Dining at Carleton

By Emily Christiansen ’22

Communal dining is a typical feature of many residential colleges and has been a part of living at Carleton since its foundation. Many early campus spaces used for dining no longer exist today, and customs in those spaces have changed as well, from being gender segregated to allowing smoking. Despite changes in where people eat, meals remain a place and time for students to socialize and are an integral part of being a student at Carleton. 

The first building used by Carleton College, the American House Hotel, contained all the operations of the college, including a place for students to dine. In her reminiscences, Margaret Evans writes that the dining room at the American House was located in the basement, alongside the reading room, in the hotel’s former barroom. Even before purpose-built buildings were constructed for dining and housing, physical space for dining was located in a basement: the dining halls in Gridley Hall, Evans Hall, and Burton Hall were also in a basement. 

Gridley Hall, the first dorm for women, had a dining hall that reflected social beliefs and conventions of the period. The dining hall moved locations several times: the first dining hall in Gridley was on the first floor, and in 1912 it was relocated to the basement. The Northfield Church furnished the kitchen and dining room, aligned with how gifts from local donors furnished the entire hall. 

In the early twentieth century, female college students were seen as having very different needs and capacities than their male counterparts: many people believed women needed a specific diet to sustain the effort college exerted on them. Many schools had a “dean of women,” including Carleton. This dean would monitor a variety of aspects about the lives of female students, including making suggestions about the food women needed. Anna T. Lincoln was the matron and later superintendent of Gridley Hall in the late nineteenth century. Like other deans, Lincoln had a noticeable impact on her students’ dining experience: she was known for providing healthful meals, for which students liked her. Overall at Gridley, an emphasis was placed on providing nutritious meals to female students. 

The dining hall here also provided a space for students to socialize, albeit in a more controlled and formalized manner than today. While the dining hall was for the women residents, they could invite male students over to entertain them. At the turn of the 20th century, many college administrators and staff believed that a co-ed college provided female students with the opportunity to practice being hospitable and entertaining men; female students could perhaps tame the more unruly demeanor of male students. This attitude seems to be reflected in how the dining hall at Gridley was used. A final value of the college reflected in this dining hall were the donation barrels placed on the tables, used to raise money for Carleton’s mission in China. 

Burton, or West, Dining Hall is located in the basement of Burton Hall and still used today, and organized into two main dining rooms and three smaller rooms. In the middle is the serving area and kitchen. This dorm and the included dining hall– the second on campus– was built in 1916, and dedicated to Marion Burton, son of Carleton, in 1925. The original organization of the dining hall included a lobby and had a capacity of 250 people. The Burton dining complex was entirely remodeled in the 1970s under President Swearer. When Burton Dining Hall opened, it served only the male students who lived on the west side of campus, with the women dining at Gridley– unlike at Gridley, male students did not invite female students to dine here. 

Evans Hall, another dorm for women built in 1923 by the oft-hired Patton, Holmes, and Flynn firm, originally included a basement dining hall that sat up to 125 students. In later years, the dining hall served meals to female students over that capacity, though an enrollment dip in the mid-twentieth century started the discussion about closing the dining hall. The dining hall is in fact no longer in use: extensive renovations of Evans Hall replaced the former dining hall with more dorm rooms and a very large ground floor lounge. 

In 1960, Minrou Yamasaki drafted a plan for a new, 750-person dining hall on the west side of Lyman Lakes, with some of the building hanging out over the lake. The building has a long horizontal form, the facade made up of floor-to-ceiling windows supported by a lower layer of pillars rising out of the water. A sequence of five dining halls sat on the edge of the lake, protruding out over it. Each semi-discrete dining room was topped by a pagoda-like pavilion, two concave curves meeting at a point – a contrast to the structure’s otherwise dominant linearity. The architectural style reflected Yamasaki’s interest in humanist modernism: his framing of the many windows lining the dining halls are not rectangular, but have an angular arch shape, forming a row of triangles above the arches. Because Yamasaki designed the building before Carleton introduced co-ed living, he designed two separate main entrances, one for the male dormitories and one for female halls. His distinctive plan remained unbuilt, perhaps in part due to President Gould’s strong distaste for the design, and instead a dining hall was included in Goodhue Hall. 

Yamasaki’s Goodhue Hall looks different from his unbuilt dining hall plan from two years earlier, but shares many architectural features. The dormitory originally included a dining hall, just as the dorms Gridley, Burton, and Evans had been designed. The dining hall had a capacity of 250 people, but no longer functions as such – now it is known as the “superlounge”, repurposed to provide a social and recreational space for residents.

The Language and Dining Center (LDC) is Carleton’s newest dining hall, completed in 2001, a one-off project designed by Moore/Andersson Architects of Austin, Texas. This project served the college’s need for both more dining facilities and increased space for the language departments. The dining hall poses an architectural contrast to Burton: while Burton is in the basement and has fewer windows, LDC has many wall-to-ceiling windows and a generally open dining program. The dining space is divided into two levels, with one small room at the back of the upper level. 

Today, students eat in a variety of spaces, most of them using on-campus dining options. Underclassmen especially use the two dining halls, in which students are required to eat at if they live on campus. Carleton has three on campus “cafes” that offer an alternative to dining hall eating. These cafes offer quicker food and beverage options, and provide students with food in academic buildings and a more public setting– anyone can eat at these cafes, such as professors or visitors to campus. Seniors and other upperclassmen living in on-campus townhouses have kitchens, and often make food as opposed to being on a meal plan. Students living in interest houses and off-campus options do not have a meal plan, but can use the on-campus cafes as an alternative. One interest house focuses on food: Culinary House, a tall, white Victorian home located next to Watson, prepares nightly group meals. Dacie Moses House provides a space for all students to bake and find snacks; they also serve free weekend brunches. This house was built in the late 1800s and has undergone multiple renovations since; plans to further alter the old structure have been established. 

Sayles, the biggest café, has a unique setting: it is located in the former Sayles-Hill gymnasium, built in 1911. In 1979, Sayles-Hill was converted into a student center and the café that currently exists. The gymnasium now functions as a dining area, full of tables to sit and eat, work, or talk at. A mezzanine-like addition to the second floor provides space for more tables, as well as pool tables and a printing and computer room. 

Weitz Café and Schultz Café are the other two on-campus, non-dining hall options. Weitz Café in the Weitz Center for Creativity and Schultz Café in Anderson Hall for Science offer quick, grab-and-go food and beverage options. Both buildings have large, multi-story open spaces with tables, couches, and chairs for students to eat at if they wish. Both of these buildings use a modern design sensibility, and the large open spaces that all three cafes are located in contrast with the actual dining halls, which follow a plan more akin to traditional cafeterias.