The Bevier Memorial Building at Night: Another Dimension of Claude Bragdon



There is something geometrically flawless about the Bevier Memorial Building. Designed by Claude Bragdon, the building invites viewers to ponder the ornate tile work while basking in the warm lamplight of Gothic fixtures, Romanesque arches, and pragmatism at its finest.

Like all of Bragdon’s works, the building is perfectly shaped for its purpose and functionality. He was not just a brilliant designer of mere bricks and glass. He was a superbly talented mathematician who worked out some of the most unfathomable problems in the field.

The important thing to know about the Bevier, is that it was Bragdon’s personal favorite. In doing research for this article, I discovered that his father died in 1910, which is the year that this building was officially dedicated and opened for business. I now see that it may be more than a sublimely noble piece of structural art; it may be a sentimental present to the memory of his father. For a spirit driven builder in the first place, this added significance only creates a more profound sense of dignity and love in the space he designed.

Highlights abound. The front staircase is simply alluring. The windows in the front are dramatically installed to make the entire building swallow the sunlight whole. From top to bottom the brick work is handled with delicacy. Throughout, it has the fingerprint of a theosophist, mystic, engineer, and designer who called Rochester home.  It is the inimitable work of the one and only Claude Bragdon.


Photography by George Cassidy Payne




“The designer of Rochester’s New York Central Railroad terminal (1909–13) and Chamber of Commerce (1915–17), as well as many other public buildings and private residences, Bragdon enjoyed a national reputation as an architect working in the progressive tradition associated with Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright.” (





“His power came from some great reservoir of spiritual life else it could not have been so universal and so potent, but the majesty and beauty of the language with which he clothed it were all his own.” Claude Bragdon




“Mathematics is the handwriting on the human consciousness of the very Spirit of Life itself.” Claude Bragdon




“Two things can get people to make efforts: if people want to get something, or if they want to get rid of something. Only, in ordinary conditions, without knowledge, people do not know what they can get rid of or what they can gain.” P.D. Ouspensky





“George Chandler Bragdon, Claude Bragdon’s father, was born April 29, 1832 at “Chestnut Hill,” a well-known station on the Underground Railroad near Lake Ontario in Richland, New York. After attending Union College, he taught briefly before embarking on a career as a newspaperman.   He edited a succession of newspapers across upstate New York before he and his family settled in Rochester in 1884. An accomplished poet, ardent Emersonian, and early Theosophist, G. C. Bragdon published a volume of verse, Undergrowth (1895), various pamphlets on New York State, and edited Notable Men of Rochester and Vicinity (1902).  He died August 7, 1910.” (




“Katherine Elmina Shipherd was born December 30, 1837 in Walton, New York to Catherine Schermerhorn, a temperance and women’s rights advocate and Fayette Shipherd, a Congregationalist minister and abolitionist.  Like the Bragdon’s Oswego County home, Fayette Shipherd’s house was a station on the Underground Railroad. In 1858, Shipherd moved his family to Ohio where his younger brother John J. Shipherd had been a founder of Oberlin College.  Katherine Shipherd taught at Pulaski Seminary in Oswego County, New York prior to her marriage to George C. Bragdon on March 22, 1860. The couple had two children, May (1865-1947) and Claude Fayette (1866-1946). Katherine Bragdon died September 6, 1920.” (





“Claude Fayette Bragdon was born at the Shipherd family home in Oberlin, Ohio on August 1, 1866. His family moved often until shortly after Bragdon and his sister graduated from Oswego High School in 1884, and they settled in Rochester.  Bragdon immediately began work as a draftsman for a series of Rochester architects, most notably Charles Ellis, for whom he worked 1886-1889. During this period Bragdon helped to organize the Rochester Architectural Sketch Club and entered numerous architectural competitions, often winning a top prize. In January 1890, Bragdon struck out for New York where he was briefly employed by Bruce Price before returning upstate for a job with the Buffalo firm of Green & Wicks. He returned to Rochester in 1891 to go into partnership with Edwin S. Gordon and William H. Orchard (Gordon, Bragdon and Orchard). Among the firm’s most notable projects were competition designs for a New York City Hall and a re-design of Boston’s Copley Square as well as several railroad stations and a commission for a new building for the Rochester Atheneum and Mechanics Institute.” (

The Rochester Atheneum and Mechanics Institute is now RIT and is the Bevier Memorial Building today.




“A prolific and influential writer, Bragdon published more than twenty books and hundreds of articles. He was nationally known for his graphic art, his writing on the fourth dimension, his Song & Light Festivals of 1915-1918, and his role in theater’s New Stagecraft.” (

He had technical and artistic expertise in many disciplines, making it difficult to categorize his work into a specific stylistic trend. Bragdon’s work as an early modernist is important both in its own right and as a key to other 20th Century architects’ work.

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