The Campus Crossroads Project may change the way students, faculty, and staff use “LaFun”
Through chilling South Bend winters and sweltering South Bend summers, LaFortune Student Center has served as a safe haven of heating or air conditioning, socialization, club meetings, and dining hall alternatives for over 70 years. With the planned addition of the Campus Crossroads Project to the Notre Dame campus, students are questioning how LaFortune’s role in campus life will change.
In 1883, a science hall, now the west end of LaFortune, was constructed as a museum and a laboratory. Nieuwland Science Hall was built in 1952, and the museum and laboratory moved there, leaving LaFortune—then called the Old Science Hall—available for a new purpose.
Father Theodore Hesburgh, CSC, then-president of the university, announced the opening of the student center during his speech at the rally before the Pittsburgh football game in November of 1953. Mr. and Mrs. LaFortune gave $135,000 for the furnishing of the student center. This donation, along with another from Elmore Smith (a 1951 graduate killed in action in Korea), comprised most of the funding for what is now known as the LaFortune Student Center. The renovation of the building was completed very quickly, and the building began serving the student body in its new capacity in the same year the renovations began.
When the new student center opened, the November 20, 1953, issue of the Scholastic reported that the building contained “a general lounge … a dance floor … a game room, coffee bar, and a number of meeting rooms and offices for the Student Senate and other campus organizations.”
LaFortune—affectionately termed “LaFun”—has since become home to a graduate student lounge, businesses, food service areas, and air conditioning. It has become a hub of campus activity for late-night study groups, lectures, dorm dances, and much more.
The new Campus Crossroads Project will include the addition of a new student center to campus, located in the West Building. The project website states that the new student center adjacent to the stadium will feature a ballroom, a coffee club, a terrace, eateries, a graduate student lounge, and a media center for campus media organizations. On paper, the new student center seems to be simply a larger version of LaFortune.
Yet the project website is quick to assure students and other interested parties that this new, state of the art student center will not replace LaFortune. The site states, “The West Building will complement LaFortune Student Center and vice versa—both facilities and the programs and services within will drive an unprecedented student life experience for generations of students near both the academic and residential centers of campus.”
The FAQ section of the website specifically answers the replacement question, stating, “The LaFortune Student Center will continue to serve its vibrant and historic role as a student center in the heart of campus, and planning for the new west building facility has therefore focused on how the new functions and spaces will complement and augment the student organization space and administrative offices located in LaFortune. In addition to the design of the west building, the architects involved in the project are concurrently examining space in LaFortune for planned enhancements over the same time period.” There are no specifics listed as to what those enhancements will be.
Not all students and faculty are so enthusiastic about the new student center, especially given its location farther away from the Dome, the heart of campus. The Rover has featured a number of reasons for this hesitation. Some, for example, argue that this move away from the Basilica and toward the stadium showcases the university’s move toward the football program and away from the Catholic identity of the school. Others contend that the $400 million Notre Dame plans to spend on this project could be better spent providing scholarships to students or funding service and missionary opportunities. And some simply see benefits to having LaFortune as the main student center on campus.
Melissa O’Brien, a senior economics and Spanish double major in Badin Hall, works as a building manager at LaFortune.
“I really hope that with the Crossroads project, LaFortune is able to remain a ‘Center of Campus,’” she told the Rover. “I think it is very beneficial for students to have such a quaint building to have meetings in and appreciate its wonderful history in the Notre Dame tradition … There are some things that just give LaFortune such a unique character.”
That wonderful history and unique character hold a personal meaning for O’Brien: “For me one of the most special things about LaFortune is that it has been something that has been constant in my college years. As a senior, it’s nice to be able to reflect and see how far I’ve come and have something that has been there through it all … it always keeps me coming back.”
Regarding Campus Crossroads, O’Brien told the Rover, “I also hope that [LaFortune’s] character is preserved so that it is not converted solely into a study space because I think there [are] definitely benefits in having a multi-purpose space;” she noted, “otherwise it might just as well be a smaller version of the library.”
Whether LaFortune will simply become a smaller version of the library or whether the West Building will simply become a bigger version of LaFortune remains to be seen. In the meantime, friends of the university can continue to celebrate the tradition of the LaFortune Student Center as it approaches its 75th year serving the Notre Dame community.
Special thanks to the University Archives, which supplied some of the material for this article.
Abigail Bartels is a junior political science major in Badin Hall. Now that winter is approaching and the words “boots” and “coat” are normal parts of conversation, her Minnesotan accent is really starting to show. You betcha. Contact her at email@example.com.