Edited Bunker in New Haven

Here’s how you would lead a tour of Yale’s science campus during my Bright College Years:

• Start at Phelps Gate, top of the Green, cross the Old Campus (Nathan Hale went to Yale, Benedict Arnold went to Hahvahd), hope that no one is tossing dummies from Harkness Tower (James Gamble Rogers, 1921)* that day, and proceed north on High Street.

• Genuflect in Sterling Memorial Library (Rogers, 1930), then lead the group through Cross Campus and into Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library (Gordon Bunshaft, 1963). Allow them to ooh at the glow of the veiny panels, hand around a sample piece of marble, and explain how in the event of attack all the oxygen in the glass-walled stacks is replaced by carbon dioxide and any librarian in there at the time has seconds to chokingly bid the world farewell as the stacks descend into an impenetrable underground chamber.

• Back outside, have them lean over to see Noguchi’s Sunken Garden, then cut through the Bicentennial Buildings. Deploy armored vehicle-launched bridge to get your unit across Grove Street. Visit state-of-the-art Davies Auditorium in Becton Engineering and Applied Science Center (Marcel Breuer, 1970). Make the screen go up and down or something.

• Sneak through to Hillhouse Avenue (“the most beautiful street in America”—Dickens, supposedly) and stroll its tree-lined length, admiring the Italianate mansions converted to social science departments, the School of Management, and the President’s and Provost’s Houses.**

• Point out the Peabody Museum of Natural History as you begin to climb Science Hill. Looming at the summit and howling in the wind: Kline Biology Tower (Philip Johnson, 1966). Pop into Kline, then head for Osborn Memorial Laboratories (Charles Haight, 1913). Trudge upstairs, have them squeeze themselves into wooden desks in a lecture hall where Alfred Russel Wallace would have felt at home, and bring the tour to a close (applause, sometimes).

The science campus tour guides were the second string. It wasn’t based on your knowledge of science: I was a history of art major. In Osborn, I milked the one science course I took, Biology of Reproduction taught by Clement Markert (editor-in-chief, Journal of Experimental Zoology, 1963-1985), part of the team that created Sixy, the first hexaparental mouse. Non-biology majors couldn’t enroll in the lab, in which things that ain’t natural were done to cute little white mice and their embryos.

The only reason I was admitted to the course in the first place was that I got a 4 (out of 5) on my Advanced Placement Biology exam in high school. I’m telling you all this because this week’s post is somewhat technical in nature. No rodent embryology, but we’re going to be talking about neuroplasticity, permeability, and symbiosis.

You know, of course, that a neuron is “an electrically excitable cell that processes and transmits information through electrical and chemical signals [Wikipedia].” Get a few of these scrawny characters firing at each other and you’ve got a neural pathway.

Neuroplasticity is when neural pathways alter or form anew in response to “changes in behavior, environment, neural processes, thinking, emotions, as well as changes resulting from bodily injury [Wikipedia].”

When someone has a stroke, the flow of blood to his or her brain cells (neurons and glial cells) is interrupted. Neurons die, disrupting neural pathways. The good news—and the reason why neuroplasticity is such a popular topic at Ruth’s Chris—is that it is possible for the brain to rewire itself, at least partially restoring lost function.

Brief break for green tea…and we continue. Think of the science campus tour route as a neural pathway, the stops along it as neurons, the people on it as blood cells (I’m a platelet, obviously). Some of the neurons—Beinecke, for instance—are easily penetrated by blood cells of any type. Others—Becton, for instance—are only accessible to Old Blue blood cells. Because the blood flow and neural stimulation are relatively meager, this pathway is emerging very very slowly.

Compare Chapel Street (and Baltimore’s Charles Street, as described in last week’s post, “Table at the Stable”). Named in 1784, Chapel Street eventually became the longest street in the Elm City. It forms the southern border of the New Haven Green, the center square in a grid of nine two-block-by-two-block squares laid out during the founding of the colony in 1638.

The Chapel Street Historic District runs west for five blocks or so (what, no surface parking?) from Temple Street to Park Street. If you’re in town on November 29, Orchestra New England will present its 35th annual Colonial Concert on Temple Street at United Church on the Green. At the other end, a couple doors down from Park Street, is Group W Bench, “The oldest running head shop on the planet.”

