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
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
It 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
First arrival, never been east of Denver, off the red-eye from San Francisco, the first Brooklyn accent I’d ever heard, Kennedy, and the weirdly pale color of green of the foliage from the window of the Connecticut Limousine. Find the Old Campus, strangely fortress-like. Find Vanderbilt. Enter entryway for #12. Put foot on first step, pull foot back, startled. The step is worn into a gently curving basin from thousands of students’ steps. Oh my God, this place is old. There’s nothing this old in California.
– Conrad Cummings
The old iron gates were open from the street to the courtyard of Vanderbilt Hall. Three other young men and I had been assigned to suite number one, first entryway, first floor. The green Connecticut Limousine car discharged me by the gate. I was awed by the magnificent old building. The three-room suite, paneled in rich woodwork and featuring a large wood-burning fireplace, left me wondering how this Midwestern boy could have moved to the edge of joining the elite.
THE MOOSE -My roommates salvaged the mounted moose head from the attic of Peabody Museum and brought it to our suite in a taxi. I convinced the custodian to drive a spike into the mortar between the stone blocks of the wall so we could hang the heavy prize at an appropriate height.
– Dan Bottoms