Old New Haven Society Clubhouse to be Street People’s Center

“For years, the prim, exclusive Union League was a mainstay of elite society in New Haven. It attracted men of wealth and prestige from the most proper New England stock.

With changing values and declining fortunes, however, the league gradually became more of a memory than a social institution, and seven years ago, its gray brick clubhouse downtown, over looking Yale University, was abandoned.

A few weeks ago, a group of young people—mostly in their late teens and twenties, who like to wear beads, and long hair and who sometimes go shoeless—began trans forming the old building into a center for another kind of society.

Their aim is to create a haven for the ‘street people,’ the growing army of young men and women adrift in the United States—hitchhiking, sleeping on park benches, panhandling for meals.

Corporation Formed

The group, which has formed a nonprofit corporation called Middle Earth Inc., intends to operate a 24‐hour coffeehouse, an international restaurant offering peasant dishes from around the world for a maximum of $2, health food store and restaurants, an art gallery, printing press and a commercial art shop.

Regular rock concerts, folk music, dances and films are planned, along with weekly poetry reading and courses in arts and crafts.

But most importantly, the Middle Earth people say, the basement of the building will be turned into a clinic staffed with professionals prepared to deal with ‘bad trips’ on drugs, treat venereal dis eases, test for pregnancy and provide other medical services.

‘Haven From the Street’

In an 18‐page prospectus the kind of document a company prepares when it wishes to sell public stock, Middle Earth explains that the restaurants, the music and the cultural activities are designed to ‘draw street people into the buildings and bring them in contact with our service and aid facilities.’

In addition to the clinic, Middle Earth plans to maintain an around‐the‐clock in formation center for help on where to find such things as a place to sleep (there will be no lodging in the building), a temporary job or a lawyer.

A place such as the Middle Earth center, said Carl Williams, a 25‐year‐old Yale graduate who is president of the corporation, ‘offers people a haven from the street and an opportunity get themselves organized.’

‘Maybe they’ll realize there’s a hell of a lot in American society that doesn’t warrant blowing up or ripping up,’ he continued. ‘I don’t question that changes are needed, but I don’t think the way is blowing things up.’

There are 12 directors of the corporation, including Mr. Williams and one woman, Jo Anne Basile, a 24‐year‐old former drama student at the San Francisco State College Graduate School. Three of the directors are high school dropouts. Two besides Miss Basile dropped out of college. Two are Yale students. Ted Mechanik, who is 38 and the only director over 30, is studying at the Berkeley Divinity School. The directors who plan to run the international kitchen and the coffeehouse both are former managers of commercial restaurants.

Middle Earth maintains that, once it gets rolling, the center will be self‐sustaining. The problem is to get rolling. As of yesterday morning, it had $32 in the bank and $9.58 in petty cash. The directors estimate operating expenses the first year will be about $65,000.

To make the first rent payment of $2,000, the directors managed to get a six‐month, interest‐free loan from George S. Pillsbury Jr., a 21‐year‐old Yale junior who is a member of the Pillsbury food family.

William Horowitz, a New Haven banker and a member of the Yale Corporation, the governing body of the university, owns the building. He said he rented it to Middle Earth for about a third of what he could have gotten in a strictly commercial deal be cause ‘I’m sympathetic— what they’re planning I believe is needed.’

The directors have appealed to foundations, church and civic organizations, the state and Federal governments for financial assistance, but so far they have made little headway.

In the meantime, the directors, and sometimes as many as 40 others, have been at work scraping the paneled ceilings in the main lounge for repainting. They have been careful not to damage the carved mahogany wood work or the stained‐glass windows depicting the Battle of the Bon Homme Richard and the Serapis and the Mayflower at sea.

Merchants Are Fearful

Owners of shoe stores and stylish Ivy League clothing shops on either side of the Union League building on Chapel Street are concerned that business will be driven away.

‘I think it’s a great program, just great,” said one merchant, “but I don’t want them as my neighbors.’

“Dr. Clarence R. Rungee, president of the Union League of New Haven, on a visit to organization’s former clubhouse. Of the new plans, he said, ‘Their intentions are good.'” -Image courtesy of the New York Times, Times Machine, photograph by Lee Romero, 1970

One day last week, Dr. Clarence R. Rungee, the president of the Union League, which now has its headquarters in a hotel suite, and his wife, Antoinette, stopped by the old clubhouse.

‘They’re a good bunch of boys,’ Dr. Rungee said. ‘Their character is unquestionable and their motives are very much respected. Their intentions are good. If they live up to them, that’s the main thing.’

