Three portals

Photographs of three portals: Phelps Gate, the portal to Vanderbilt Hall, and the archway adjacent to Commons in the Woolsey rotundaWhen 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

Vanderbilt Hall

Vanderbilt, photographed from Chapel Street, with the black iron fencing in the foreground We lived in Vanderbilt Hall our freshman year and I loved the way that building looked and felt. Still, it had a Jekyll and Hyde quality to it. When I entered the Old Campus through Phelps Gate on College Street, I would turn left, pass through Vanderbilt’s archway, and come around to the front of the building. It was large, solid, rounded, and comforting. I always felt that it was welcoming and reassuring. On the other hand, when I looked at the same building from Chapel Street, I had to look through a large wrought iron and stone fence. That same building now looked like a prison – cold, heartless, and afraid. I guess it really was both.

Matt Epstein

Harkness Tower

View of Harkness Tower from Old CampusIt hit me: “As if Yale isn’t intimidating enough!” I stand in the middle of Old Campus for the first time as an 18-year-old male and am confronted with a gigantic phallus. Hadn’t thought about that before. I had strong images of Yale from photographs taken by the artist Samuel Chamberlain who lived in my town and who was somewhat famous for his books which captured the images of New England, including some Ivy campuses. I was familiar with the genteel Gothic ambiance, but right then it was immediate and personal. I reminded myself I was admitted for a reason. They knew I had “the right stuff” whether I knew it or not. And it didn’t take long for Harkness to retreat to its rightful place as the lynchpin in the mosaic of resident colleges, space, and movement.

F. Richard Bowen

The world’s a stage

A staircase in a Vanderbilt entrywayIt started when I joined the donutmen freshman year. After selling donuts I would improvise, a little faux Shakespearean tale for those gathered in the Vanderbilt entryway up the staircase. And by our departure, it had moved to the Silliman courtyard, where on one extraordinary spring day in ‘70 Craig Slutzker and I, and the first flash mob in recorded history, presented a fractured Bard history of dramatic comedy, swords in the hands of Clowns. There was great merriment. Those were the days.

Rich Levin

The Yale Buttery

In the basement of Durfee Hall on the Old Campus was the Yale Buttery, a student-run hamburger joint I worked in freshman and sophomore years. It sold burgers, fries, soft drinks, milkshakes, and other junk food, such as Hostess cupcakes. The place was little more than a large, dull basement room with a kitchen and sales counter at one end, but it did a thriving business every evening till 11:00.

It was a challenge to keep the place clean. Boiling french fry grease would atomize and settle on the floor and every other low surface. We had to swab the floor with detergent every night after closing. The city health inspectors, who came around monthly, were meticulous about two things: the temperature of the freezer where we stored the meat, ice milk, and frozen french fries, and the cleanliness of the refrigerated “cows” that dispensed milk. They were not concerned with the french fry grease, which we changed daily, nor with the age of our Hostess products, which somehow never got stale.

Working at the Buttery was not exciting, but I had one memorably satisfying experience when I achieved the only “marketing” success I’ve ever had. We sold two sorts of milkshake: “regular”, made with two scoops of ice milk for 50 cents, and “thick”, with five scoops of ice milk for 75 cents. The thick shakes actually cost us less to make since by volume ice milk was cheaper than liquid milk. Hence, we were motivated to get people to buy thick shakes instead of regular. But how do we convince them to do that? An ingenious solution suggested itself to me. We needn’t change our prices, or the proportion of ingredients of the shakes. All we needed was to change the description of the shakes from “thick” and “regular” to “regular” and “thin”. When a guy (and in those days it was still all guys) ordered a shake we would ask him “Regular or thin?” Very few people would ask for a “thin” shake, and no one would be so obviously cheap as to buy his girlfriend one. Sales of “regular” shakes soared.

I have often wondered whether the marketing professionals for commercial products have it all wrong: instead of selling regular, large, family, and jumbo sizes of laundry detergents, say, they could relabel them as tiny, mini, small, and regular respectively, thereby encouraging people to upgrade their purchases to “regular”. If this ever happens, you heard it here first!

David Jefferson

The Classics Library

a corner of the Classics library, with shelves of books in bindings of red, green and other colors; Harkness Tower can be seen through a window on the back wallAt the top of Phelps Gate, reachable by countless stairs or the world’s slowest elevator, was the Classics Library. It was designed and equipped with the creature comforts that a scholar of St. Thomas More’s day might desire: thick carpets, a corner fireplace, comfortable chairs and tall windows overlooking the New Haven Green on one side and the Old Campus on the other. And, of course, many, many, many books.

In pale blue Oxford Edition dust jackets were the Greeks from Aeschylus to Thucydides; the green-jacketed Loeb Library editions with both Greek and English for cribbers. The great Roman writers from Cicero to Suetonius claimed another section, along with their red-jacketed Loeb counterparts. And then there were shelves upon shelves of secondary sources: dictionaries, concordances and commentaries. It was an excellent spot to fraternize with fellow archaeology majors [like Doug Connor] and to observe haggard but impressively scholastic graduate students. And, of course, there were the occasional sightings of the professors whose assignments made this space a second home for us. Whether seated at one of the sun-drenched worktables by the windows, surrounded by monographs, or slumped in a stuffed armchair by the fireplace absorbed in Xenophon’s Anabasis, this was a perfect place to cram for midterms and finals. And to nap.

Randy Helm

The snow cathedral

The words "no photo yet"First snow, freshman year, wet snow. Young men go out to throw snowballs at each other. As a New Englander, this is not my first wet snow, and I start rolling snowballs of a size to build with. Someone wants to start a fort. When a wall gets to a certain size, I demonstrate how you can make an arch with snow balls of a certain wetness and size.

A red-haired fellow directed the build of a very decent likeness of the gothic cathedral at Chartres. The front facade with my arch got a lot of detail, as impressive a work in snow as I have ever seen, with flying buttresses and all the named parts. One spire was taller than the other. Genuine 13th Century Gothic architecture among the wannabe gothic of Yale.

My goal as a Jewish pacifist at the time was more about avoiding snowball fights than getting the flying buttresses right. I think the cathedral was pretty successful at both. The red-haired guy became my roommate the next year.

– Mark Zanger


Steps in front of Farnam Hall

Steps at the entry to FarnamFirst impressions of the Old Campus as a freshman. We would hang out on the steps and talk. Got to first know many of my classmates right there. One beautiful Fall evening President Brewster came strolling by walking Handsome Dan. He stopped to chat for a while. I felt like it was just like home in the 7th ward of New Orleans where folks did the exact same thing.

Tap Taplin

Bingham Hall

September 1966. I arrived with high hopes and a rube’s experience.

Bingham hall had two impressive architectural features which I appreciate and remember.

At the top of the tower there was a large room which had been an observatory. All the optical equipment had been removed, leaving a domed roof and lots of dirt and trash. Still, it was a remarkable thing to gawk at.

The tower also had a single room on the 7th floor, not assigned as no one would have wanted to walk up 6 flights of stairs. Through the magic of skeleton keys, I could enter this room, which I used intermittently as a refuge, as lodging for my father, as a really quiet workspace. Good view.

Long trudge. Antidote to the wonderful chaos of the university. No water, no heat except for what drifted up through 3 floors.

I still like towers.

Bruce Parker