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History and Traditions


About William W. Cook’s gifts to the Law School

The entire collection of buildings in the Law Quad was built, and then donated to the University, by William W. Cook (1858-1930), a native of Hillsdale Michigan who graduated from the Literary College in 1880 and the Law School in 1882. Cook earned a fortune in New York City. He spent most of his career as general counsel for The Mackay Companies, which from about 1880-1930 provided the only competition to the Western Union in the field of telegraph and cable service.

Cook was also the preeminent writer on corporation law of his time and almost single handedly recognized and then developed the law particularly relating to stock and stockholders. Cook on Corporations went into its 8th edition in 1923.

The process of giving a building to the University back then was far different from what is done now. Cook simply asked the University to buy the land where he wanted the buildings to be, then hired an architect and oversaw the construction process himself. He, not the University, was the client, and he decided every detail about the buildings. When construction was complete, Cook donated the buildings to the University.

Cook chose, for the Law School project, the firm of Edward York and Philip Sawyer, who had designed and built a townhouse for Cook at 14 East 71st Street, next to the Frick Museum Library, half a block from Fifth Avenue and Central Park. As they did later in Ann Arbor, Cook and his architects incorporated work by artisans such as Samuel Yellin (metal work) and Rafael Guastavino (tiled arches) in the townhouse. Cook left the townhouse to the University, which retained it until 1942.


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