U.Va.'s Colonnade Club Celebrates Centenary

July 19, 2007--  The Colonnade Club is in good shape for having just turned 100 years old.

The club boasts a membership of more than 1,000, has more room and space rentals than it ever has, is hosting more events, has more socials planned for members and it is housed in the oldest building on Grounds.

“We are presenting more opportunities for faculty to be engaged with each other,” said Kristin Grimes, general manager of the club. “And we are creating more of a family atmosphere.”

 “The club is growing, thriving,” said Alexander G. “Sandy” Gilliam, secretary of the Board of Visitors and a member of the club’s board of directors. “It’s getting great use by University organizations, and there are a lot of wedding receptions there.”

The Colonnade Club has been providing faculty with a place to meet since it was organized on April 23, 1907, to "enhance social interaction and encourage intellectual enrichment" among faculty and alumni. Forty-two faculty members gathered at Cocke Hall and agreed to be members of the organization. They appointed seven governing board members and named economics professor Thomas Walker Page as president. The Colonnade Club was chartered on May 7, 1907, and leased Pavilion VII from the Board of Visitors to house both the club and the alumni association, which remained there until 1949.

Pavilion VII is the only pavilion that does not serve as a faculty residence. On Oct. 6, 1817, U.S. President James Monroe led a Masonic ceremony to lay Pavilion VII’s cornerstone, which was the cornerstone for the entire University, according to Garth Anderson, resource center manager for Facilities Management. Two former presidents, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, the University’s founder, also attended the ceremony.

Jefferson had designed the brick pavilion that became the first structure in his “Academical Village,” but Anderson said Jefferson had based his design on an original sketch by District of Columbia architect William Thornton, with whom Jefferson corresponded.

As the first building on the Lawn, Pavilion VII contained the University Library in its upstairs rooms, until the Rotunda was completed in 1826.

The building also served as an unofficial faculty center from the time it opened, and as a place of worship in 1832 when the University hired a chaplain and religious services were held on the main floor.

A residential addition to Pavilion VII was constructed in the 1850s and then the north-south addition, including a reading room with a skylight, was built in 1915, designed by Ferguson, Carlow and Taylor, the firm that designed Peabody Hall. R.E. Lee Taylor, a principal in the firm, was a U.Va. graduate.

When the 1915 portion was added, a section of the garden wall became part of the basement wall of the addition, according to Anderson, who said part of that wall is visible now on the ground floor of the building.

Pavilion VII’s most recent restoration, which included a service yard, side alley and furnishings, was completed in 2001 with $3 million in privately raised funds. The work included restoring the 12-by-16-foot skylight, removed decades ago for leaking, in what had been the club’s reading room and which is today its garden room.

“There was a reading room in the back,” Gilliam recalled. “It was filled with big, comfortable leather arm chairs and tables, and you could go in there in the afternoon and find faculty members reading.”

There were contemporary magazines in the reading room, and Gilliam said the club, as a fund-raising event, auctioned off the magazines every year.

“There was a philosophy professor, he had a very red face and a temper to match,” Gilliam said. “He was apparently outbid on a magazine, and he got so angry he had a stroke on the spot and died.”

While the club no longer auctions its magazines, it does still have a reading room with current magazines, on the ground floor near the coffee machine. Gilliam said the reading room hosts frequent gatherings of current and retired faculty members.
“I walk down there every morning for a cup of coffee,” Gilliam said.

He is not the only one.

“We go through 25 to 30 pots of coffee a day,” said Grimes.

The club also functions as a bed & breakfast, with eight rooms available for short-term hire for club members and their guests. The club no longer rents residential rooms.

“At one time, unmarried members of the faculty lived at the club,” Gilliam said.

The club membership ranges in age from about 24 years old to about 90 years old, with median age around 65. About a third of the members are retired. Membership is open to all University alumni, but only about 300 of the members live outside the Charlottesville region. There are also 45 department memberships, allowing the department to use the club for meetings and social events.

"The future looks very bright with many new opportunities,” Grimes said. “We look forward to serving the University community, partnering with others on the Lawn and connecting with the students, because soon they will be eligible to join.”