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

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