Asked how she felt about the change in style and character that the old building was undergoing, Mrs. Rungee answered:

‘We ourselves are not snobs. We deplore snobbery. We have to weigh certain things. What are their intentions? We can’t just look down and say: Oh, what we had. Now look at it.’”
-Excerpt courtesy of the New York Times, Times Machine, by Joseph B. Treaster, Friday, September 4, 1970. “Dan Light of Middle Earth, Inc., which has taken over old headquarters of Union League in New Haven, scraping ceiling,” (top) image courtesy of the New York Times, Times Machine, photograph by Lee Romero, 1970

“Two ‘street people’ sit in window of Middle Earth building, gazing out at Chapel Street.” -Image courtesy of Yale Library’s Yale Daily News Historical Archive, 1970

New Hip ‘Clinic’ To Start Service

“‘Middle Earth, Inc.’ is the title on an 18-page prospectus, which resembles programs distributed by slick companies seeking investors.

However, Middle Earth is no ordinary corporation, but rather a hip YMCA for New Haven street people. It is scheduled to open in the middle of November.

‘Middle Earth’s idea,’ the prospectus reads, ‘is to set up a community center open to and trusted by young people where the more stable, productive youth can involve themselves in dealing with the less stable.’

Describing the people Middle Earth will seek to serve, the brochure says, ‘many of them constitute a disturbance to the community as well as a hazard to themselves,’ leading generally unproductive lives and suffering from physical and psychological deterioration from drugs, alcohol, venereal disease, pregnancies, or poor nutrition.’

-Image courtesy of the Yale Daily News Historical Archive, issue no. 7, “New Hip ‘Clinic’ To Start Service,” photo by Bill Hoffman, September 22, 1970

Provide Various Services

Located in the old Union League Club building at 1032 Chapel Street, once the social gathering spot for New Haven’s elite, Middle Earth will provide a variety of social service programs, cultural and entertainment activities, and a restaurant and coffeehouse.

Among the community services provided will be a medical clinic, which will serve as an initial medical contact and referral service for people who, according to the prospectus, ‘through ignorance or mistrust of authority shun hospitals and clinics.’

‘Trip Team’

Plans also call for a doctor, dentist, and optometrist to donate about four hours a week to the clinic, a ‘trip team’ for drug overdoses will be on a 24-hour call.

Psychiatric counseling, with particular emphasis on drug rehabilitation, will be provided by licensed psychiatrist and clinical psychologists. A spiritual counseling service, staffed by students from the Berkeley Divinity School, will also be offered.

-Image courtesy of the Yale Daily News Historical Archive, issue no. 7, “New Hip ‘Clinic’ To Start Service,” photo by Bill Hoffman, September 22, 1970

Middle Earth will also provide a 24-hour general information service. By dialing a single telephone number, the caller can obtain information about a wide variety of entertainments, service organizations, churches, medical facilities, counseling services, and especially transient housing.

The switchboard will also serve as a message center for organizations in both the white and black communities which lack a permanently manned phone of their own.

Also planned are a 24-hour coffeehouse, two restaurants, one featuring international food for less than $2.00, and the other macrobiotic foods for less than $2.00; a film society; an art gallery; an organic food store; and a letter press.

The most immediate problem confronting the organizers of Middle Earth, primarily young people from the Berkeley Divinity School and the Exit Coffeehouse, is financing.

Self-Supporting

Seeking to be a self-supporting organization and with estimated first year expenses of $65,000, Middle Earth hopes to make money from the coffeehouse, the film society, the two restaurants, and weekend rock concerts featuring prominent local bands.

The organization has applied to the New Haven Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and various other funding organizations for grants, but none have come through as of yet.

George Pillsbury, 1972, of the Pillsbury foods family, has loaded $2,000 interest-free to Middle Earth.

-Image courtesy of the Yale Daily News Historical Archive, issue no. 7, “New Hip ‘Clinic’ To Start Service,” photo by Bill Hoffman, September 22, 1970

However, some of the financial problems may begin to disappear if a new fund-raising project materializes.

Rich Kubeck, entertainment director for Middle Earth, said he has a commitment from the popular rock group, ‘Ten Years After,’ to do a benefit concert in New Haven on November 15.

He indicated that similar agreements may be in the offing with such groups as, ‘The Jefferson Airplane,’ and, ‘Neil Young and Crazy Horse.’

