Greylock Dining Hall, closed since 2011, holds mystique

Samuel Wolf

The semi-abandoned Greylock Dining Hall is home to a variety of strange spaces, including a room closed off with chicken wire. (Samuel Wolf/The Williams Record)

Eight years ago, amidst a struggling economy and the recent opening of Whitmans’ Dining Hall, Greylock Dining Hall closed its doors for good. Today, however, a plethora of kitchen appliances, dining equipment and unkempt storage space remains in its former kitchen, almost but not fully inaccessible to students and seemingly abandoned by the College.

This space, which seems to serve little formal function for the College, in some ways appears much the same as in 2011 when the dining hall closed. It still houses a service elevator, a walk-in freezer and an assortment of sinks and stovetops, as well as a mass of chairs and torn notices. Though the dance department oversees Greylock Hall as a whole, the department rarely interferes with the space, which still bears hygienic notices and employee rights standards from the last decade.

I attempted to enter the space through four doors before I found one that was unlocked. Though I was worried that I was trespassing, Operations Manager at the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance Nathaniel Wiessner later informed me, “I do not endorse or forbid using the kitchen space as storage.” 

After stumbling upon the unlocked door, I saw the familiar kitchen appliances, but also balloons, rubber bands, shampoo and a chair that can only be described as looking like it had melted. Many of the items stored within, I later learned, belonged to student groups taking advantage of the convenient space near performance areas in upper Greylock. The space was simultaneously clean and dirty — cluttered with dozens of haphazardly placed appliances but also surprisingly free of dust and grime. 

It is not entirely clear who maintains the space. For this article, I sent a series of questions to a Facilities representative, who forwarded the questions to Vice President for Campus Life Steve Klass. He referred some of my questions to the dance department, which controls much of the former Greylock Dining Hall. The dance department suggested contacting the Office of Student Life (OSL); an OSL representative then referred me back to Klass. Throughout these conversations, no one appeared aware of all that transpires within the quasi-abandoned space.

“The dance department is now a stakeholder in some of the Greylock spaces,” said Kyle Yager, production manager for the dance department. “However, there are many other groups with their hooks in the building.”

Wiessner added, “I am not sure who periodically locks and unlocks those doors to the former kitchen space… There are also a couple of electrical closets on the upper floor that have some items stored in them by student groups. I have no keys to these spaces and am not aware of what is in them.”

As I continued through the space, I encountered several locked doors and confined areas. When I pressed a button to call the service elevator, it failed to arrive (though it did set off a piercing and lengthy alarm that caused me to temporarily flee the area, terrified of facing suspension or expulsion for trespassing). Upon returning, I was able to fully enter the walk-in freezer, which could fit at least 30 people and is pitch black when sealed. Eventually, I found a staircase that was fully inaccessible except from within the kitchen area. These stairs led me to a lower floor filled with four storage rooms, all locked, as well as two exits to the space, also locked from the outside. 

One of the room’s walls comprised just chicken wire, however. Through the wire, I could see shelves of labeled supplies, including “Cameras,” “Candles,” “Clocks,” “Flags and Banners” and “Religious.” Sitting atop the “Religious” shelf was what appeared to be a Greek-style bust of a naked woman. 

According to Wiessner, OSL, which once held oversight of the space, is responsible for much of this storage, though Klass added that Dining Services also plays a role. “Dining does maintain some storage space for backup emergency supplies and items related to the large all-campus events they put on a few times per year,” Klass said. 

Dining Services’ use of the space explains one of the more bizarre sights in the space: a functioning refrigerator one level down, filled with assorted meat products. One tube of ground beef, selected at random, had expired on Aug. 3 of this year. “The food… is being stored there on behalf of the CDE [Center for Development Economics] whose kitchens are closed for their major renovation that’s currently ongoing,” Klass said. 

Throughout the space, reminders of its former function as one of the campus’s then-four dining halls abounded. Wedged between a wall and an electrical control unit was an “Operation Guide” for “Greylock Dining Chilled Water.” A sign entitled “Employee rights under the fair labor standards act” advertised a $5.85 national minimum wage as of July 24, 2007. Another sign above a sink reminded employees to wash their hands. Yet another recommended a number of shoulder-stretching techniques. 

Despite appearances to the contrary, however, the space has undergone significant change since 2011. Most dining hall equipment was removed several years ago, according to Klass, and redistributed to other kitchens, donated or disposed of. 

Greylock Dining Hall was closed in 2011 as part of a restructuring of the College’s dining program following the opening of Whitmans’ Dining Hall in 2007. Over a period of months, Klass analyzed student swipe data and concluded that Greylock was experiencing far less traffic than other dining halls. “Greylock was a tired, inefficiently designed facility (in a building with inflexible architecture) that was going to require significant capital reinvestment to remain even remotely relevant,” he said. “It became a matter of closing down an increasingly underutilized space and reinvesting those resources in the operations that students wanted to use.” 

In the following years, the majority of Greylock Hall was converted into classrooms, performance spaces and offices. For the remaining vestiges of the kitchen, however, the space is likely to remain in its current condition for quite some time. “There is nothing on the books into the foreseeable future in terms of major reuse of the space,” Klass said.