Goodrich Hall transforms in purpose, identity over College history

Goodrich Hall was described by the college catalog as the “best facility for gymnastics exercise and training” back in 1865. - Williams College Archives
Goodrich Hall was described by the college catalog as the “best facility for gymnastics exercise and training” back in 1865. – Williams College Archives

Known for wild dance parties on the weekends and quiet morning coffee during the week, Goodrich is a landmark to the Williams community. The former chapel has had several different uses and is now a multi-purpose area for students to use. Whether you need to take a dance class, attend a concert or comedy skit or get your twerk on during a Saturday dance party, Goodrich is the place to be.

The original building was constructed in 1858-59 as an additional chapel space to Griffin. It contained bowling alleys in the basement, the entire chemistry department (labs and classrooms), as well as a space on the second floor, which was described by the 1866-67 college catalog as the “best facility for gymnastics exercise and training.” In 1865, the building was officially named after the Honorable J.Z. Goodrich, who supplied most of the funding for the building’s construction.

Despite the high praise of the athletic facilities, Goodrich was not structurally sound and caused many issues when the students were forced to attend chapel there. One student wrote in the Williams Quarterly Editor’s Table, “There is nothing so very bad about going to prayers, but to see one’s breath changed into a miniature snow storm before his face, and it has a very slight tendency to damp his enthusiasm.” Heeding student sentiments, Goodrich was eventually ruled as unsafe and torn down in 1902. Thompson Memorial Chapel replaced the original location of Goodrich and to honor J.Z. Goodrich, his name was transferred to a building adjacent to Lasell Gymnasium, where the current Goodrich Hall now stands.

Goodrich remained predominately an academic building, housing a library, recitation rooms, classrooms and reading rooms for philosophy, language and literature.  In 1984, much of the upper space was dedicated to studio art classrooms until Spencer Art Building was built to replace the small space.

Students were unsatisfied with this use of Goodrich and began to campaign for a new student center to be located in the space. Beginning in 1996, the Student Space Programming Committee determined Goodrich as a place that “will be spacious and flexible enough to become a funky, off-the wall space for concerts, readings and lectures.” In 1998, Goodrich was rededicated as a student center and began to function as we know it today.

It took time for Goodrich to assume the multiple identities of a coffee bar, a study space and a dance venue. Goodrich was renovated to have space for quiet studying during the day and night but also to serve as a concert area with a stage. With an emphasis on keeping many of the traditional remnants of the chapel, the stained glass windows and original altar remained in place as they are today (much to the current chagrin of rowdy dancers.) Opening as a coffee shop in 1999 and a 24-hour study space and student center, Goodrich became a staple of student life.

One of the most famous (and infamous) Goodrich events began prior to 2003. Though the dance is now in Greylock, First Fridays was a massive social event for many years and bred extreme loyalty to Goodrich Hall by its attendees. Lines to the dance would become so long they would trail down Spring Street. Often, there would be a mob in front of the door as students would attempt to force their way into the space. Since events used to serve alcohol and feature a live band, it’s no wonder the routine dance was so popular. But due to the rowdiness, First Fridays has been slowly moved to Greylock to accommodate a larger capacity.

Perhaps one of the more humorous stories associated with Goodrich is an event held in 2007 that caused Goodrich to shut down for 15 months. While now unknown to most students and often rumored as an over-capacity First Fridays, Goodrich was indeed shut down for having a party break the floor. Gunther and the Sunshine Girls took to the Goodrich stage in 2007 with the goal of showing “the world a more sexual life through his music” according to a preview article by the Record (“Gunther to spread message of love,” April 25, 2007). With songs like “Pleasureman” and “Teeny Weeny String Bikini,” Gunther and the Sunshine Girls were able to accomplish just that, shutting Goodrich down due to “energetic dancing” according to a Record article (“Goodrich opening delayed,” Nov. 7, 2007). Unfortunately, the pleasure of one good night damaged the floor of Goodrich and closed it down, along with other necessary renovations, for 15 months.

With a capacity cap now in place, Goodrich still embodies the energetic spirit of years’ past – both of the stalwart baristas willing to wake at six in the morning to provide coffee to the partygoers who dance all night under an original chapel altar. Encompassing coffee, late night dance parties, a quiet study space, a concert venue and gathering space for events as well as a home to the dance departments practice studios and a yoga area, Goodrich truly epitomizes a loved and well-used student center.