Seeley G. Mudd Library, a modernist brick and concrete structure, was an obscure archival facility set back from the corner of Sachem and Prospect streets on the way to Science Hill. I worked at the library for nearly four years, and upon returning to New Haven, I was curious to revisit some familiar campus spaces. But hunting around in the vicinity of its onetime neighbor, Ingalls Rink, I couldn’t find Mudd anywhere. A web search revealed that it had been demolished in 2013. Mudd had bequeathed its grounds to the new sibling residential colleges that now stretch along the west side of Prospect St., from the northern walls of Grove Street Cemetery to Eero Saarinen’s undulating hockey rink.
I left Yale College a full decade ago, after eight semesters but without a degree — it’s a long story. Back to complete a final semester, I’ve been noting many changes on and around the campus since I left.
I saw the first person wearing the word “Kale” within a day of arriving in late August. I chuckled to myself — a block capital “K” had replaced the “Y” in the university’s name on the standard dark blue tee or sweatshirt. Quickly though, I realized the shirts were utterly ubiquitous. People really like this joke. But it’s doubly funny to me because when I left in 2007, “kale” was about as popular a search term as “prune,” according to Google Trends. In the interim, this unassuming leafy vegetable has become a rock star of the produce department. What were we all doing before unearthing this powerful source of vitamin K?
The businesses and restaurants near campus have turned over considerably. While Louis’ Lunch and BAR still admire each other across Crown St., and Mamoun’s remains ever-dependable on Howe, the high-end burger craze had arrived in New Haven in my absence, with Shake Shack on Chapel St. and Five Guys on Church. The bespoke dessert sector has likewise blossomed. In addition to Insomnia Cookies, now mandatory in college towns across America, Connecticut-based Donut Crazy also serves students artisanal sweets. At their 290 York St. location — the former site of New Haven’s last real bookshop, Labyrinth Books, which was still open when I left — “hand-forged” donuts are now offered well past midnight on weekends. Of course they’ll also make you avocado toast and, astonishingly, a grilled cheese served between two glazed donuts. Who needs books, anyway?
Speaking of York St., Toad’s Place doesn’t appear to have changed a bit, but it does have new competition for booking performers. College Street Music Hall opened in 2015, in a renovated structure that once housed the Roger Sherman Theatre and, later, the Palace Theatre. The latter had already closed when I got to New Haven in 2003, but I was delighted to see that the city has embraced this rebirth. The new venue appears to be siphoning off plenty of acts who previously had no options apart from Toad’s. I’ve seen two shows there this fall, and it’s the gorgeous venue New Haven deserves.
The local coffee scene has evolved, but it lacks the third-wave establishment that I expected to find upon returning. To be sure, there have been new arrivals since I left, which are just fine, but there isn’t an excellent place I actually find myself wanting to visit. Like the lack of a good bookstore, this is odd. Travel to almost any other place of New Haven’s size and import, and you will find a cafe where hipsters take their coffee oh-so-seriously (think Café Grumpy in New York). I haven’t been able to figure out the absence of such a place.
The most significant new tenant along Broadway is certainly the Apple Store, which opened in late 2011. Judging from the location’s busyness whenever I’ve walked by, the store appears to be especially convenient for students and other residents. But the biggest change is the fundamental reason for the presence of the store at all.
When I left New Haven in the spring of 2007, the original iPhone had been revealed but was not yet available for sale. In the intervening decade, it has come to dominate so many of our social interactions. The feature of campus life that has struck me most is the permanent invitation our phones extend to be somewhere other than where we stand. Like many others, I probably accept that offer more often than I should. It’s a wondrous thing to cast your glance upward and look around, and notice the world before you and recall the place you once had in it.
Michael Hammond is a senior in Branford College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .