MoCon Decision

When I began my tenure as President of Wesleyan in the summer of 2007, I strolled over to my old Foss Hill room just across from the entrance to McConaughy Dining Hall. Standing in the circular driveway between my frosh dorm and the dining hall, I could almost hear the music that my roommate Richie and I blasted through the speakers we’d set in the window. On that Arrival Day in August 1975, we decided to announce our start as Wesleyan students by turning up the volume on Bob Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone: How does it FEEEEL?

But in the summer of 2007 MoCon stood empty, and I wondered what the previous administration had envisioned for it. I soon learned that in planning the Usdan University Center, various uses for MoCon were studied but that none seemed feasible.  I began making my own inquiries: MoCon as small theater? art gallery? studios? residence?  Nothing seemed to work either economically or architecturally. The building just didn’t accommodate the needs we had, or, if we tried to make the structure fit those needs, it became just too expensive.

Still, I really hoped to solve this riddle. I thought back to the great Pete Seeger concert I saw in MoCon, or to the night that Keith Jarrett walked off stage because a bottle rolled down the stairs. (He came back. We listened.) I don’t remember any particular meals, but I have plenty of memories of the great people I met in the building. And I know that thousands of other Wesleyan alumni have their own memories anchored to the same spot.

So this winter I went back to the numbers and to the architects (and I walked through the building). We are presently undertaking an exciting renovation of the Squash Courts, and we just finished a revitalization of Davenport-Allbritton that is a great success. I’d hoped to find something parallel with MoCon. I talked with a friend who is a campus architect and my architectural collaborator at California College of the Arts. We had done wonderful re-use projects in San Francisco, and I thought we might come up with something for Wesleyan. But our brainstorming about MoCon didn’t prove fruitful as we drilled down on a variety of ideas. I again consulted with alumni in the field as well as with knowledgeable people on our own faculty. The conclusions, alas, were the same.

In order to keep McConaughy as an active part of campus we either have to invent a need that the current structure could meet, or we have to re-build the dining hall as something else in order to “preserve it.” Dividing up its great open space for some specific purpose that is antithetical to its design doesn’t really keep MoCon, nor does replacing all its essential components for use as an outdoor pavillion. And the expense would be staggering….millions over the next few years.

Ideas for reusing MoCon have been solicited for years, and delaying a decision any further seems to me irresponsible. So, with great reluctance I have reached the conclusion that we will not be able to maintain McConaughy. Instead, we’ll disassemble the building and recycle almost all its materials. Sometimes buildings reach the end of their lives, and this is what has happened with MoCon.

I know some students and alumni will be disappointed, and, like me, they will miss the cool circular structure that was part stage, part ballroom, part spaceship. We will find another space to dedicate to the memory of President McConaughy. In a week or so, we will post on the homepage a link to a site that highlights the events that took place at MoCon while encouraging readers to post their own memories of the dining hall.

I remember Dylan’s question: “How does it feel?” The answer is, “It stinks.” But the alternatives feel even worse.  So, this summer we will say goodbye to McConaughy Dining Hall. As for that spot in front of my old Foss Hill room, we will restore the hillside.  As Construction Services Consultant Alan Rubacha noted in The Argus:  “We will allow water that used to run into storm drains to percolate into the earth. We will provide a much needed open space for birds.  This open space will provide spectacular views into and out of Foss Hill.”

I will surely miss McConaughy. But I try to look forward to those new perspectives.

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24 thoughts on “MoCon Decision

  1. Not all change is bad, certainly not. But the loss of this building is a loss for Wesleyan. One can only hope that when a new building is constructed on the location, as one certainly will be, it will be as architecturally significant as McConaughy Hall.

  2. @Ellen S. – Yes, actually. A group of alumni and students are working on a party/concert to celebrate Mocon during Reunion & Commencement Weekend. So far it’s planned for the afternoon of Saturday, May 22, but its still in the early planning stages. There’s more info on the “Save Mocon” Facebook page.

  3. MoCon always struck me as a ridiculous, unfeasible, poorly-located structure. I can’t imagine that it was ever effectively used – as a dining hall, it was bizarre. As a concert hall, it was depressing. I realize that people attach their fond college memories to the building, but let’s be realistic here. It was ugly and a poor use of space. I’m glad Wesleyan has finally decided to put this beast to rest.

