Over the course of Yale’s 300 years, the struggle between history and innovation has raged.
An example was in 1972, when as the University grew progressive from within its Gothic and Georgian walls, members of the Yale community and city officials considered a proposal to add two additional residential colleges. But a committee of students protested the plan for the 13th and 14th colleges, which would have been located behind Timothy Dwight College, and the New Haven Board of Aldermen rejected the idea.
The different factions pushed for the expansion of living space for students, the integrity of Yale architecture and the preservation of New Haven landmarks — all at the same time.
Now, as the University marks its 300th anniversary, more concerned than ever with the maintenance and appearance of its student residences, the issue echoes, dissonant and unresolved.
A housing problem?
In the early 1970s, University officials decided the stones and girders of Yale’s 12 residential colleges were sagging under the swelling student population, and they appealed to John Hay Whitney, a prospective donor for the project. But in recent interviews, each individual involved in the subsequent events had a different view of the University’s rationale.
“Yale’s decision to try to build two new residential colleges was made because Yale believed the housing circumstances for students needed to be drastically improved,” said Sam Chauncey, secretary of the University at the time of the proposal.
“You can’t have six people living in a room for three, but you also can’t have the Waldorf Astoria [Hotel],” he said.
Stephen Hagan ’73 did most of the reporting on the development of the plan as architectural editor for the Yale Daily News, and he disagrees with Chauncey’s comments.
“We weren’t in any overcrowded conditions,” he said, “so I don’t know if any of the students thought it was tremendously necessary. I think the driver was an empty space that needed to be filled, because none of us had any particular burning desire” for more rooms.
Alan Greenberg, an architecture professor in the 1970’s, said, “I think Yale decided it should admit more students, and the ostensible reason at the time was that more colleges would bring in more income.”
In any case, Whitney, also the donor of the gymnasium named for him, agreed to fund the $15 million project. Yale administrators then hired well-known architect Romaldo Giurgola to design two residential colleges on the blocks bordered by Grove and Whitney streets.
An unpopular design
Throngs of high schoolers listening attentively to stories of architect James Gamble Rogers on campus tours and praying silently for acceptance probably do not think the massive, acid-washed stone of Harkness Tower is funny.
“Back in the ’70s, this kind of architecture was thought to be a joke,” Greenberg said. “Everybody despised the Yale Gothic. My own concerns about Giurgola’s plans were that the new colleges would be like new colleges anywhere and would not integrate with the rest of campus.”
Greenberg was not alone in his sentiment and, indeed, many opposed the proposal because they felt the commissioned plan did not fit with the rest of the University.
Stewart G. Rosenblum LAW ’74 and other students created an ad hoc committee to oppose the proposal.
“I loved Yale, and New Haven is a great city with great architecture,” Rosenblum said. “No one was opposed to new houses and more housing; we just wanted a design sensitive to the area.”
Greenberg also found fault with the proposal.
“It was a beautiful design,” he said, “but it didn’t really have any architectural connection to TD. It didn’t relate to either the Gothic or the Georgian architectural vernacular of Yale.”
Rosenblum was a student at Yale Law School in the early ’70s when he first heard about the Kingsley-Havemeyer House on Whitney Avenue. A 19th-century townhouse, it was owned by Yale faculty member Loomis Havemeyer, who played host to scores of famous names, including the composer Arturo Toscanini.
Rather than being primarily concerned with the look of the buildings, Rosenblum’s committee was concerned that the proposal called for the destruction of the Kingsley-Havemeyer house.
“The house was plaqued by the New Haven Preservation Trust,” he said, “but with the plans, the house disappeared from the map, completely wiped off.”
Hagan said students were less moved to action by the housing shortage than by the preservation of the house.
“We were very concerned for the Kingsley-Havemeyer house,” he said.
Rosenblum said the plan called for six- to eight-story buildings straight along the street and deemed the plan “an attempt to cram lots of buildings on a not-large site.”
In addition to speaking with the zoning department, buildings department and a number of aldermen, Rosenblum said his committee spoke with members of the faculty.
“We were told that some people who were supportive of efforts were told by colleagues that it would not help their careers at Yale to be on the opposite side of the party line,” he said.
Chauncey strongly disagreed with Rosenblum’s version of events, saying that a university could not possibly tell its faculty what to think.
“Just as the average member of the French or biology department doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about the residential colleges,” Chauncey said, “faculty members [only] worry about things that affect them.”
Rosenblum said the situation resulted in a strange alliance because the students wanted more housing, just not in place of the Kingsley-Havemeyer House.
“We tried as early as we could to positively affect the outcome,” he said, “but to some extent the effort fell on deaf ears and the project came to a halt.”
Despite the relative failure of the proposal to expand the residential college system to 14, Rosenblum said it inspired Yale to preserve the buildings it already has.
Chauncey agreed, saying “those of us who were in charge of Yale can be severely criticized for building new buildings and not paying attention enough to the old ones.”
“Yale was negligent, and Levin and his team have been saddled with bringing things up to date,” Chauncey said.
A failed plan
But the proposal, even in its infancy, was destined for controversy.
At the time, the mayor of New Haven was Bartholomew Guida, a former president of the Board of Aldermen, who had succeeded the famous “pro-Yale” Mayor Richard Lee.
During this time, Yale contributed very little financially to New Haven, and the University felt Guida was primarily concerned with getting money from Yale, Chauncey said.
So when Yale approached Guida with the proposal to build two new colleges, the mayor told Yale administrators they would have to go through a standard permit process to build the colleges. He also hinted that Yale would have to start paying taxes to receive the permit, something the non-profit has never done, Chauncey said.
“He loved every minute of it,” Chauncey said, “he loved having Yale in the palm of his hand.”
The Board of Aldermen rejected Yale’s request to build the new colleges during meetings on March 5, 1972, and then again on April 2. The votes against the proposal were close, 15-10 and 17-12 respectively, the Yale Daily News reported at the time. After the second defeat, the University withdrew its bid.
“It was at this point that Yale realized it had to develop a sophisticated community-relations plan,” Chauncey said. “At the same time, I think the city learned that instead of fighting for tax money, it was probably better to work with the University in a positive sense.”
Rumors have abounded for years about the possibility of a renewed interest in the addition of two colleges, but Yale administrators said nothing is in the works right now.
“If you look around, look at the renovations, that’s the initiative for the 21st century,” said Janet Lindner, director of the Tercentennial Office.