Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Behind the modern exterior

Seniors bide their time on the Porch of Coe Library before the start
of Commencement exercises at Chalon, undated photo from 1950s.
DOWN IN THE BASEMENT OF COE LIBRARY is one of the nicest spaces on the Chalon Campus, in our opinion. We refer to it as the Porch -- which we'll explain in a minute -- but for students it's simply a quiet space to study. Silence is enforced by signs and an occasional warning shush from a librarian. When you think about it, how many places can you find around here where people aren't chatting, talking on the phone, or watching a video?

The Porch today is a quiet study area.
One wall of the long room is windows looking out onto ocean views, hillside landscapes and treetops. On the wall opposite are children's literature, music and art books giving the space a warm library ambiance. On this rainy morning, several students are alone at their tables, poring over their books and assignments. It's so quiet you could hear a mouse sneeze, if we had any mice (which we are pretty sure we don't).

You'd never know that you're looking at what was once a ballroom designed for elegant parties. It was our own founder, Mother Margaret Mary Brady, CSJ, who suggested the inclusion of a "social hall" when the plans for the new Charles Willard Coe Memorial Library were drawn up in 1945.

Perhaps Mother Margaret Mary knew that her students' boyfriends and fianc├ęs would soon be returning home from World War II and would be ready to start living a normal life again. In those days, too, Loyola University (decades before Marymount came along) was considered the Mount's "brother school," and there were regular mixers and galas at local hotel ballrooms and social clubs that included dancing to the fabulous Big Band music of the 1940s.

Mount girls at the Senior Prom with their boyfriends,
most in uniform, during the closing days of World War II.
This 1945 event was held at a local social club.
As a result of Mother's suggestion, the bottom floor of Coe Library was designed with its own, separate entrance. Guests entered via an open "colonnade" with an ocean view that extended the length of the library building. French doors opened onto the 160-foot-long ballroom. The dance floor was made of dense, highly polished maplewood, the same material used for basketball courts. Other features included a small room for checking coats and wraps, a small kitchen and an orchestra pit for live music.

Sadly, the only "souvenir" of that gracious space is the Porch study area of today. When the library was renovated in 1995 the colonnade was enclosed and carpeted. The book stacks stop at the load-bearing wall because the architecture of the porch wasn't strong enough to support them.

Mother Margaret Mary Brady
But not surprisingly, a dedicated ballroom didn't survive very long anyway. A fast-growing college, the Mount needed that space over the ensuing years for many other purposes -- as a dormitory for CSJ Sisters and later for students; storage, classrooms, offices, library books. A full-fledged social hall was too much of a luxury by the time the 1950s rolled around.

But if you use your imagination, there is still the ocean view. Sit at one of the last two tables on the south end of the Porch on a clear day and you can see the Pacific Ocean sparkling beyond Santa Monica. Imagine yourself all dressed up in a formal or tuxedo, ready to show off your waltz or fox trot on the gleaming maple floor.

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