Ask A Fifth-Year: Memorial Hall used to be cool?

Evan Williams

(Drawing by Annie Raccuglia)

Dear Evan,

I hear the bookstore in Memorial Hall used to be a coffee house. Seems like it was a cool place for music and just hanging out. What did you think of it?


Jazzy McJazzerson

Hi, Jazzy. Yes, what is now a part-time bookstore was once a full-time coffeehouse. Before the campus center, us old timers knew Memorial Hall as Memorial Union. Where the grill was located — man, I miss those Viking Melts, the ones at the Café are a poor imitation — along with the Underground Coffeehouse.

Even after a year and a half, it’s strange for me to go into Memorial Hall for a class or the VR and not see those old establishments. But the changes brought by the campus center have brought new — and in some ways, better — venues for eating, music, and hanging out to our campus.

I was reminded of the coffeehouse when I went to see Happy Apple in Harper Hall last Thursday. If you don’t know who Happy Apple is, look them up! They are — as hip cats say — “so killing.” The first time I saw Happy Apple was in our beloved Underground Coffeehouse; I was probably having a Viking Melt with Sierra Mist while they played.

Others were drinking coffee, or if they were of age they had a drink at the VR and came back to listen. The atmosphere was relaxed, yet everyone seemed more excited about the music than they would have been if it were in a concert hall.

The last two times Happy Apple has played at LU since then, they have been in Harper Hall. Harper is great acoustically, and of course Happy Apple played amazingly, but I didn’t feel the same excitement as in the coffeehouse.

I feel that Harper Hall exudes a feeling of properness and formality that is great for classical music but is hard for me to overcome when listening to jazz. Granted, I’m not a jazz player, so others will probably feel differently.

Yet, since the coffeehouse has closed, Harper is probably the best choice for any type acoustic music on campus. The Pusey Room is great, but the Warch staff is trying to end the use of that room for concerts, telling people to use the Esch-Hurvis room instead. While Esch-Hurvis is a nice wide-open space, the acoustics are not good for music.

Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the few music events that took place in the Cinema last year, but I heard that the space was nice for music. Now, however, concerts aren’t being scheduled in there either.

Of course the jazz jams have found their new home in the Café, but I find this space to be one of the worst for music on campus. If you want to come for the music, you have to listen to it over the yelling of order numbers and patrons that just came to get a late dinner don’t necessarily want to hear the music.

If you’re one of those late dinner patrons, loud music can be annoying, especially if you were looking for a place to do some studying or have quiet conversation while you eat. Of course, all of this added noise is unfair to any performers trying to concentrate on making music.

Last year, there was a student movement to reinstate the Underground Coffeehouse, and at the time, I found it silly. The campus center is a beautiful place that brings the campus together, and frankly, the coffeehouse was hipster central, second only, perhaps, to Co-Op — no offense, I love Co-Op and hipsters. However, the restrictions on the Cinema and Pusey Room were not in place at the time.

I understand the hesitance to continue using every large space in the campus center for music, yet I regret the lack of acoustically-sound venues outside of the Con. I also miss the comfy couches and relaxed vibe of the Underground Coffeehouse.

Lastly, I worry that Lawrence is taking away too many things that set it apart from other schools. When I entered, Lawrence’s chief recruitment tool was “The Lawrence Difference.” It wasn’t just a slogan, but a multi-part case for choosing Lawrence, which included individualized learning and Björklunden.

Of course, we still have those things, but to many students, part of the Lawrence Difference was the atmosphere, and places like the Grill and the Underground Coffeehouse exuded that atmosphere. They were places that weren’t pretty or architecturally appealing, but cozy and warm.

These places felt familiar, even if you had just walked in for the first time in your life. While the campus center is a welcomed change, I don’t feel that warmth there. Rather, its concrete, metal, and glass feel industrial and cold, and I believe that atmosphere has spread around campus with things like the TVs for announcements, and that ink-wasting swoosh across all of the publications.

Yes, the campus center is very clean, very sleek, and very sexy — but I kind of miss the old, warm and cozy feel of that little building across the bridge.