Postcard views of Notre Dame

South Dining Hall

South Dining Hall, 1928. This magnificent Gothic building contructed of English vermillion brick and Indiana limestone was designed by the Boston firm of Cram and Ferguson, with Kervick and Fagan as the associate architects. (from The University of Notre Dame A Portrait of Its History and Campus by Thomas Schlereth)


After the thrilling victory over Purdue this year, my brother and I decided to have dinner at the South Dining Hall, one of the landmark buildings on the Notre Dame campus. Not only was the food delicious, with many food-court type stations available (for a reasonable price) but the atmosphere was great.

The beautiful main dining hall was filled with students, parents and fans, enjoying their meal at long family-style tables, and talking about the game. Here is the history of this historic building from Damaine Vonada's wonderful guide book Notre Dame The Official Campus Guide (available in the "Books" section)

From The Notre Dame Campus Guide:

The undisputed apogee of collegiate Gothic architecture at Notre Dame, the South Dining Hall is one of the finest examples of the genre the United States. The fact that such an exquisite building bears such an ordinary name constitutes a devilish incongruity as well as a woeful injustice. Yes, its obvious function is to nourish the student body, but from the day its doors opened in 1927 the South Dining Hall's true feast has always been found in its form.

The hall's principal architect was no less than the estimable Ralph Adams Cram, who, as the nation's foremost Gothic Revival practitioner, had designed buildings at Princeton and West Point as well as New York City's Cathedral of St. John the Divine. The Boston-based Cram was a reactionary enthralled by the Middle Ages. He thought society should abandon mass production, the printing press, and the internal combustion engine and reestablish feudalism, walled cities, and craftsmen's guilds. In consultation with Kervick and Fagan, Cram purposely designed the dining hall to resemble a medieval guild hall that would represent "the incorporation of Western Christian culture into the modern American educational process."

Cram's floor plan consisted of two massive, refectory-like dining rooms connected by a two-story center structure containing the kitchen, a faculty dining room, and a public cafeteria that came to be called the Oak Room. On the building's exterior walls, reddish bricks laid in an English bond pattern provided a distinguished background for decorative elements executed in Indiana limestone. Although the dining hall had been positioned so that its best side directly faces South Quad, the entire exterior was swathed with wonderful Gothic details - a gracefully arched central porch, slender lancet windows, sharply peaked gables, oriel windows topped by battlements, and a tall lantern forming a stunning apex on the roof. On the stone arch over the east entrance, a fascinating pair of carvings depicted a football running back and an opponent eagerly waiting to tackle him. Similarly, the west entrance featured a plucky baseball pitcher and his opposing batter.

Inside the dining hall the cafeteria was rather pragmatically decorated with ceramic tiles - red ones on the floor, multicolor on the walls. The twin refectories, on the other hand, were magnificent. They had 35-foot-high ceilings spanned by hefty oak beams accented with elaborate glass-and-metal chandeliers. The walls were generously covered with oak wainscoting complemented by elegant orchestra balconies. At one end of each room stood an intricately carved limestone fireplace; at the other end was a raised platform for the rectors' and prefects' strategically placed table. Even the dining rooms oak tables and chairs were minor works of art. They had been specially designed by Father Lawrence Broughal, C.S.C., and custom made by the Phoenix Chair Co. of Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

Given the South Dining Hall's size - each dining room held about 1,000 students - and grandiose architecture, it immediately became the benchmark for South Quad's future development. More importantly, it reinforced the Notre Dame 'family' by making sure that everybody had a place at the campus table. Before the dining hall was built, the students' meals came from the "Old kitchen" behind the Main Building. There, Holy Cross brothers and sisters had worked as butchers, bakers, and cooks since 1849, using the bounty of the university farms to prepare food that was then transported by wagons to the Main Building's dining rooms. The influx of students after World War I, however, made the 'old kitchen' outmoded. After the Howard-Lyons- Morrissey trio ensured that all of Notre Dame's students could live on campus, the university spent nearly $2 million to provide a totally modern kitchen-dining facility where they could eat together in a civilized fashion.

