Established on the former estate of the noted American artist and ornithologist John James Audubon, Audubon Terrace was conceived as a center for specialized research by Archer M. Huntington, a multimillionaire philanthropist and scholar. Huntington chose the uptown location in the early 1900s, when the city's development was moving north. He founded the Hispanic Society of America in 1904, followed by buildings for the American Numismatic Society (1906-07), the American Geographical Society (1909-11), the Museum of the American Indian (1916-22) and the Church of Our Lady of Esperanza (1909-12).
The centralization of education and cultural institutions outside of a university context was unique in the United States at this time. It was Huntington's hope that geographical closeness would foster cooperation between the societies in their fields of research. In this spirit of unity and cooperation, all the buildings were designed by his cousin Charles Pratt Huntington in the Italian Renaissance Revival style. The buildings are grouped around a central courtyard, with monumental Ionic colonnades faced in Indiana limestone. The American Academy of Arts and Letters and the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1921-30) were designed in the same style after the architect's death by William Mitchell Kendall of McKim, Mead and White with Cass Gilbert. The terrace is decorated with sculptures by Anna Vaughn Hyatt Huntington, who became Archer Huntington's wife, including a powerful equestrian statue of El Cid (1927).
In 1925, Stanford White's son Lawrence remodeled and enlarged the Church of Our Lady of Esperanza in response to the increasing parish size. The handsome interior in green and yellow features several donations from King Alfonso of Spain, including stained glass windows, a skylight and a lamp.
Though several of the institutions have since relocated, Audubon Terrace retains an innocent charm, and still houses some interesting collections, and temporary installations. Grand in aspirations, it is small and friendly in scale. ©2014