Category Archive 'Schwarzman Center'

02 Dec 2017

The End of Yale Commons

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Yale Commons Dining Hall closed forever.

The Yale Alumni Magazine forwarded on Facebook the above image.

Commons, a nearly block-long dining hall in which Yale Freshman Classes dined together for generations was built 1901-02 in the Beaux-Art style as an architectural gesture celebrating the University’s Bicentennial.

It was originally the whole University’s dining hall, but after the construction of the residential colleges early in the 1930s (each of which had its own dining hall), Commons was used by the Freshman Class, which resided not in the colleges, but rather in the dormitory halls of the Old Campus. The Yale freshman was allowed so many meals monthly in his future residential college’s dining hall, but was expected to take most meals in Commons.

The Salovey regime has been reducing meal service in Commons for some years seeking to economize on service costs. Finally, a donation of $150 million from Steven A. Schwarzman ’69, the Blackstone Group private equity magnate, was arranged to fund the conversion of the grand dining hall into some sort of a cultural center.

I was a scholarship student and my first Bursary job consisted of making toast and busing tables at Breakfast in Freshman Commons. I was proud to be working for a bit of my tuition, and I made a point of appropriating a rose or carnation from one of the table vases for a boutonnière and displaying a foulard silk handkerchief in the breast pocket of my white serving jacket.

I entered Yale in the old 1960s days of male-only classes when coats-and-ties were required in dining halls.

After we returned from the holidays, months could go by before roads were passable and mixers started up again. A Yale freshman, by late February, might not have so much as caught sight of a young woman for six weeks or more.

I remember one particularly wintry Wednesday in that cheerless month. New Haven streets and Yale paths were icy. It was cold and sleeting outside. The sun had set long before dinner time. We were making the best of mid-week dinner in Commons, happy enough to be inside under a roof and out of New Haven’s weather.

Suddenly, the door swung open, and in walked a tall, blond classmate, wearing black tie (!) to dinner in Commons, and accompanied by an absolutely beautiful young lady in an evening gown. The Class of 1970’s collective jaw dropped. As one man, we stood up in admiration and applauded.

They may have “cultural events,” but they will never have anything in the renovated and remodeled Schwarzman Center as insouciant and superb as that glorious couple.

A few years ago.

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