From the beginning, the South Dining Hall was a success. Newspapers and magazines throughout the country carried articles applauding the quality of the building's architecture and the efficiency of its operation. Students dressed for dinner in suit coats and ties, and they marched en mass into the dining rooms, where the tables were covered with white cloths and set with china plates. Well-trained student-waiters brought in each course on silver platters, and the food was passed around family style. A clever system of electric flash signals orchestrated the serving process so precisely that the entire meal was consumed in 25 minutes. The timing was so good, bragged a Notre Dame press release, that every student can be served ice cream without one getting a melted portion."

Alas, the gentility of these meals became a casualty of World War II. When Notre Dame was turned into a Navy training ground, the necessary evil of cafeteria lines likewise turned the South Dining Hall into a military-style mess. And as postwar America discovered TV dinners, cafeteria trays permanently replaced the dining hall's sit down meals. In the 1970s, the cumbersome cafeteria lines finally disappeared from the dining rooms, and students now make their selections from a central food court. Since youth must always be served, the dining hall's menus have followed the shift in student rates from the standard steak-and-potato fare of the 1930s to todays nachos, Buffalo wings, and stir fry. When the universitys food service decided to stop serving Cap'n Crunch cereal in the 1980s, the students promptly protested with demonstrations and a sit-in. Not only did the cereal reappear, but the Cap'n Crunch character also paid a visit to the campus to show his appreciation.

Remarkably, the character of the South Dining Hall has changed very little during the past seven decades. The north facade is as resplendently Gothic as ever, and the two main dining rooms have retained most of their original appointments, right down to Father Broughal's tables and chairs. In fact, the South Dining Hall did not undergo any major structural modification until 1997, when the development of West Quad put four new dormitories and 1,000 extra students at its backdoor. An architecturally compatible addition was also built on the hall's south facade. The 15,000-square-foot addition contains a retail sales area and provides an attractive approach to the dining hall for West Quad residents. Visitors will find freshly made fare at Reckers, a lounge-like restaurant featuring a wood-burning pizza oven.

Although students now come to break bread wearing sweatshirts instead of suits, the South Dining Hall still serves its original purpose as a communal gathering place. Here, the solidarity of the Notre Dame family continues to be fostered by customs large and small. Post football game buffets. Pancakes at midnight during final exams. Waffles embossed with the block N-over-D monogram. Cookies with "Beat Northwestern" inscribed in icing. By taking the opportunity to eat in the South Dining Hall, you can not only experience its extraordinary architecture and atmosphere, but also observe some of these ever evolving traditions for yourself. One of the nicest takes place on Friday evenings before home football games, when the Glee Club gives an informal concert in one of the dining rooms. The members all dine together at the raised table on the far end of the room, and just after 6 p.m., they climb on top of their chairs and break into song. The performance includes the opposing team's alma mater as well as Fighting Irish favorites such as "Hike, Notre Dame" and the "Victory March." By the way, the Glee Club conductor-in proper deference to the South Dining Hall-leads the singers with a butter knife instead of a baton.

The following is a description of the artwork and murals in the South Dining Hall (also from The Official Campus Guide).

The full-scale replica of the Last Supper that hangs in the west dining room was commissioner by Florida businessman Eugene Holton in the 1950s. Coincidentally, the original Last Supper had been painted on the wall of a refectory in Milan, and muralist Lumen Martin Winter traveled to Italy to study Leonardo da Vinci's strokes of genius before making his copy. The two colorful murals in the old Oak Room were done by Parisian artist Augustin Pall in the early 1940s to commemorate Notre Dame's hundredth anniversary. The one on the east wall depicts Father John Zahm exploring South America, natives at work on a rubber plantation, and Father Julius Nieuwland, who originated the formula for making synthetic rubber. Working with Father Nieuwland are two Notre Dame professors, and if you took closely, you can see President Theodore Roosevelt along side his good friend Father Zahm. On the west wall, the mural shows Notre Dame's seminal log chapel, a traditional flag-raising ceremony on graduation day, the Golden Dome, and a set of girders that optimistically - and accurately - predicted the university's future growth.

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