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Ever noticed the Ivy League crests on the Brodhead Center? Here's the story behind them

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Have you noticed the crests of other universities that line the walls outside the Brodhead Center?

Several buildings at Duke are decorated with the crests of other schools—such as the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge, Harvard University, Yale University and Princeton University. Although the exact reason for the crests is unknown, documents from the University Archives provide some clues to their past.

New York's John Donnelly Inc. was responsible for constructing West Campus, including the crests on the building formerly known as West Union. The work was carried out in Indiana limestone setting to provide more resistance to weather over time.

Donnelly wrote in a memoir that, upon James B. Duke's death, Duke donated money for the advancement of the University and requested that the University's architecture reflect the scenic quality of Princeton.

Horace Trumbauer, one of the main Duke project architects, was commissioned for the building designs. In 1931, Frank Brown, a University representative, sent letters to Trumbauer, searching for more information on the about his plans for the designs.

“[It would be a] little short of calamitous if we do not have a record of these facts for future generations; furthermore, what certain designs mean when we know nothing concerning the history,” Brown wrote.

These prominent shields and symbols exist all around West Campus and can be seen on the other buildings in addition to the Brodhead Center. 

The symbols of these institutions were picked because the schools shared similar qualities and ideals with Duke, Wilkinson noted.

"Duke [U]niversity is expressing in a permanent way its common purpose with other institutions to serve humanity, and when the buildings on its campus are completed the seals and shields of scores of institutions will be carved in stone there to bear testimony to a mutual ideal," Wilkinson wrote.

According to William Blackburn’s 1899 Duke Architecture book, the building that is now the Brodhead Center, then known as "The Union," originally had 35 different shields among the different elevations and entrances of the building, all representing institutions from around the world.

Unlike statues carved into the building–in many cases rumored to be professor caricatures from the time–it appears that the shields were intended to showcase the camaraderie that Duke has with its peer universities and the shared dedication to academia.

When the dining hall was renovated in 2016, a large section of the exterior was preserved, and the university shields can still be viewed on the outside of the Brodhead Center.

Check out more photos of the crests—including some from inside the building—here

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