Circling the Square
The Varsity Club
Just the other day two decidedly unathletic students strode into the Varsity Club, turned on the battered old television set, settled into the comfortable leather chairs, and contentedly watched the shows. After a couple of hours they left without having seen a single Varsity Club member.
This only served to point out that since it was built in 1912, the Varsity Club has had its ups and downs. At present it is in a down period, but Undergraduate President John L. "Red" Lewis '52 with the aid of his fellow members and the Club's loyal alumni is now engaged in a building-up campaign. The first evidences of the campaign's success were the dance last Saturday night which over 150 people attended and a new television set installed the same night.
The big red building--in effect a wing of the Union--has been on a gradual decline since the days just after the last war. In those golden days some 20 athletes--mostly veterans--were living upstairs in the club, and the bulletin board downstairs was covered with the usual ribald notes about meals and girls.
The Club's first golden age came soon after it was founded in 1908 at the urging of football coach Percy D. Haughton '99. The building was erected with funds provided by Allston Burr '89 in memory of his nephew Francis H. Burr '09, the Club's first president. From its founding until the time the House plan was put into operation in 1931 the Club served as an effective meeting place for the College's athletes. Upperclassmen lived in the Yard or along Mount Auburn Street, and the Club was comparatively nearby.
With the coming of the House plan, athletes found themselves further away from the Varsity Club not only physically but spiritually. The House, in which men of all interests were supposed to mingle, was seen to be directly opposed by the idea of a Varsity Club. The Club declined in prestige and its gloomy interior served to keep many athletes a good distance away. Few came in to play billiards or just talk in the big downstairs lounge.
So, except for the brief renaissance just after the war, the Club was on the way down. A solution to its declining fortunes appeared after the death of Allston Burr when in the spring of 1950 the University announced that it would build a new club near Lowell House. Funds would come from a bequest by Burr which were not specifically earmarked for a new Club, but which the University thought placed a moral obligation on it to build the new meeting place.
For a few weeks a furious battle raged between attackers of the new building--who charged "segregation, waste of money"--and its supporters--who cried out in favor of a community of interest, a welding-to gether of Harvard team spirit. The Korean War, which put restrictions on non-essential building, took the red-hot issue off the University's agenda.
The Varsity Club officers are now pointing toward improving the present Club rather than building a new one. Despite the fact that only three men live there now--the University frowns on this segregation--a considerable perking up of interest has been noted in the past few weeks. A great deal of this may be due to the publicity campaign put on by Lewis and his fellow officers. But most of it is probably due to a bright new $12,000 snack bar installed two weeks ago as a gift of graduate members of the Club. The snack bar, composed of a refrigerator unit, sink, and shelves, is stocked with about anything a red-blooded American youth could want--everything, that is, except beer.