Clark Hall Student Lounge: Then and Now

Alumni who attended the University of Virginia School of Law before the move to North Grounds in 1974-75 will remember the student lounge in the basement of Clark Hall. Digital Collections Librarian Loren Moulds and I recently went in search of the long-lost lounge. Its former location is now in a restricted area of Clark Hall, current home of the Department of Environmental Sciences. The search was part of my research for a forthcoming book on the history of the Law School buildings.

The student lounge was one of the amenities of Clark Hall made possible through the generous financial support of law alumnus William Andrews Clark Jr. (Law 1899), whose father had made a fortune in copper mining in Montana. Measuring approximately 58 by 34 feet, this large room boasted fireplaces at both ends, a handsome columned entrance, and leather sofas and chairs. Plasterwork panels, suggestive of colonial wood paneling, decorated the walls. At Clark Hall’s dedication on October 5, 1932, Dean Armistead Dobie said that the “student lounge would do credit to a metropolitan club,” and indeed the room was one of the University’s most sophisticated spaces. 

Over time the lounge suffered from use and lack of maintenance, so much so that in 1961 the Virginia Law Weekly described it as a “disgusting sight” with a “nauseating profusion of spilled beverages, scattered newspapers, paper cups and cigarette butts strewn over tables and floors.” In 1965, law students and the Law School Foundation cooperated to provide funds to renovate the lounge as a memorial to Edward J. Kelly Jr., the third-year student body president who had recently been killed in an automobile accident. The refurbished lounge featured wall-to-wall carpeting, seating upholstered in “fall colors . . . accentuated by occasional pieces covered in scarlet and others in solid black,” walnut veneer cocktail tables, an inlaid chess table, and a fire-engine red telephone.

After the Law School vacated Clark Hall in 1974, the Department of Environmental Sciences installed a wind tunnel and a silt-depositing experiment in the former lounge. Visiting the room in 1976, a writer for the Virginia Law Weekly reported that the room “is now devoid of carpeting, the chandeliers have lost their miniature shades and there are no couches or chairs.” 

Loren and I were not sure what we would find when the Facilities Department provided access to the Clark Hall basement, but alumni may be saddened to learn that the student lounge is no more. The University dismantled the room to provide space for the mechanical functions of the building. Where law students once roamed is now the abode of wires and pipes. Fragments of the lounge survive in the form of the chipped remains of the room’s plasterwork wall panels, the ghosts of the chimney flues, and the black bricks that lined the insides of the two fireplaces.

– Philip Herrington, Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities  

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Philip Herrington

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