  4. “…a party to celebrate…” MoCon is a popular euphemism for a funeral — thank goodness I can’t afford to come to my Reunion to witness it. And as great a loss as MoCon is, architecturally and socially, to the campus, it pales in comparison to the loss of trust in several successive Trustee Boards and 2 Presidents. President Roth, it is quite possible that everything you say is correct. The problem is that we’ll never know. The Bennet administration commenced its campaign against MoCon in a totally underhanded way: The Wesleyan University Landmarks Advisory Board? Never once informed, much less consulted. A trustee subcommittee was involved, but we have NEVER seen a report of any kind from that group (which gave a thumbs-down to the building). IF the board, as a whole, engaged in a thoughtful process with a feasibility study none of us has ever heard about it.. YOU walked through with an architect — and none of us has seen a letter or report from that architect or any other.

    I have said many times that I could be convinced that MoCon had to go, but that I want the same evidence and information available that you and the trustees have had. (I feel sure you would be disappointed in any Wesleyan graduate who accepted what an administrator “thinks” as evidence.) The loss of a thoughtful, transparent process is far greater than the loss of a beautiful building with historic and community resonance.

  5. It seems like due diligence was certainly done re: alternative uses for MoCon. I liked the flying saucer, but am not surprised there’s no responsible use for the building now that it has been replaced by Usdan.

  6. Yeah… I agree with your sentiment. MoCon has amazing architecture that was perfectly suited for what it was: a cafeteria. We all have great memories there, but trying to turn it into something its not, expensively, for the sake of nostalgia would be irresponsible. Thanks for looking into other possible uses and coming to a thoughtful conclusion.

    (By the way: I’m in the “Save MoCon” Facebook group for nostalgia’s sake, but I still think this is the right decision. Making financially prudent decisions that allow us to sustain our financial aid levels is important. Don’t let a couple of angry alumni get you down!)

  7. Very kind of you to be so considerate to those who might have some fond feelings about MoCon. But I suspect they are a VERY small group. The food was always awful. The other uses never really worked (horrible acoustics and lighting for concerts). The feng shui was palpably negative (built on a burial ground).

    Please, tear it down and feel no regrets.

  8. While I agree that a transparent articulation of the decision process has been somewhat lacking, difficult choices are often made between museumification and moving-on. Taking a barometer of student responses on campus, the current seniors tend to be the most vociferous about “saving” MoCon, whereas for lower classmen to whom the building has not served any said mnemotechnological purposes are less inclined to taking a definite stand. I respect the comments from alumni who feel that an important marker of their history at Wesleyan is currently on the demolish-row, but obviously MoCon cannot accrue the same intensity of meaning it did for those who used its facilities than those who did not. Our interest is not in structural stone and mortar; it was the memory and possibility of Wesleyan’s lived, human interactions facilitated by its structures. If the object should be less historically impressionable on current Wesleyan students than it did previously, perhaps it would be best to recognize the current Usdan Student Center cannot assume the same weight for alumni as it may currently hold for students. That being said, in honor of the memories of the building for communities forged within its confines, would not a small exhibition on the decision process (online or otherwise) be possible?

  9. I agree with Suzy regarding the process of Mocon being torn down. I wish that there had been some transparency to the process. By the time that I heard anything, the decision had been made. Maybe it was the only choice, but it should have been easy to be transparent if that were correct.
    I would not be so saddened by Mocon closing if I had the impression that the students had an affection for Usdan. (Yes, my sample was informal, small, not properly gathered, etc., but it is the information that I have.) The absence of a single dining space large enough for the entire class seemed to be a consistent complaint about Usdan. There are so few things that one does at Wes as a whole class. Eating at Mocon was one of them. The building was beautiful. It was easy to watch everyone come and go, to find your friends as you walked down the stairs, to make announcements, do an informal poll to determine if boxers or briefs were better. The food was not good, but that is not the fault of the building.
    I know that in four years, there will be no student memory of Mocon. It will be as if Usdan had always been there. It will just be a small selection of alums who will mourn its passing. You will be able to count me among them.
    Colleen McKiernan, ’89

  10. Not every decision requires community input, or even discussion. The executives of an enterprise need to be able to execute without waiting for the results of a plebiscite each time there is a decision to be made.
    Some of us will mourn the passing of Mocon and some will doubtless rejoice. My guess is that, for those of us who mourn, we are mourning for the passage of time from memories of what we experienced there rather than then building itself.

  11. Guess it would too late to get Bob himself to show up in an 11th hour fund raiser to save Conaughy Hall but if things change you know where to reach me. (Hey its a dining hall, so hundred dollar plates should be no problem. – Richie)

  12. Well-written, President Roth. Thank you for exploring and then exploring the exploration.
    You will now need to find a new location to store Douglas Cannon.

