The University Building was built by Syracuse University in 1897 on donated land. This Renaissance Revival building was originally a combined commercial venture and quarters for the University’s Law School. The University has since sold its interest, but the name remains. It featured small ground-floor shops that faced the street, with a grand foyer and stairway leading to the main public floor above. The very high arched windows on the main floor are typical of the style. Above this are office floors, topped by an elaborate metal cornice.
The University Building holds a special place in the legend, and legacy, of Mary Elizabeth Evans. In 1900, Mary Elizabeth was a 15 year old Syracuse girl when she rescued her three younger siblings and her widowed mother and grandmother out of the depths of poverty and homelessness and into a life of fortune, fame, and philanthropy by making and selling her homemade candy.
She placed a cabinet, donated by Gustav Stickley, in the lobby of the University Building and filled it with boxes of candy.
The lobby of the University Building
Her entrepreneurial instincts blended with a child’s trusting nature as she put up a sign that read “Open these doors, take what you will, pay cost of goods taken, make your change from my till” and she put five or six dollars in a bowl on the counter to make change.
Mary Elizabeth’s Stickley candy stand in the University Building
Her “Help Yourself/Honor System” of selling made news around the country and she sold 16,000 boxes of candy in the first 6 months. It led to a string of Mary Elizabeth’s Candy shops, tea rooms, and restaurants from Boston to Bermuda with the candy making operation headquartered in Syracuse. Her Fifth Avenue restaurant in New York City served over 1,000 luncheons a day.
Mary Elizabeth Evans
Mary Elizabeth was a great patriot, leading the Red Cross and U.S. Food Administration efforts in Paris during World War I. Her book, “War Time Recipes,” substituted non-rationed ingredients for rationed ones in America’s favorite dishes. She was a great patron of the arts, historic preservation, landscape architecture, hospitals, education, refugee resettlement, and politics before she died in 1985 at 100 years old.