In 1906 Princeton University President Woodrow Wilson unveiled his "Quad Plan" for the reorganization of undergraduate social and intellectual life at Princeton. Wilson's plan called for the creation of "residential quadrangles or colleges, each with its own dining hall, common room, resident head of college, and resident preceptors."1
After initially supporting the "Quad Plan," the Trustees reversed themselves when they encountered strong resistance from the eating clubs and alumni.
Wilson's plan was revived and restructured in 1978, when the University's sixteen-member Committee on University Residential Life (CURL) recommended the establishment of a Residential College system. As was the case with the "Quad Plan," juniors and seniors declined to abandon their eating clubs for the Colleges. This time, however, the committee refused to relinquish the College ideal and revised its plan to include only freshmen and sophomores. Construction of the Colleges began in 1981, and the first freshmen were assigned to them in Academic Year 1982-1983.2
On 25 September 1983, University President William G. Bowen dedicated Lee D. Butler College, the fourth of Princeton’s five Residential Colleges. A graduate of the Class of 1922, Butler (1897-1981) earned a Master’s degree from Princeton in 1924 and later became a prominent businessman and civic leader in Washington, D.C. In addition to his business pursuits, Butler was also an active farmer and livestock breeder on his estate near Fredericksburg, Virginia. He served as an Alumni Trustee and as President of the Princeton Club of Washington, which honored him as the first recipient of its annual award for “outstanding leadership and service in community affairs.”3
His generous gift of nearly three million dollars ensured that the College would begin its life on a sound foundation.
Another distinguished Princetonian, Hong Kong structural engineer and entrepreneur Sir Gordon Y. S. Wu ’58, donated nearly four and a half million dollars for the construction of the College’s administrative, dining, and social center. The University named this building Gordon Wu Hall in tribute to his magnanimity. Renowned architect Robert Venturi ’47, *50 , designed Wu Hall with his partner Denise Scott Brown. His challenge was to integrate a new building into the context provided by Butler College’s older buildings: the neo-Jacobean 1915 Hall and the modern-style dormitories that composed the “New New Quad” (Lourie-Love Hall, 1922 Hall, 1940 Hall, 1941 Hall, and 1942 Hall), which had been built to address a shortage of housing in the expansion of Princeton in the mid 1960’s. Venturi described his vision for Wu Hall in the remarks he made at the dedication ceremony:
"I have said before that we thought of Wu Hall as a hyphen, since it’s a long and narrow building that more or less works to connect the two old buildings the way the hyphen connects two words – often words that are very different in meaning. Wu Hall relates to the old buildings most obviously in terms of material. We made the new building brick, and that in a very clear way promoted unity. We also employed landscape elements to help create a sense of arrival, a sense of place, and a sense of identity when you’re here."4
From 1983 until 2005 Butler consisted of the dorms in the “New New Quad”, 1915 Hall, and parts of Walker Hall. In 2005, Butler took over parts of Bloomberg Hall, which originally had been opened as an upperclass dorm. In June of 2007 Lourie-Love Hall, 1922 Hall, 1940 Hall, 1941 Hall, and 1942 Hall, along wither their notorious waffle ceilings, were demolished to make way for the red brick and limestone of the new Butler dormitory complex, designed by the firm of Pei Cobb Freed and Partners. During construction, Butler took over all of Bloomberg Hall and Cuyler Hall to house a slightly reduced number of students.
In September 2009 Butler College takes its final form as a four-year residential college, with 1915 Hall and Bloomberg Hall complementing the new Butler complex. At long last the college, is architecturally unified, with the new Butler complex perfectly integrating the red brick and curves of Wu Hall and 1915 Hall with the angularity of Bloomberg.
In his address at the Butler opening in 1983, the late Emory Elliott, Professor of English and first Head of Butler College, described how Butler and the other Residential Colleges were going to enhance the undergraduate experience at Princeton:
"Clearly this new college structure offers to the entire freshman and sophomore classes many new kinds of opportunities for student-faculty interaction and for social, cultural, and intellectual experiences that were difficult to provide before. But equally important for me is that we now can recreate in the residential college the atmosphere of an intimate intellectual community that impressed me so much about an earlier Princeton when I first arrived [in the early 1970s]."5
Head of College Elliott’s words echoed the lofty goals articulated by Woodrow Wilson at the beginning of the twentieth century. The former president of both the University and the nation would surely be pleased – but not surprised – that the Residential Colleges have become such an integral part of the Princeton tradition.