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