operation,” Mr. Amaya said. The Center’s demise was also mourned by other museum officials in the city. William Lieberman, director of drawings at the Museum of Modern Art, said, “It had become a magnet for the unexpected. What will be missed is its stimulating, indeed adventurous, succession of exhibitions.” (Glueck)

The building eventually wound up in the hands of the city, which, in 1998, decided to sell it to the highest bidder. The city repeatedly refused to have its own Landmarks Preservation Commission consider giving the 2 Columbus Circle landmark status, a move that provoked outrage but kept the building salable and more or less sealed its fate. In 2002, the city agreed to sell it to the Museum of Arts and Design, formerly the American Crafts Museum. Although many tried to preserve the original Edward Durrell Stone “palazzo,” an Oregon architect names Brad Cloepfil was chosen to redesign the building once the preservationists lost. It re-opened in 2005.  (Goldberger)

The story of the NYCC and FDU’s foothold in what arguably could be called the center of the New York performing and visual arts district is little talked about today.  Dr. Sammartino’s vision of what could be surpassed all of the Ivy League and private clubs of NYC.  No other institution had a facility for a full-fledged art museum, university club, and meeting area to accommodate a large number of people.  Few people have had Dr. Sammartino’s vision; even fewer possessed the genius or ability to implement it.  Yet, as he himself put it, fate has a strange way of altering human plans.   Today, the exterior of the “lollipop” has been changed to such a degree that he would not recognize it.  Yet, if circumstances had been different, the FDU community would certainly be proud of their white marble bon-bon.

NB:   Sister Margherita Marchione, MPF has granted full permission to be quoted verbatim from any of her publications or notes without citation.  Since this is a blog, citing is not deemed necessary, yet since this is written in a university setting, sources have been noted in case a reader might want to check facts or figures.  All books and articles can be found in the Sammartino Room of the Giovatto Library, FDU Metropolitan Campus, Teaneck.

Credits:   Many thanks to Mr. Vishnu Yadav Nammi, FDU graduate student in Computer Science and Giovatto Library student worker, who graciously assisted with typing and editing this series of blogs.  Also to Ms. Benita Wyche, Giovatto Library student worker and Criminal Justice major, who assisted with typing and editing the series.

Works Cited

Glueck, Grace. “Cultural Center to close after 11 years.”  New York Times. n.v.  10 Sept. 1975. p. 32+.

Goldberger, Paul.  ”Hello, Columbus.” New Yorker, vol. 84, no. 25, 25 Aug. 2008, pp. 70-72.

Marchione, Margherita.  The Fighting Nun:  My Story.  NY:  Cornwall, 2000.   Print.

Marchione, Margherita.  Peter and Sally Sammartino (Biographical Notes). NY:  Cornwall, 1994.  Print.

Muschamp, Herbert. “The Secret History.” New York Times. vol. 155, no. 53453, 08 Jan. 2006.

Sammartino, Peter.  Of Castles and Colleges:  Notes toward an Autobiography.  NY:  Barnes, 1972.  Print.


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FDU Historical Perspectives III: Guest Blog Contribution by Clifford J. Brooks FDU Historical Perspectives III—Marvel or Miracle?

… Depends upon your point of view. For 30 years, during and after Sister Margherita Marchione’s tenure as Professor of Italian Literature at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Peter Sammartino was, in a sense, her mentor. He followed her career and activities very closely. Almost daily he would ring at 8:00 a.m. with suggestions, recommendations, or missions to be accomplished. Even for Sister, it was not easy to keep up with him.

According to Sister, there were all sorts of proposals: “Maggie, will you join Sally and me for dinner? I’d like to talk about several matters of importance.” The discussion might concern congratulations on an article or book, an invitation to join a new Italian-American organization, or instructions on particular tasks. Dr. and Mrs. Sammartino were also always concerned about the Filippini Sisters at Villa Walsh where Sister was the treasurer.  They would frequently inquire about banking, maintenance problems, or the needs of the retired sisters.  The list was endless.

One day, while Sister was visiting the Sammartinos at their Ridge Road home in Rutherford, Dr. Sammartino described a painting by Chinese artist Zhang Daqian (1899-1983), which he and Sally had decided to leave in Sister’s care for the benefit of the aging Sisters at Villa Walsh. Ever the optimist, he said, “I paid $10,000 for it, but you [Sister] can surely get $20,000 for it today. In fact, if you take it to Hong Kong, I bet it will bring $40,000.”

It was during the fall of 1991 that Peter and Sally donated their Palm Beach paintings and condominium to the Religious Teachers Filippini. Several months later Dr. Sammartino, who was scheduled to speak at the Italian Cultural Society of the Palm Beaches, asked Sister to substitute for him and, at the same time, to remove their personal belongings from the apartment.