  13. I’ll start by saying I didn’t pay much attention to the development of Usdan, and haven’t seen it live. But based on the comments above, I wonder what they were thinking when designing another “campus center” (since Davenport was too small to be a decent center) that didn’t include a large central cafeteria for people to congregate, while at the same time “decommissioning” MoCon with no good reuse in mind. Perhaps it was an “edifice” complex? I understand President Roth’s dilemna, and don’t want to see good money thrown after bad to preserve something that has no natural use. Sigh – too bad Usdan didn’t integrate the functionality of MoCon, so the campus could preserve the benefits of a gathering spot and lessen the sting of losing MoCon. Now it seems like we have the worst of two worlds.

  14. Actually, the University Center does “integrate the functionality of MoCon” with much improved dining facilities.

  15. I appreciate the effort you made in trying to find a fiscally responsible alternative to demolishing Mocon. There is a campaign afoot to “save Mocon”. Mocon doesn’t need to be saved. You have this alumni’s support in your well thought out plan.

    Full disclosure: I lived in Butterfield freshman year. I didn’t worry about putting on the “Freshman 15” since it felt like the Iditarod just to get to Mocon in the winter time. I loathed Mocon.

  16. Sad as it is that the aging McConaughy is now set to be demolished, I am glad that I have had many opportunities to show my two teenage sons the place where I heard Buckminster Fuller, Norman Mailer and James Brown–among so many others–and where I personally opened the door to the dining hall to the young and upcoming star, Joni Mitchell, in 1969. She had driven up to the entrance in a shiny black limo, accompanied only by two musicians, not sure exactly where to go, and I happened to be walking by there alone. She graciously allowed me inside after her. Standing at the top of the stairs. overlooking her rehearse on the grand piano below in preparation for that Sunday afternoon’s show, I can recall that there were no acoustic problems at all, only heaven-sent chords from the fingers of a Canadian angel. The last time I visited MoCon, as you call it these days, I already knew it was on the chopping block, and I was able to snap a few photos and bid it a bittersweet farewell. The food was, indeed, awful and anesthetizing, true, but the friendships that were started just a few steps away from my room at Nicolson Hall continue on after more than forty years. But Wesleyan is not and never has been the property of any one class or era, and though I’ll shed a tear when I next return to see that old dining hall gone, our alma mater must always keep evolving and aspiring to an even greater place.

  17. Social importance notwithstanding, Mocon is (and was) an architectural embarrassment to the University and should have been removed long ago. The University should view its removal as a rare opportunity to improve campus aesthetics and build a structure that is more architecturally consistent with the rest of the campus. Or perhaps use the site to build a beautiful outdoor ampitheatre (as at Swarthmore)?

  18. In catching up on Weschat mails I came across this. I probably was listening to the music playing out of Pres. Roth’s speakers since that was when I moved into Wes. Brings back memories of a good time. Mocon was a fun place to be in and to catch up with friends over a meal. But I’m not sorry that it’s time has come to be replaced. Having looked at other campuses with my daughter (gosh, now she has graduated and starting in the as she called it adult working world) it is easy to see how things move on.

    Thanks for the freshman memories of Foss 7

  19. My most enduring sensory memory of Mocon (apart from those many balcony extollings) was…. STEAK NIGHT. On those Sat nights, whether or not you ate steak (I didn’t, and don’t) didn’t matter; when you left MoCon, you REEKED of Steak.
    Overdone. Cheap. Steak. In light of that, and other “SAGA” food service memories, Wesleyan’s “healthy revolution” apparently was long overdue.
    But after seeing this thread, I reminisced about MoCon (and Wesleyan) experiences for a bit with Rob Gelblum, ’72. He recounted many epic musical events, and I recalled seeing Ralph Nader, and (later) Alan Alda speak, at MoCon. Whatever its architectural or culinary (de)merits: Prior to Usdan – or the preceding student center – MoCon was a place where one could go and see more people chilling out (at a non-event) than almost anywhere else on campus. For freshmen, far from home, that especially mattered. RIP, MoCon.

  20. I worked in the kitchen for Saga Foods in 1965-66. There was a pretty good four-part harmony group that sang on the dishwasher line that spring. Other atists that performed at Big Mac (our nickname before MoCon) not mentioned as far as I could tell: Big Brother & the Holding Company (Prom ’66); Wilson Pickett; Sam & Dave. I heard Dr. King speak there. For some reason, the event I remember best was a 1969 rally for Rhody McCoy at the same time that I was joining AFT, which opposed him in Ocean Hill-Brownsville and had gone out on strike in all of NYC schools.

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