This just in

On Yale & Yale alumni.
Ico comments 1 comment | Ico print Print | Ico email Email | Facebook | | RSS

$150M gift to create a “state-of-the-art campus center”

When Yale built Commons dining hall, Memorial Hall, Woolsey Hall, and Woodbridge Hall in 1901 to celebrate its bicentennial, the buildings were more than responses to pressing needs. They were the first buildings to belong to the entire university rather than just the college or one of the graduate and professional schools—symbols of Yale’s evolution into a university.

So it’s perhaps fitting that some of these buildings will house a new entity that is designed to bring together people from all over the Yale community. The university announced on Monday that alumnus Stephen Schwarzman ’69 is donating $150 million—the second-largest single gift in Yale history, behind Charles Johnson ’54’s $250 million for new residential colleges—to establish the Schwarzman Center, which Yale calls “a center dedicated to cultural programming and student life at the center of the university.”

The center will comprise Commons and Memorial Hall—the round, domed building that connects Commons to Woolsey Hall—both of which will be renovated. Besides the great hall of Commons—which will continue to be used in part as a dining hall but will be adaptable for performances and symposia—the center will use the upper floors of Memorial Hall and the large basement of Commons, which until recently housed kitchens and food storage. (The center will present events in Woolsey Hall, but Woolsey will not be renovated as part of the project.) The program for the center will be determined in consultation with an advisory committee of students and faculty, but it will likely include gallery space, meeting rooms, performance space, and pub and café space.

While a New York Times story on the announcement emphasized the center’s role as  performing arts center, Yale’s announcement and an e-mail from Peter Salovey to the Yale community focused more on the idea of a student center—something for which Yale students have recently been lobbying. Last year, the Graduate Student Assembly, the Graduate and Professional Student Senate, and the Yale College Council collaborated on a report to the administration calling for such a center, citing the need for meeting rooms, centralized student services, study space, late-night dining, along with a more general desire for interaction between undergrads and graduate and professional students.

“On a social level, we’ve been seeing a trend outward, an increase in movement toward fraternities and events off-campus,” says former YCC president Danny Avraham ’15. “There’s not really a space where students can come together and meet, especially if they want alcohol-free activities.” Avraham says the center sounds like “everything we asked for and more than we expected.”

Lauren Tilton ’16PhD, who wrote the student report, says she is cautiously optimistic about the plan. “The central location and the financial support leaves a lot of room for a good student center.” Noting the dual emphasis on performing arts and a student hub, she says it seems as though there are “different visions for the center. The committee is going to have to negotiate this, and we want to make sure it has the resources a student center would have.”

Yale says the center, which will have a full-time director and an endowment from Schwarzman’s gift to help fund its operation, will be completed in 2020.


The Yale Alumni Magazine is published by Yale Alumni Publications Inc., an alumni-based nonprofit that is not run by Yale University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration.

Filed under Schwarzman Center, Commons, student center

1 comment

  • Ralph Jones '64
    Ralph Jones '64, 2:19pm May 18 2015 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    Commons is one of Yale’s and New Haven’s great architectural and engineering treasures. It is also often greatly under-appreciated. While the prospect of its being more effectively used as a “common” community place is encouraging, and few details are yet available, adding $150 million to a building leads to worry about its being defaced, destroyed or demolished. This is especially so when the donor indicates he’s more interested in creating something new than in refurbishment.

    I remember Commons serving as a remarkable meeting place. As freshmen, we were separated in one part of the space while the paying public used the other end. However, at times when the college dining halls were closed, everyone ate in the same area. That created opportunity to meet exceptional people not normally involved in undergraduate life, including graduate students, visiting scholars and staff. Some of my most memorable lunches occurred by chance in that space. I hope that opportunity is still available.

    These conversations were enhanced by the commons’ ability to feed thousands while permitting comfortable conversations at tables of four. The acoustics that facilitate private conversations at table do become problematic when the space is used for public speaking. That is worth preserving.

    President Salovey was quoted saying the students speak of Commons as Hogwarts. I’m not sure if that is intended as a compliment or not. Some presently may see the building’s design as out of vogue. Styles have their seasons. This great space is worth keeping, however, lest we soon realize we’ve lost something very special. Not everyone is aware that that great space is built without structural steel. The rafters up there are not merely decorative. They’ve stood the test of time. I hope they will continue undisturbed.

    If you share my concerns, add you own and let people hear from you.

The comment period has expired.