The Gold Coast


At the end of the 19th century, electricity came to Harvard. Well, it came to the richest folks at Harvard. The Private Dormitories known as the Gold Coast were aptly named, as bannisters, window frames, gates, and doorknobs were guilded, typically, in gold, silver, even studded with rubies or pearls.

Because the wealthy could not be expected to give up the kinds of luxuries only they were able to afford, Claverly Court, Randolph Hall, and Westmorly Court were built. Each was equipped with more luxuries than the last. All had electricity and indoor plumbing. There were steam heat and radiators, rather than fire and coal. Westmorly’s luxurious swimming pool was one of a kind. Randolph’s telephone system was a rarity at the time, as well.

Of course, those impoverished suckers on campus were still using outhouses to relieve themselves and freezing their way through winter, wishing for more coal than they could afford. Not to mention the dining halls at Harvard have caused more than one student rebellion for the quality of the food they served. (Historically, of course. Harvard’s dining hall in the center of Memorial Hall looks like a scene from Dragonslayer or Harry Potter. To sample the food yourself will require $60,000 in tuition and a letter of recommendation from a Kennedy.)

In the Gold Coast dormitories (or call them condos, suites, penthouses, whatever you like) there was not a lot of space for dining, as most of the students dined at social or finals clubs. The idea was for high fees to be paid into these social clubs to keep the quality of member high. The payoff was to take that admission money and put it towards luscious suppers and grand bachanalias of boozing, gambling, swearing, perversity, and generally average collegiate behavior that should come as no surprise to anyone who’s been.

The Hasty Pudding, Porcellian, and Owl Clubs are some of the more famous examples of the prestigious social and finals clubs that are still active today. FDR’s biggest regret in life, he has been quoted as saying, is not having been invited to join the Porcellian while at Harvard. He was a member of the Owl and Hasty Puddings, though.