Neighborhood Acceptance

In the meantime, Middle Earth is faced with an entirely different type of problem, that of neighborhood acceptance.

Kubeck said Middle Earth has the support of both the Sizzleboard and Band Box businesses, but readily admitted that the clothing stores which line Chapel Street are firmly opposed to the Middle Earth organization.

According to the clothing dealers, their customers are already being scared away by the street people in the area. They expect business to plummet once Middle Earth is opened.

‘There are two things that will scare my customers away,’ said Frank Demme, an employee from one of the stores, ‘and that’s the panhandlers and the congregating on the sidewalks.’

“A picture hanging inside the old Union League Club shows how the club looked in the affluent days of yesteryear. Once the gathering spot of New Haven’s social elite, the building now houses Middle Earth, an organization dedicated to proving community services for street people.” -Image courtesy of the Yale Daily News Historical Archive, issue no. 7, “New Hip ‘Clinic’ To Start Service,” photo by Bill Hoffman, September 22, 1970

Not Opposed to Objectives

Demme, claiming he spoke for most of the clothing merchants along Chapel, said he is not opposed to the objectives of Middle Earth as an organization, but only to its location.

An unidentified owner of a Chapel Street shoe store expressed antagonism toward New Haven banker and Yale Corporation member William Horowitz who owns the Union League Club building. The store owner said Horowitz was giving Middle Earth a considerable discount on the rent.

‘It’s a great idea,’ said the shoe store owner, ‘but why do they have to put it here? I called up Horowitz and asked him how he’d like it if it were next to his bank and he couldn’t give me an answer.’

Horowitz said he is renting the building to Middle Earth for $20,000 a year, considerably below what he says he could have rented it for, because he is ‘sympathetic to what they are doing.’

When told of the sentiments of the clothing dealers, Horowitz said, ‘I guess that’s one of the chances they have to take. You take your chances on who your neighbors will be.'”
-Excerpt courtesy of the Yale Daily News Historical Archive, issue no. 7, “New Hip ‘Clinic’ To Start Service,” by John Geesman, September 22, 1970

Earth Tremors

“The Union League is as familiar to Americans as the Charterhouse is to Englishmen, and its origins are just about as thoroughly forgotten. It was created in the years after the Civil War by an earthy combination of Northern idealists and businessmen to try and persuade the emancipated Southern Negroes to vote Republican. Its effect was mainly to hurl Southern whites into the arms of the Democrats and create the Solid South.

Today, the big cities of the North are dotted with Union League clubs, by now so remote from their origin that no Negro is ever found there except as a waiter, billiard marker, or other minion. The Union League was, in fact, one of Franklin Roosevelt’s symbolic targets representing all that was rigid, class-conscious, and luxurious in American society. As with most other old clubs, their survival is precarious. The one in New Haven, Connecticut, struggled along until 1963, by which time, there being few new infusions of Old Yankee blood and fewer substantial donations from the old elite, it abandoned its clubhouse, which looks out over the campus of Yale University, and retired to a modest hotel suite.

The old building is still owned by a banker who is also a member of Yale Corporation, the governing body of the university. A few weeks ago he managed to rent it to Middle Earth. How’s that again? Middle Earth is a non-profit corporation, a society of young people, mostly long on beards and hair and, by ideological choice, short on shoes. It will convert the old bastion of the well scrubbed rich into a sanctuary for the vagabond ‘street people.’

It will contain (1) a round-the-clock coffee house, (2) a restaurant serving ‘peasant dishes’ from all around the world, (3) an organic food mart, (4) an art gallery, (5) a printing press, (6) a site for rock concerts, movie shows, and weekly poetry reading, (7) a 24-hour information centre for hobos looking for a bed or, less likely, a job. And, in the basement, (8) a clinic for the treatment of bad drug ‘trips,’ venereal disease, and other street people afflictions.

The clubhouse is bang up against some of the tonier haberdashery shops, which once sold herringbone tweeds and imported brogues to undergraduates, when undergraduates wore suits and shoes. There is practically unanimous approval by the Ivy League shopkeepers of the Union League’s New Deal. ‘I think,’ said one of them, ‘it’s a great programme, just great. But I don’t them as my neighbours.’

They will no doubt learn to live with it. In the meantime, it sets a fine example to the Athenaeum, the Savage, and Boodle’s.
-Excerpt courtesy of Newspapers.coom, the Guardian, (London, England), Alistair Cooke’s America, “Earth Tremors,” by Alistair Cooke, Monday, September 7, 1970

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