History Lesson: Chase Lounge sheds function-room identity in favor of casual chilling
By Doug Hubley
Photographs courtesy of Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collection Library
It wasn’t billed as such, but a campus announcement in October from student activities director Keith Tannenbaum proclaimed a historic shift.
After nearly a century as a venue for everything from dances to debates and poetry readings to protests, Chase Hall Lounge has been reinvented as a casual lounge for students.
Equipped with portable podium and grand piano, the lounge for most of its life was less a lounge than Bates’ go-to venue for all kinds of campus events: contradances, faculty meetings, flu shot clinics, lectures, readings, blood drives, symposia, formal dinners, dance performances — even student protests, such as the one in 1979 after The Bates Student riled up the campus by inventing an award to gain entrée to former President Richard Nixon.
This year’s transformation, part of an overall freshening of Chase Hall, happened because students wanted an “inviting drop-in or ‘hangout’ space,” said Tannenbaum — “a casual and comfortable spot.”
The timing is nice, as Chase Hall was conceived a century ago and dedicated in December 1919.
Named for Bates President George Colby Chase, who had died that May, the hall was largely a response to the fact that Bates’ all-male competitor schools had fraternities. Though President Chase had no desire to reverse the college’s “cherished” no-fraternity policy, the early 1900s was a time when the college’s male-female balance was tipping toward women. President Chase was forceful in his belief that Bates needed a well-appointed “home for our young men,” both for social reasons and, as noted in various President’s Reports, to counter the lure of demon rum downtown.
But the men’s club angle didn’t last long, nor did the lounge’s identity as simply a lounge.
Coed movie nights, wildly popular in Hathorn, came right over to Chase Lounge in 1919. Three years later, when the college lifted its ban on dancing, the lounge was where Bates men and women went cheek to cheek for the first time in public.
That began a long tradition of Saturday night dances in Chase Lounge, which continued into the late 1960s when the college’s first documented rock group, the Hanseatic League, was the house band. That was when tough rules governing gender relations were slowly starting to ease, making Chase the “only place to find people of the opposite sex,” as Jill Howroyd Lawler ’68 told Bates for a Hanseatic League retrospective in 2003.
Today, thanks to donor support, the lounge is fitted with comfy new leather chairs and sofas, an electric fireplace, a pool table and 60-inch TVs, part of a larger Chase Hall makeover intended to reinforce the building’s identity as a student center.
The Den has been spruced up and designated the campus pub. The lobby is now bright, spacious and welcoming, with Don Lent’s “Canterbury Tales” mural a well-lit focal point. A new lift has improved physical access to the building.
And the old “Big Room” in Memorial Commons is now a function room that can accommodate nearly 700 — a fitting venue to resurrect those legendary Saturday night dances, should anyone so desire.