History of the Center

In 1973, Charles Sammis Robertson, who lived in Lloyd Harbor, about 5 miles from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, approached Jim Watson, then director of the Laboratory, with a most generous proposal. Robertson offered a gift of almost $8 million to be used as an endowment for research—an act of philanthropy that Watson described as “…one of the most important events in the Lab’s history.” The Robertson Research Fund continues to be the most important endowment at the Laboratory. Robertson’s wife, Marie Hoffman Robertson, had died in 1972, and, in 1975, Robertson established the Marie H. Robertson Memorial Fund for Neuroscience, presaging the key role neuroscience research has come to play at the Laboratory. Then, in 1976, Robertson gave their estate on Banbury Lane, together with an endowment for its upkeep, for use as a conference center. The gift included their elegant house, now called Robertson House, and the large, seven-car garage that was converted into the Conference Center. The Center includes offices, library, and the Conference Room, acknowledged internationally to be a superb venue for small discussion meetings. Robertson House is used to accommodate 13 meetings participants and also provides the dining facilities and a place for informal discussions over cocktails. Accommodations for a further 23 participants is provided in Sammis Hall (opened in 1981) and the Meier House (purchased in 1997). The Center was opened on Sunday, June 14, 1977, by Francis Crick who gave a talk on How Scientists Work, and the first meeting was held here in May 1978. By 2003, the silver anniversary of the Center, over 11,000 scientists (including 41 Nobel laureates) had attended over 380 meetings at the Center.

Previous Banbury Center Directors

Photo of Victor McElheny - Banbury Director
Victor McElheny 1978-1982
Photo of Michael Shodell - Banbury Director
Michael Shodell 1982-1986
Photo of Steve Prentis - Banbury Director
Steve Prentis 1986-1987
Photo of Jan Wikowski - Banbury Director
Jan Witkowski 1987-2017