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image: Campus NewsRequiem for a residence hall
Few alumni are sorry to see the demise of Woodward Court, but-oh, the memories.

If it were possible to cast away the gloom of the Woodward Court basement, the glow from Liz Hurtig's face on Saturday, October 20, would have done it.

PHOTO:  When Woodward is torn down next summer, the familiar aluminum sculpture out front by Buky Schwartz will go into temporary storage.

"Let's see. I seem to remember the time clock being somewhere around here," she murmured, peering at a dark wall. "Yes! Here! Where this electrical panel is! And the matron's desk was over there." Hurtig, AB'64, AM'67, beamed at the small group of alumni touring the residence hall after the "Remembering Woodward" breakfast in residence masters Ted and Lee Cook's suite. Nell Smith, AB'85, shot Hurtig a slightly horrified-but clearly intrigued-look, as Hurtig explained that the 11 o'clock curfew (midnight for upperclasswomen) and segregation of the sexes were strictly enforced during her student days. The mostly middle-aged group smiled back, shaking their heads at the memory of punch cards and a matron holding sway over a College coed's social life.

This was the first time since packing up their diplomas that any of the group had been back inside the residence hall that tens of thousands of students loved to hate, with its bleak basement corridors and sweaty cinder-block walls, small and frigid (or parching) rooms, and vertically ricocheting acoustics. It was also their last chance to visit Woodward-where many say they forged their deepest friendships-before its demolition next summer to make room for a new business-school complex.

At breakfast a group of about 20 former Woodward residents living in Chicago gathered to swap tales of the stuff of dorm life: sex, drugs, social triumphs and turmoil.

In 1960 Hurtig, a 16-year-old from Baltimore, moved into what was then called New Dorms, a modern four-story U-shaped complex designed by Eero Saarinen and constructed in 1957-58. For the dorm's first half-decade 500 undergraduate and graduate men and women were squeezed into East, North, and West Houses. By the mid-1960s the dorm had been renamed Woodward, and the overcrowding was eased to 330 students living in what had become Wallace, Rickert, and Flint Houses (later split into Upper and Lower houses, with Harper House added in the 1990s).

"1960 was very different from 1964," Hurtig said. "Birth control was not readily available until my senior year, and the fear of pregnancy was great. The fishbowl [lobby] was where people made out. You could have a guy in the room, but he had to have one foot on the floor-people would come to check. But it wasn't something we questioned."

Nor, said Hurtig, did anyone question the room-keeping rules: each Friday, women marched dirty linens to the basement and collected clean sheets, while men's beds were made by housekeepers. ("Why would we question it? Guys were too stupid to make their own beds," quipped one alumna.)

When Dan Hayman, AB'71, MAT'73, made his home in Woodward Court, it was transitioning toward coed living, and times had changed in other ways. "Woodward Court was known in those years as the Pharmaceutical Society," he joked, and several guffaws went up across the room. Hayman and others also recalled vividly the South Side riots after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. "I remember watching out my window as the Blackstone Rangers [street gang] were surrounded by the National Guard on the Midway," he said.

Ann Morris, AB'75, AM'81, described the striking view from her room: Robie House. (That hardly made the dorm livable for fourth-floor residents such as Leslie Recht, AB'70, who noted that the coldest place in her room was the radiator: "So that's where I kept cheese.")

Not a few in the group felt vindicated to learn that the man who had assigned them to the cursed dorm had lived there himself-Ed Turkington, recently retired dean of student services and a New Dorms resident in 1958-59, grinned at the stories. Still, he must have done something right: Zaverie Moore, AB'88, and Laura Bader, AB'88, announced they've been best friends since sharing a Wallace House room.

When Woodward's current residents migrate this winter to the orange-brick Max Palevsky Residential Commons on 56th Street-Wallace, Flint, and Rickert Houses intact and Harper rechristened Woodward-the friendships (and traditions like the Wirszup Lectures) will migrate with them.

In anticipation of the impending move, Wallace residents painted the old cinder-block halls orange this fall. But after 35 years of hard living, Woodward looks nothing like its early-1960s glory days. No matter: Liz Hurtig still knew her room number by heart.
-S.A.S.

 


  DECEMBER 2001

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