That particular weekend Sister’s niece, Joan Messner Epstein, was also in Palm Beach. As she was about to fall asleep in the Sammartino condominium under the Zhang Daqian landscape, Sister related Sammartino’s prediction regarding a possible sale in Hong Kong.  Her niece sat straight up and said, “Where are the bags?  Let’s pack!” Sister told Joan she had no intention of travelling to Hong Kong, so Joan suggested the painting be looked at by Sotheby’s. The Palm Beach representative of the Company deemed the work of interest and it was delivered to the New York office. Experts evaluated it at $20,000 to $25,000.

Some quirk caused the painting to be overlooked in October 1992 during the auction catalog design. Sotheby’s, by way of a most gracious apology, placed the Zhang Daqian (at no expense, including a complete waiver of seller’s commission, risk of loss, and photography charges) in the next scheduled sale of Chinese paintings, June 1, 1993.

The catalog reiterated the estimate of $20,000-$25,000 and listed it as No. 96 to be auctioned.

An art dealer accompanied Sister and her niece, Joan, to Sotheby’s June 1st Chinese auction. Fearing the reserve was too high, both decided to lower it to $14,000! With just moments to spare, they hastily trekked to the third floor where they registered the new reserve figure. Much relieved by the decision to opt for safety rather than risk losing the painting’s sale, they took their seats near the front, prepared to listen patiently, and hoped for the best.

Sister prayed as she waited for lot number 96. David N. Redden, a director at Sotheby’s, wielded the hammer for the sale of Chinese paintings. He swiftly and skillfully drew bids from the audience and telephone bidders, reaching lot number 96 in less than an hour. As he noted the new reserve figure, he hesitated momentarily. The bidding started at $15,000.

Sister states the she was afraid to look around. What if no one wanted the painting? As she continued to pray silently, she heard the auctioneer’s voice confirm $15,000. At least they had made their reserve. Slowly the bid reached $18,000. Then $18,500. Everyone was silent when the telephones began ringing from Hong Kong. The auctioneer confirmed $20,000; then $30,000. Soon the bidding hit $40,000.

Two operators were documenting and monitoring the competitive bidders from Hong Kong. The auctioneer’s voice was baffling the audience. Sister could not believe what she was hearing! At $140,000, she dropped her head into her hands and prayed that it was all true.

Tension was growing in the audience. When the auctioneer lowered the hammer for the last time at $230,000, Sister thanked God for another of Peter and Sally’s gifts. Sister had joined the convent at age thirteen and taken a vow of poverty. Now at age seventy-two, she was still a witness to the power of prayer. This time it was in the form of “the miracle on 72nd Street!”

David Redden was pleased to learn that the painting was a Sammartino gift to the Religious Teachers Filippini. He recalled that Peter Sammartino served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees when he attended St. Stephen’s School in Rome, Italy.

During an interview with Associated Press, Redden remarked: “I don’t know whether Sister Margherita’s prayers inspired the bidding, but it certainly had that feeling. It’s nice in this case, if a miracle is going to happen… that it concerns something that is going to provide some real benefit to a good group of people.”

Peter and Sally’s gift sold for a miracle price at auction. Even after their death they were extending a helping hand as they had for decades. Little did the competitive bidders for Hong Kong realize that they, too, were contributing to a trust fund for the elderly Religious Teachers Filippini in retirement at Villa Walsh– a trust fund in memory of the co-founders of Fairleigh Dickinson University, Peter and Sally Sammartino.

This blog quotes extensively from interviews, conversations, and the writings of Sister Margherita Marchione, MPF.  Sister has given explicit permission to be quoted or copied verbatim.


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FDU Historical Perspectives II: Guest Blog Contribution by Clifford J. Brooks

FDU Historical Perspectives II— “The College on Wheels”

Guest Blog by Clifford J. Brooks

Having recently written about some of the projects that were initiated by Sister Margherita Marchione, MPF, and Dr. Peter Sammartino, we came across a brief mention of an endeavor that does not appear in any of Dr. Sammartino’s publications. We know that Peter Sammartino was very interested in international education, and that one of the major emphases at Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) was an understanding of what went on all over the world. The Sammartinos strongly encouraged experiential learning and student trips. They themselves loved visiting Southeast Asia and often arranged for travel and study seminars for students. Of course, given Dr. Sammartino’s background, trips to Europe figured largely in his overall educational planning, and Italy was always on his mind. This should not be a surprise to any of our readers who knew him or his interests in immigration and Italian-American heritage.

