Even before Radcliffe purchased 124 Walker Street last spring, the red brick apartment house between Cabot and Comstock Halls was almost indistinguishable from the dormitories on the Quad.
Year after year the College administration tried to purchase the building, and thereby manifest Radcliffe's destiny on the Quad. But the landlords were not so ready to give up what was a fairly profitable commercial venture. The building's very location on the dormitory quadrangle ideally suited the needs of young couples looking for baby sitters. And, according to legend at least, apartments in strategic locations with respect to Radcliffe were earmarked for lecherous old bachelors willing to pay high prices for a choice view.
When Radcliffe finally bought the building and opened it to undergraduates, the administration was so besieged by applications that it limited admission to upperclassmen with financial need. The flood of applications should have surprised no one. Radcliffe living conditions continue to be notoriously depressed. The tiny doubles, once reserved for scholarship students but now suffered through the misfortune of picking a bad number in the annual room lottery, are so terribly cramped that study is virtually impossible.
Privacy scarcely exists in the dormitories. In cell-like rooms jutting off long corridors sleep numerous little Radcliffe students in two straight lines. 'Cliffies can't even lock their own rooms. In the lavatories they brush their teeth three in a row. And meals are always eaten with nine other people.
124 Walker offered a means to escape from this kind of institutional living and still remain within the residential community. Since so few at Radcliffe, however, had even seen the inside of the building before moving into it this fall, some feared that the apartments might be too small for three people to share comfortably.
When the apartments turned out to be roomy and completely furnished, the refrigerators new, the ovens workable, and the fire escapes still there, something was obviously wrong. It seemed incredible to be still at Radcliffe and live in a place that could be made distinctively one's own. (Jane Cummin, of course, tried to do this in her dormitory room with shower curtains, gold foil and a hibiscus.) Some residents, basking in their new privacy, even congratulated themselves for not knowing each other's name after several months of living on the same floor.
But for the most part, 124 Walker people play grown-up apartment house dweller in other ways. Parietal restrictions remain, to be sure. Still, the residents consider twenty-five hours a week in which to invite friends of either sex for dinner or coffee or a party (unfortunately still dry) infinitely better--more casual and natural--than conditions in the dormitories.
A few at 124 grumble about not meeting enough new people. Most feel themselves isolated from the mainstream of brick dorm living. Yet an overwhelming majority welcome this isolation. They believe that eating dinner in the dormitories provides ample opportunity for maintaining contact with the residential college while still avoiding the constant togetherness of life in the dorms. It is a pleasure for them to eat the other two meals a day at any convenient time alone or with just a few other people. And besides, it's much cheaper. Most apartment dwellers are saving $100 to $250 a year.
Radcliffe apartment dwellers even find domestic chores, within limits, fun--especially when it comes to preparing a dinner party. And cake baking, although not so good, perhaps, as Humphrey Bogart flics, has turned out to be wonderful for exam period procrastination.
Present 124 Walker residents, however, are a lucky, but transitory group. Although those who so wish will probably be able to live in the apartment house until they graduate, the building will not be available very much longer for undergraduates. As soon as Radcliffe builds its fourth house, 124 Walker will be reserved for house associates and visiting scholars.
History seems to be working against Radcliffe off-campus living, but those 'Cliffies who can take community living only in limited doses may put up something of a struggle. Certainly the tradition of small-group privacy is worth preserving.
The new house, if based on a 124 Walker Street model, could well do this. When somewhat modifield to include common rooms and a central dining hall for supper, such an arrangement would combine the best features of off campus houses with those of apartment living.