Norris University Center, in all its blocky, concrete, riotproof glory, will be torn down sometime in 2018 to make way for the newfangled University Commons. But campus’s next glass-and-steel monolith will take at least two years to rise from the ashes along the Lakefill. In the meantime, Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia Telles-Irvin told The Daily in September the Donald P. Jacobs Center and other buildings will serve as makeshift student group spaces. As we bid farewell to our favorite egg chair, we must ask: Who was Norris, and was the building ever worthy of the hype?
Lester Norris was the Chicago Tribune cartoonist who inspired Walt Disney to create Tinker Bell and The Three Little Pigs. He later ditched cartoons to marry Texaco oil heiress Dellora Angell and join the family business. Norris, the building, was named in honor of their son and Northwestern trustee, Lester Jr., who had died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 1967.
A chunk of the building’s original cost was defrayed with the Norris’ $2.5 million gift. Most of the remaining cash came from donors claiming piecemeal features for naming rights, ranging from the ballroom-sized Louis Room on the second floor to the seating area by the food court on the ground floor. Even the first floor lounge – the space that became Norbucks in 2007 – is technically the Phi Delta Theta Lounge, since the fraternity’s alumni donated $50,000 to the project. (If you don’t believe me, peep the plaque in the southwest corner.)
Cone Zone: The name "Cone Zone" was chosen from a "Name the Parlor" contest. In total 521 names were submitted, 205 of them by one Weinberg junior, who got a $1 gift card for his dedication.
Though the building was completed in 1972, the interior spaces and services never stopped changing. In pre-Spotify days, the quadraphonic room had a four-channel sound system (for students to enjoy their Talking Heads records immersed in bone-shaking volume). A full-fledged travel agency coordinated students’ trips home (because travel agents still existed). Macrame was a mini-course offered in the underground level (because what’s groovier than weaving?). And students could grab any of 30 ice cream flavors from the Cone Zone (including diet flavors with only 15 calories per ounce – no fat).
The Bar: Featured menu items included the "Screaming Orgasm." The Bar also hosted Bullet Night for seniors: Bring a job rejection letter and get a free beer. (Limit one per person.)
But the most incredible installation was The Gathering Place, which, in essence, functioned as a World of Beer, Wings Over Evanston and Kafein merged into one… and on campus. Commonly referred to as The Bar, The Gathering Place opened in 1982 to serve a full complement of beer, wings and live performances coordinated by the Activities & Organizations Board, now abbreviated A&O. The Daily mentions students meeting over an afternoon pitcher of beer, and come evening, they were even charged cover to attend certain music and comedy acts.
The party ended one evening in 1991 when The Bar served an underage student who was involved in a serious car crash later that night. Evanston suspended the establishment’s liquor license for about two weeks, and Northwestern closed The Bar shortly after, citing poor business. Which is hard to believe, considering how The Bar reportedly played an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation every day at 6 p.m.
Crepe Bistro: Savory chicken, mushroom and swiss, and nutella and banana crepes were just a few options on the menu.
A string of short-lived establishments followed, including Sbarro and Crepe Bistro, which both closed in 2012. (R.I.P. $1.25 Crepe Happy Hour.) Dunkin’ Donuts and Frontera Fresco, the slightly controversial Mexican restaurant operated by white celebrity chef Rick Bayless, currently occupy the same space.
Now the future of Norris’ current tenants is up in the air, and the new University Commons may or may not bring a bar back to campus. But one thing is for sure: Please don’t #MeetMeAtNorris. It won’t exist.