Enough Tupperware
by Leslie Lawrence '72

Today's 88-year-old cottage, built in part with $10,000 from Elizabeth Keep Clark and George Clark (Rev. Keep's granddaughter and husband), defies easy architectural categorization. Oberlin historian Geoffrey Blodgett '53 labels it "Pennsylvania Dutch Colonial." The house was first designed in stone, but later substituted with brick and an upper-story of timber and stucco during year-long negotiations that preceded construction. A front porch runs the length of the house; a sloping roof with wide eaves graces it. Bay windows, interior alcoves with window seats, dark woodwork, and a striking central staircase enhance the domestic ambience.

Mrs. Clark showed no interest in the tradition of self-boarding. Architectural plans for Keep Cottage called for four first-floor maids' rooms and a small maids' parlor. Planners fretted over whether a maid might appropriately pass through the students' dining room to answer the front door.

Elegance battled economy as a planning priority. Patton concentrated embellishment at the building's front, concealing a plain dormitory wing at the rear. Today--such was his success--some students believe the building was once a private mansion, with the long halls of dorm rooms added later.

While Patton planned Keep, one tradition of sorts was drawing to a close. The architect, who earlier had designed Warner Gym and the Carnegie Library, learned that Oberlin might contract with Cass Gilbert to plan future campus structures. A vigorous marketing campaign ensued. Patton went to New York City to seek out Lucien Warner, chair of the board of trustees' architectural committee, but found Warner out of town. He dispatched letters to Warner, President Henry Churchill King, and planning liaison Azariah Root, the College librarian, reminding correspondents that his father had known President Finney, his grandfather had known Father Keep, and his late wife had been Keep's granddaughter. He critiqued Gilbert's Finney Chapel and proposed a meeting to discuss alternative plans for the campus.

"We appreciate very much the good work you have done for Oberlin," President King replied. "But...both our trustees and our faculty committee have agreed in recommending Mr. Cass Gilbert...for the general architect; so that I suppose that the matter is virtually settled."

Keep Cottage was to be Patton's last Oberlin building.

Today, the co-ed Keep is mostly vegetarian, though rules hammered out in an elaborate consensus process allow meat at special Saturday night or Sunday noon meals--as long as it's organic and locally raised.

Traditions Live On
Vestiges of Patton's era linger at Keep. China demitasse saucers and small silver spoons remain behind glass doors in the library bookcase. In the College archives, an embossed menu from the cottage's 1914 annual banquet records a feast of fried chicken, imported wafers, "rose ice cream," bon-bons, and coffee.

Today, the co-ed Keep is mostly vegetarian, though rules hammered out in an elaborate consensus process allow meat at special Saturday night or Sunday noon meals--as long as it's organic and locally raised. The ceremonies and regulations that once governed relations between young women and men (the cottage was designed with a separate men's entrance) have been replaced by a brotherly-sisterly friendship style. ("We do refer to romance between housemates as 'house-cest,'" says Keep's housing loose-ends coordinator Cambria Hamburg '04 in expounding on today's norms.)

The decision to include Keep in the co-op system was more exhaustively discussed than even the building's original design. Oberlin's faculty council rejected a proposal for a new co-op in 1952; the cottage joined the fold 13 years later. President Robert K. Carr worried that the co-op alternative might become "so firmly established that it would be difficult or impossible to alter its character or abolish it entirely."

Indeed, at Keep, the system seems entrenched. Timothy Haineswood '03 is a second-generation Keeper. His mother, Gail Haines '70, lived at the then all-female cooperative, as did her cousin Julie Forsythe '70. Haineswood is trying to persuade his cousin, first-year student Noah Hoskins-Forsythe, to move to Keep.

Things have changed a bit at Keep, says Haines. In her day, the co-op still hired one full-time cook. A housemother remained, and student workers counted out the appropriate number of utensils and piled them on the tables before dinner, rather than having students entirely serve themselves.

The basic spirit of the place persists.
"I remember sitting in big meetings and making decisions together," says Haines. "I'm sure we didn't have dress codes."

Today's Keepers have a message for the founding co-op generation. "Alumni should know that we're still crazy," says Tim. "If they lived here, they'll know what we mean."

Gail Taylor is a freelance writer who lives in Oberlin.

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