The University of Nevada’s historic quad was not an original component of the campus, but has long been recognized as its most picturesque. The expansive space, measuring roughly 200 x 600 feet, was created in conjunction with the construction of the Mackay School of Mines building in 1908. University President J.E. Stubbs recommended that the new quadrangle created between the rear of Morrill Hall on the south and the new Mines building to the north should be “fitted up with trees and a lawn.”
Clarence Mackay donated the funds and hired the same architectural firm that had designed and overseen construction of the Mines building—the prominent New York firm of McKim, Mead, and White—to design appropriate landscaping for the quad, including the giant elm trees that still line its edges. A master plan submitted that same year specified that any new buildings at the university were to be constructed facing the quadrangle, rather than toward the town of Reno.
The quad became a focal point of Clarence Mackay's long-term plans for the University of Nevada, which he hoped to model after Stanford White's revival of Thomas Jefferson's plan at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville. The plan called for the arrangement of classically designed buildings around an open quadrangle, an idea with roots at least as old as medieval British college cloisters. The tradition carried into the 17th century with colleges both in England and in the United States having one or more buildings with a quadrangular courtyard behind or connected to the main building.
When the University was in its infancy, it was strictly forbidden for underclassmen to ever set foot on the quad; over the years, this tradition has loosened somewhat to allow the feet of all students (as well as a few dogs chasing after wayward frisbees) to touch the grassy space, which members of Buildings & Grounds affectionately refer to as “Mother Quad.”
Originally the heart of campus, the University of Nevada, Reno quad has become the traditional setting for Commencement activities, and provides a pleasant place for picnics, concerts, and quiet reflection. U.S. Presidents and other luminaries have addressed the student body and Reno residents there as well. In 1987, the university quadrangle was listed as part of the University of Nevada, Reno Historic District in the National Register of Historic Places.