When I think of Yale architecture, I don’t see the neo-Gothic towers reaching toward a mythic past or the Beinecke Library, a totem to an antiseptic future. Instead, I am haunted by the dark portals.
In September 1966 I entered Yale on foot through Phelps Gate, the redstone portal to the Old Campus. I don’t think I ever passed through that portal again until graduation day.
Another portal — one I spent more time crossing — is the redstone portal of Vanderbilt Hall, my freshman dormitory. This is a very odd archway. It leads to a semi-circular carriage way at Chapel Street – a driveway with two large iron gates, that remained locked our entire freshman year. Except for those of us who started in Vanderbilt, few members of our class ever passed through the Vanderbilt portal leading almost nowhere. Three years later, and after a major remodel, Vanderbilt Hall became the dormitory for Yale’s first class of freshwomen.
And last is the interior plaster archway adjacent to Commons in the Woolsey rotunda. This portal is adorned with the names of Yale graduates who died during World Wars I and II, wars that seemed so ancient and so irrelevant. In 1966 we entered Yale nearly 50 years after the end of World War I. It’s now fifty years since the height of the Vietnam War. That war, which shaded our four years in New Haven and distracted so many of us, must seem equally ancient and irrelevant to the students passing through that portal today.
– Bob Stein
As a freshman at Yale, the other ringing memorial was the names of the young men carved on the walls of Woolsey Hall. They made me think of my own good fortune to come unscathed through three years of wartime service. Although I’ve been to France three times since then, I still have on my bucket list to see those killing fields and visit the grave site of a great uncle who had the misfortune to die between the signing of the armistice and its effective date. I believe that admission at Yale should be accompanied by a requirement for some significant community service. More than anything, this requirement would select for and build character.
– David Ezzio
Is there anything more magnificent than the War Memorial outside Commons or the names of those who fell in combat inside the entrance to Woolsey? It’s a grim reminder of a different kind of Yalie. How long until political correctness requires that the names of the Confederate soldiers get chiseled off the walls?
– Terry Jackson
The Woolsey Hall Rotunda acted as a threshold that separated living from working. On one side were the residential colleges, the old campus, Hendrie Hall, the gym, and the Broadway and York Street retail corridor, places where I lived my life and learned primarily from the people I encountered. On the other side were classrooms, labs and most important for me, the Math Department in Leet Oliver, places where academic pursuits dominated, where my mind was stretched, and where great scholars held court. Crossing that threshold several times each day helped ease me into the world I was approaching.
– David Perlman