A New Student Center Opens
Loker Commons Begins Serving the Harvard Community
Graced with elegant stained glass windows and wood darkened with years of use, Sanders Theatre and Annenberg Hall practically groan under the weight of Harvard tradition.
But beneath their ancient floors now lies something a bit more modern--Loker Commons, a new student center at the pulse of Harvard student life.
The facility includes a food court, newsstand, computer kiosk and conference rooms.
Funded in large part by a $7 million donation from Katherine Bogdonovich Loker, the widow of Donald P. Loker '25, Loker Commons officially opened in January, after eight years of planning.
Loker is not Harvard's first attempt to maintain a student center, but it differs dramatically from its now-defunct predecessor, the Harvard Union.
While the Union used to serve as a reading room where first-years could recline in leather chairs and sip sherry, architects and planners intended Loker to be a less imposing space. In fact, it became one of the few places at Harvard reminiscent of other college campuses.
Rather than roast beef and hasty pudding, pizza and burritos are on the bill of fare at Loker.
And instead of oak panelling, Loker sports blue and red fluorescent track lighting, a 70-square foot LED (light-emitting diode) display which project student art projects, and a 114-foot long electronic light "frieze," screening extracurricular announcements and poetry.
While nearly one-third of students responded that they initially "hated" the LED frieze in a Crimson poll, when the LED began to run student-related announcements instead of segments of Alice in Wonderland, student opinion swung.
The locus of student life has now shifted from the Square across the Yard.
"Now, instead of making the Tommy's [House of Pizza] run, I make the Loker run," Kenji D. Scott '98 said.
"If I took a book to Tommy's, people would look at me like I'm crazy," Aaron P. Easterly '99 said.
But the University's planners were not able to please every student.
Despite repeated student requests, officials have refused to create a television viewing area.
In addition, although the Minority Students' Alliance asked for a permanent space in the Loker facility, their petition has been denied, with administrators such as Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III saying that multicultural centers promote racial separation.
Finally, students asked that Loker's hours be extended beyond the normal 1:30 a.m. closing time so that students could have a 24 hour study center.
According to Rudd W. Coffey '97, Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 decided not to follow through with this idea to the cost of additional shuttle bus service to the Quad.
During reading and exam period, Loker's hours are extended until 2:30 a.m.
A New Retreat for Students
Since Loker's official opening in January, most students have been pleased with the results.
To entice students to Loker, students were given $100 in "Crimson Cash" at the beginning of the spring semester to be applied toward purchases in the new facility.
A Harvard Dining Services official told the Committee on House Life this spring that next year students will likely receive $100 of Crimson Cash for the full year.
With the assistance of Crimson Cash, Loker has developed a regular crowd of "Lokies" or "Lokerlings." Loker's proximity to the Yard and the Science Center have made it a popular hang-out particularly among first-years and science concentrators.
"I've got Loker fever," said Adam R. Kovacevich '99. "I'm really impressed with the job they did down here."
"I like the colored lights," said graduate student Joseph R. Metz. "It's like [Disney World's] EPCOT Center."
Administrators said they are also pleased with the way Loker turned out.
"It's lovely, I think," said Dean of the Faculty Jeremy R. Knowles, when he first toured the new space.
Many students have said that perhaps the primary benefit of the facility is that it has successfully brought together a diverse collection of students.
"One of our priorities in the planning of this project was the creation of a space that will integrate freshmen more quickly into life at Harvard," said Philip J. Parsons, director of planning and senior development officer in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
But owners of Harvard Square restaurants have been far less pleased with Loker.
Because of the distribution of Crimson Cash, many students have opted to eat at Loker rather than Square restaurants. Many local restaurateurs complained this spring that the $650,000 in Crimson Cash has depressed their sales.
"Businesses like mine are going to fail, and real estate values are going to go down," said Gary M. Stoloff, owner of BeBop Burrito.
Stoloff said he believes that Harvard Real Estate is hoping real estate prices will fall so that they can buy him out.
Many students said they would rather eat at Loker than at a Square restaurant, but cited Crimson Cash, not Loker's cuisine, as the main reason for their preference.
"I come here because I feel like I'm not spending my own money," Sarah W. Houghteling '99 said.
Some businesses, however, did not suffer a decrease in sales. "Students are going to come here in general because they like this stuff," said Don K. Valcovic, night-time manager of The Tasty.
But strained relationships between Harvard and Square businesses have been soothed somewhat by the recent restriction of access to Loker Commons.
Since Cambridge could require Harvard to file for restaurant permits were Loker open to the general public, patrons of the food court are now required to produce Harvard IDs.
Under the new policy, Loker establishments must refuse to serve alumni, unless accompanied by a currently-enrolled student.
"I wonder what Mrs. Loker would say about Harvard excluding alumni from this wonderful place," said Rod Kessler '71, after he had problems obtaining a slice of pizza for his five-year-old son.