On June 1, 1891, Henry Mitchell MacCracken became the sixth chancellor of New York University. During his time at NYU, MacCracken observed the bustling Washington Square neighborhood around him. No longer an epicenter for artists, writers, and academics, the neighborhood had transformed into an industrial and commercial district. The one time University Building, the center of activity at New York University, became part of the scenery, with its academic function almost unknown.
Concurrently, Columbia University also sought out larger dwellings. Before embarking on their expansion plans, MacCracken and Seth Low, the President of Columbia University at the time, discussed a possible merger between the two institutions. Low sought to merge the two, while MacCracken supported a federation in order to maintain the university’s autonomy. Both administrations, unable to compromise, determined that two university’s could serve the city.