Vail Commons – History

Vail Commons is Davidson College’s largest dining facilty. There had been three previous dining halls (Steward’s Hall, Chambers Gallery, and a cafeteria in Ovens Student Union), but Vail Commons was the largest and was intended to be more upscale then the previous facilities.

Vail Commons and flowers
The south side of Vail Commons.
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“The interior of the Commons will be the most dramatic on campus. Seating has been broken up by diagonally-crossing walkways, and lighting canopies will be suspended from the high two-story ceiling over most of the dining areas. A triangular mezzanine will also allow seating on the upper level, overlooking the areas below and the high glass windows beyond. Current plans call of the Commons to seat 440 on the lower level and 150 on the upper level.” [Lawrimore]

To make way for the construction of Vail Commons, Richards and Bailey Houses (Patterson Court Houses 3 and 10) were moved. [Hunt] Vail Commons would stand between the main campus and Patterson Court, which would form a semi-circle behind it.

Vail Commons was built in 1980-81 and dedicated November 7, 1981. The primary donors were Mr. and Mrs. Foster McGraw of Lake Forest, Ill. The McGraws decided to name the building after Mrs. McGraw’s son, James D. Vail III and his family. James Vail served on the Board of Trustees 1979-1991. Two of his sons graduated from Davidson College: James IV, class of 1976 and John, class of 1983. [“Vail Commons Dedicated”]

Building and truck
Moving a Patterson Court house in order to make room for Vail Commons. [1980]
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The original design called for 440 seats on the lower level and 150 on the upper level. (Lawrimore) The upper level seating would be replaced by the DuPont Room. Vail Commons has three dining areas. The Harrison Room, in the building’s west side, is used primarily for student seating but is also often used to host college events. [“Vail Commons Dining Rooms”] The Pope Room, located in the building’s east side, houses the food and beverage stations, as well as seating for approximently 150 students. While the Pope and Harrison room are connected, the third dining space resides one story up. The DuPont Room has for approximately 35 and provides an elegant dining venue for campus and community events. [“Vail Commons Dining Rooms”]

At opening, Vail Commons contained 460 seats and was run by forty-five staff members, forty Davidson College Students, and fifteen high school students. The first dining manager was Carleton Pritchard. [Woods]

From 1984-1993, the Gourmet Club meet in Vail Commons. Instead of membership dues, members would equally split food expenses. The purpose club’s purpose was to develop an awareness of and appreciation for the intricacies and art of fine dining. [“Gourmet Society.”]

Indoor construction
The Pope Room and east balcony [location of “The Loft”]
under construction. The pyramid-shaped hanging lamps were removed in the 2005 renovation. [1980]

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For a few years in the late 1980 and early 1990s a small shop called “The Loft” was run on the east balcony, overlooking the Pope Room. Open 11 am-2 pm and 5:15-10 PM, The Loft served “tasty gourmet items not found elsewhere on campus.” [“Loft Luncheon Special.”]

In September 1990, Vail Commons opened a satellite venue in the basement of Baker Sports Complex called “The Baker Underground.” Its goal was to provide nutritious, energizing, and tasty lunch options. [“Baker Underground.”] By the beginning of the 21st century, it had been re-named “The Wildcat Den.”

Vail Commons has continually strived to be more then just a grub line, but rather a part of campus life. To this end, it often serves holiday themed meals and hosts special events. The first “Voice Your Choice” event in 1996 allowed students to sample different vendors and vote on additions to the college menu and became a popular annual event. [Giduz, “Voice”]

Vail Commons underwent its first major renovation in 2005 to remove the “servery” [Richard Terry], the two confined cafeteria lines. They were replaced by free-standing food stations, improving both service speed and patron morale. [Gillespie] Also in the renovation, the Harrison Room received a new audio-visual system with ceiling-mounted screen. [“Vail Commons Dining Rooms”]

Vail Commons by night
The north side of Vail Commons by night. [1983]

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Since 2005, Commons has also served as the home for the P.S. Ney Student Restaurant, which holds several events each year around campus. Along with food preparation facilities, Vail Commons staff also provides training and mentoring to the student chefs. [Giduz “New Student Cooking Group”]

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Vail Commons – Works Cited

“Baker Underground.” Flyer. 24 September 1990. RG 4/5.2. President’s Office. Vail Commons. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

“Campus Network.” Newsletter. 2 October 1989. Buildings at Davidson College-Vail Commons. Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives., Davidson, NC.

Giduz, Bill. “New Student Cooking Group Will Emphasize International Cuisine.” Web Article. 26 September 2005/ Auxiliary Services. Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives., Davidson, NC.

Giduz, Bill. “‘Voice Your Choice’ Shapes Vail Commons Menu Offerings to Students.” Web Article. Buildings at Davidson College-Vail Commons. Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Gillespie, Kate. “Commons Undergoes First-Ever Renovation.” Davidsonian. 9 February 2005: 1, 4. Buildings at Davidson College-Vail Commons. Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

“Gourmet Society.” Flyer. RG 4/5.2. President’s Office. Vail Commons. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Hunt, Joanne. “Trustees Tentatively Approve Commons.” News clipping. Buildings at Davidson College-Vail Commons. Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Lawrimore, Earl. “Construction to Start on Dorms and Commons.” Davidson Update. November 1979: 1. Buildings at Davidson College-Vail Commons. Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

“Loft Luncheon Special.” Flyer. 1989. Buildings at Davidson College-Vail Commons. Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives., Davidson, NC.

“Vail Commons Dedicated.” News clipping. December 1981. Buildings at Davidson College-Vail Commons. Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives., Davidson, NC.

“Vail Commons Dinning Rooms.” 2006.

15 October 2007

Woods, Elizabeth. “Around Davidson.” The Mecklenburg Gazette. 5 November 1981: 1, 4. Buildings at Davidson College-Vail Commons. Davidsoniana file. Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

Author: Tammy Ivins
Date: July 2007

Cite as: Ivins, Tammy. “Vail Commons” Davidson Encyclopedia July 2007 <http://libraries.davidson.edu/archives/encyclopedia/dining-at-davidson/>

Related Entries: Patterson Court, Dining at Davidson

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