In the middle of this stretch, at 1080 Chapel, is the Yale Center for British Art, the gift of Paul Mellon, class of 1929. Its architect, Louis Kahn, also the architect of the Yale University Art Gallery (1953), died in 1974 (count how many people cry in the 2003 documentary My Architect by Nathaniel Kahn). Marshall Meyers and Anthony Pellecchia completed the designs for the interiors and the Center opened to the public on April 19, 1977.

That fall I wandered into the place and, upstairs, with many others, looked out into an interior courtyard filled with natural light and chamber music. Most Yale buildings are impermeable, that is, off-limits to the outside world (much more so now than in my day). But with a large entrance on the corner of Chapel and High, the British Art Center welcomes the public for free, as does the Art Gallery. In other words, the blood cells that flow up and down Chapel Street can penetrate the membrane.***

If that were the extent of its permeability, the Center would still be a bunker, if not an arch bunker (see my post of two weeks ago, “Arch Bunker in Dublin”). In the original plans, it was a bunker joined to another bunker, the Art Gallery, by a bridge over Chapel Street. But inflation took its toll on Mellon’s generous cash gift—the collection was also his—and the scheme was simplified.

Though I don’t know who came up with the idea—Kahn, Mellon, Yale President Kingman Brewster, New Haven Mayor Dick Lee, his successor Bart Guida, or Professor and founding Director Jules Prown (the only one still alive)—“It was the first museum in the United States to incorporate retail shops in its design [Center website].”

I can’t think of one since then, but what a concept: you avoid interrupting the Chapel Street neural pathway—and giving New Haven a stroke—and you offer more reasons to come to your building. Besides, l’Angleterre est une nation de boutiquiers. Here we have not an arch bunker that doesn’t play well with others, but a much more accepting “edited bunker.” (Edith: Mike is family. Archie: Gloria is family. What’s standing behind me is an accident of marriage.)

You can enter the museum shop, in a storefront space, either from the lobby or from High Street. Atticus Bookstore, 1082 Chapel, opened a year before the Center itself, expanding and adding a Kramer Books-inspired café a few years later. The rest of the line-up is: Hello Boutique at 1090, Indo-Chic at 1092, and Derek Simpson Goldsmith (almost as old as Group W Bench) at 1094.

Then there’s an outdoor staircase leading down to a restaurant with a patio. In my impoverished studious years (plus ça change), the tenant was West of Eleven, a name derived from its address, 1104 Chapel Street. We called it Chapter 11, though, because no restaurant in that spot was in business for long (coming any minute: Harvest Wine Bar).

It should be a great location for a restaurant, because it’s next door to Yale Repertory Theatre, a terrific adaptive reuse of the former Calvary Baptist Church (Rufus Russell, 1871). Around the corner are the School of Architecture (Paul Rudolph, 1963) and the School of Drama’s University Theatre (Clarence Blackall, 1924, with renovations by Rogers). And from there a path leads to the Yale Cabaret (built in the 1920s for Phi Gamma Delta).

This part of Chapel is one of the best examples of symbiosis—ideally a mutualistic relationship: read about the clownfish and the anemone—between the nonprofit sector and the for-profit sector, Gown and Town, attractions and destination. Unfortunately, it is the exception to the rule, even in New Haven.

You’ve heard the saying, “The operation was a success, but the patient died,” right? That’s next week’s topic.

* Wikipedia: The witticism, attributed to various modernist architects, that had he to choose any place in New Haven to live he would select the Harkness Tower, for then he “would not have to look at it,” is apparently apocryphal, derivative of a similar story told of Alexandre Dumas and the Eiffel Tower.
** See the May 3, 1979, Harvard Crimson article by Jeffrey Toobin[!]: “Goldstein, Yale Provost, Quits After Home Remodeling Dispute.”
*** If there are any real biologists reading this, you know how I‘m fudging the blood-brain barrier. It was a good analogy while it lasted.


2 thoughts on “Edited Bunker in New Haven

  1. Fascinating, informative and very creative! But why would omeone who scored 4 out of 5 on a high school AP Biology test cite Wikipedia?

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