Tuesday, December 8, 2015

My UChicago Haunts (Part 1)

This year the University of Chicago is celebrating the 125th anniversary of its founding.  In commemoration of that great and special (and unusual) place, home of the “life of the mind,” where exasperated shouts of “define your terms” bounce between the limestone Gothic buildings, where secondary sources are third class citizens, where the graffito “F-you – Newton” is coupled with “F-your vicinity – Heisenberg,” and where when hurrying to the library on a brisk fall Saturday afternoon a driver pulls over to ask, in all earnestness, “where’s the Plato lecture,” as if you’d know just which one.

Reminiscing on some well-travelled campus haunts:

Hitchcock Hall is an unusual building, inside and out.  Completed in 1902 as a men’s residence hall, it has Gothic elements encased in prominent horizontal lines enclosing five vertical sections, four stories each, connected only by cross corridors in the basement and on the quad side a ground floor, unheated cloister.  It was designed, writes campus historian Jay Pridmore, as “a merger of Prairie School and Gothic Revival.”  Very UChicago – cross-discipline fertilization.  How many other Prairie-Gothic buildings can one name on the National Register of Historic Places? 
Hitchcock Hall
(Snell Hall in more traditional Gothic design is adjacent to the right)
Hitchcock Hall is a place where once upon a time, after yet another intense conversation around a greasy table in the basement kitchen, someone would remark sardonically “well, another raucous Saturday night at the U of C;” but also a place where, should anyone try to leave such conversation, on the price of tea in China or carbon-carbon double bonds, the plea “five more minutes” would invariably be heard. 

Bartlett Gymnasium was a pretty neat, and historic, place.  It once stood as the eastern part of the Stagg Field complex, housing a big gym, offices for coaches, a large trophy room with testaments of past Big Ten glories, and a locker room where attendant Bill Dee would string a mean Hornet squash racket for a young college freshman.  It was decorated with large hand-painted murals and most notably over the entrance a large, multi-paneled stained glass window depicting a scene from Ivanhoe “in which the knight is crowned for his triumph in a legendary twelfth-century tournament” (Pridmore).  Build of very solid limestone in the Gothic style, of course, with the same turrets and battlements found on Stagg Field. 
Bartlett Gymnasium
A place where I learned the game of squash, which I played there for many years, and the place where I would interview the athletic coaches for my short-lived small sports column in the student newspaper The Chicago Maroon.  In the twenty-first century, upon completion on the edge of campus of a larger athletic center with a faddish, futuristic-look, the convenient and centrally-located Bartlett Gymnasium building was turned into a cafeteria.  My oh my.
Hutchinson Commons, Mitchell Tower, a sliver of the Reynolds Club, and a corner of Mandel Hall (L to R) 
Hutchinson Commons was the grandest place on campus to eat a mediocre meal, though when a student it was a bit pricey for me.  Always an interesting experience to chow down in the wood-filled, heavy-beamed, high-ceilinged hall, watched over by past university greats whose huge portraits hang on the walls all about you.  The building, modeled after Oxford’s Christ Hall Church, is, writes Pridmore, a “classic example of the late-Gothic English Perpendicular.”  How about that?  Hutch Commons is part of a multi-building complex that includes Mitchell Tower, Mandel Hall auditorium, and the Reynolds Club, a hodgepodge of spaces and offices built as a student center.

Hutchinson Commons; Portraits Fill the Walls Now
My thin wallet preferred the adjacent C-Shop, where, if flush with a few extra dollars from the latest advance on a loan, my pals and I ate many a greasy hamburger rather than cooking up a pot of cheaper spaghetti or gnocchi.  We were glad to have a late night dining option on campus.  It looks now to have been converted into a healthy-food sandwich, granola, and muffin shop, with a full line of organic juices.  Times have changed.     

Cobb Gate
(Incorrectly named on the postcard)


Finally, for now, Cobb Gate merits a mention.  It is the south entrance (on 57th Street) first to Hull Court, with its complex of biology buildings, and then to the main quadrangles.  Traversed innumerable times in a typical undergraduate’s stint, it certainly is a sight, a passageway beneath a massive limestone archway covered with a bevy of gargoyles and other grotesque creatures glaring down on passers-by, a fair warning that the University of Chicago isn’t for the faint of heart.   



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