It was pointed out in the first blog that Sister Margherita and Dr. Sammartino were frequent collaborators and longtime friends. Both were serious academics who believed in the value of instruction in a foreign country that could be combined with a collegial environment and a well-developed curriculum. Neither Sister nor Dr. Sammartino wanted students to waste their entire day sitting in cafes or staying in a dormitory sleeping, just to go out and party at night. The Southeast Asian seminar was organized in such a way as to allow students to pursue their own objectives while following a curriculum that would stand up to any academic scrutiny. Dr. and Mrs. Sammartino did not stop here. From the small forays abroad came a series of summer institutes at FDU and the development of a concerted effort to bring international students to the FDU Campuses. Both felt that not only would this enrich the lives of the American students on campus, but also expand the influence of FDU throughout the world.

Meanwhile, Sister Margherita was working diligently on the Mazzei project and planning ceremonies for the 250th anniversary of Mazzei’s birth, which included celebrating the release of an air mail stamp commissioned by the US Post Office honoring Philip Mazzei. In true Marchione/Sammartino style, the anniversary celebrations were on an international level, with a conference in Rome scheduled for October 15, 1980 which was also designed to celebrate the printing of another Mazzei stamp by the Republic of Italy. Peter Sammartino and Sister were treated like royalty at the Excelsior Hotel, attended gala dinners and met a number of high ranking Italian government officials.

Following the conference, Dr. and Mrs. Sammartino, Sister, and other dignitaries were invited to the home of American Ambassador Gardner for a reception. It was there that the idea of Corfinio College was conceived during a conversation that included the Sammartinos, Sister, and Henry Tessicini, a well-known Italian philanthropist, who was interested in promoting the teaching of Italian culture. His friendship with Peter Sammartino inspired him to donate funds for young American students to study in Italy. Building off the existing summer institutes, Dr. Sammartino placed the idea for expanding the existing Italian programs into the hands of Sister Margherita Marchione. Thus was born the “college on wheels.” For ten summers a new program, based in Corfinio, Italy introduced Americans and other Europeans to Italian culture and civilization. Over five hundred students graduated from Corfinio, some of whom still keep in touch with Sister Margherita.

After the closing of Walsh College in 1971, both Sister and the Sammartinos were discouraged, since the institution was financially sound and educationally successful. Sally Sammartino had donated years of experience in Admissions to Walsh, and Peter Sammartino had served as President of the Board. Both encouraged Sister to remain at Fairleigh Dickinson University and continue with her research and other activities. They were particularly interested in Sister’s working in the summer institutes, where students received six undergraduate credits from Fairleigh Dickinson University and enjoyed complete immersion in Italian culture and civilization.

Sister was never happy with the housing for her summer institute FDU students and yearned for a different venue. Plumbing problems in the pensione would take up lot of her time and never seemed to improve from year to year. After the reception where Corfinio was discussed, the establishment of the new “college” solved all of her maintenance responsibilities. The FDU Institutes held in Italy morphed easily into the Corfinio College on wheels. As in all of the Marchione/Sammartino collaborations, Corfinio was innovative and far ahead of its time. The program was designed in such a way as to take students to nearby towns and cities in their “scuolabus or pulmino,” where they would learn, through observations and interviews, about the lives of other people, their aspirations and their problems. Sister and Dr. Sammartino called it an “anthropological approach to learning.” Materials for use in the culture and language courses were developed to provide insights into the nature of Italian lifestyles and gain new perspectives in the context of the social services and international trade and business. Language proficiency was of primary importance. In later years, Corfinio College students travelled through Italy, visiting sites and cities from Calabria to Venice.

Instructors included Carmen Prezioso, Chairman of the Language Department of Princeton High School, Edward Golda of Union College, and Grace Gaetani of FDU, among others. The students always seemed to enjoy the various experiences offered to them by the Corfinio program. One could recount a number of stories that Sister tells about her travels with Corfinio, but a particular anecdote demonstrates how she and Dr. Sammartino would operate. When visiting a museum near Naples, Sister was dismayed to find a large sign posted on the gate stating that the museum was closed for repairs. Never taking no for the answer, Sister went from door to door to find someone to open the museum. She had no success and was about to leave when she noticed a large church bell in the courtyard. Ringing the bell, Sister summoned workers and a kind looking monk. Explaining to the monk that the students travelled from the United States to see the museum, the monk unlocked the door and gave them a guided tour!

Sister’s files are full of letters from former Corfinio students who attest to the richness of the program and how they were changed by their experiences at Corfinio. The FDU Summer Institutes developed into a special program that was later incorporated as Corfinio College– a nonprofit, nonsectarian co-educational program in association with Thomas Edison College of New Jersey, offering seven credits for transfer to any college in the United States. The students even formed their own alumni association and met at Sister’s Mazzei Center in Morristown ever year. Corfinio ended in 1989.

Information on the College on Wheels and Dr. Sammartino’s projects can easily be found in the Frank Giavotto Library in Teaneck.

This blog is freely adapted from interviews with and publications by Sister Margherita Marchione, MPF. Sister has given explicit permission to be quoted or copied.


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