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The Approach Turns 100

In 1904, a devastating fire that tore through the Winslow Chemical Laboratory and destroyed the Institute’s Main Building on Eighth Street left Rensselaer trustees and administrators with a major decision to make regarding where to rebuild the charred campus.

Sifting through a variety of options — including one to merge with the Columbia University School of Mines in New York City — officials decided to rebuild the campus in Troy, and reconstruction began further east up the hill. Soon thereafter the City of Troy extended Broadway to the new campus in the form of a broad granite staircase. Designed in the Beaux Arts neoclassical style, the $40,000 bridge was completed and open for foot traffic in 1907.

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Called the Approach, the steps formed a tangible connection between the city and the Rensselaer campus. Students and community residents often took the stairs as they made their way in and out of the city, to the train station, and to Rensselaer’s gymnasium.

By the 1970s the Institute’s campus had expanded further east and the city of Troy didn’t have the funding necessary to maintain the approximately 60-year-old staircase. The Approach fell into a state of disrepair and was eventually closed.

A $100,000 gift from the Louise and Hortense Rubin Foundation in 1994 launched a funding drive called the “Approach and Beyond campaign.” Dedicated to renovating and reopening the beloved Approach, the campaign raised nearly $850,000 from Rensselaer and its alumni, private citizens, and federal and city governments.

On Oct. 14, 1999, the newly renovated and landscaped Louis Rubin Memorial Approach was officially reopened.

“The Approach was part of our lives and daily activities,” said Joe Klope ’44 at the reception. “We were among the last to have an emotional and practical involvement with the Approach.”

The Class of 1944 was also instrumental in having the WWII war memorial plaque moved from the Houston Field House to the top of the Approach, and undertook a project to have a similar plaque honoring those alumni who gave their lives in WWI placed at the top of the stairwell.

The Approach is still used today by Rensselaer students, faculty, and staff as well members of the City of Troy.

Each year President Shirley Ann Jackson greets and shakes hands with each member of the incoming class as they make their way down to the Approach steps and into the City of Troy for a Welcome Festival to celebrate the Rensselaer and Troy communities.

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Rensselaer (ISSN 0898-1442) is published in Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter by the Office of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY 12180-3590. Opinions expressed in these pages do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or the policies of the Institute. ©2007 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.