Some members of the Yale Club have expressed disdain at recent interior-design changes at the venerable club headquarters on Vanderbilt Avenue, where the rectangular wooden tables and brown chairs of the main lounge have given way to patterned-fabric armchairs and other more modern touches.
Some members do prefer the updated version of this stately room containing portraits of Presidents Taft, Ford, Clinton, and both Bushes - all of them sons of Eli - with its new seating arrangements, new furniture, fresh carpeting, and enhanced lighting. But the winds of change have others feeling as blue as Yale's school color, and the new armchairs have some up in arms.
"The old lounge furniture, long newspaper table, and rugs have been replaced with seconds from a Holiday Inn - with lighting by way of Versace," a former Yale Club member, James Panero, writes on the New Criterion Web log.
Mr. Panero, an alumnus of Dartmouth, class of 2001, told The New York Sun he dropped his club membership when he saw things "starting to slide." He also notes that the Grill Room "has recently been stripped of its smoky, hunting-lodge feel." The rectangular newspaper table has been replaced by a smaller, round one, with chairs facing outward, like the spokes of a wheel.
The Yale Club's Web site does not divulge membership dues. The club's facilities, however, are also accessible to alumni of Dartmouth College and the University of Virginia, and the Web site of the Dartmouth Club of New York is less discreet. To join that club as a resident of the metropolitan area, for a member of any class before 1996, the fee is $1,574 a year, plus a onetime charge of $496.01.
The main lounge of the Yale Club is a place where members take business associates for a drink after work, hear caroling at holiday time, assemble for an annual members party, and hear important lecturers. It's a refuge from the busy city. On a typical evening, one might find notable personages within. On Tuesday, Governor Pataki was at one end, deep in conversation.
The lounge had older, more austere furniture for as long as members can remember, until in mid-September the new furniture was installed and the old pieces were sold to members, through a silent auction. Some items went for cheap.
Other renovation projects have taken place recently within the club building. The coat-check area and lobby bathrooms were reconstructed, and the 13th and 14th guestroom floors were refurbished.
In the few months since the furniture was installed, however, the ferment has led to the circulation of a petition regarding the recent renovations and redecoration of the club. In addition to seeking changes to the ground floor men's restroom, the signers "respectfully request that all of the furniture recently installed in the second floor lounge be removed and disposed of, and that more appropriate furniture be installed."
Will the entreaty succeed? It's not unusual in the Yale Club's history: A group called Save the Pool sought successfully to ensure the survival of the fifth-floor swimming pool, and another, Save the Fifth, sought but failed to keep it from going co-ed. Then, too, members of the nearby Harvard Club circulated a petition in an attempt to stop a glass architectural addition to their clubhouse.
The reasons for changing the decor could not be determined, since members of the house committee, which oversees upkeep of the club, had no comment, and calls to the club's general manager were not returned.
One can, however, speculate. The new furniture may be deemed more inviting, more the sort one might have in one's home, and its arrangement in closer clusters is more intimate than the old look of couches lined up beneath the windows. In addition, the new pieces are easier to move for banquet events.
If the old furniture evoked the typical mid-century gentlemen's club, the redecoration may be an attempt to make women, who make up a valued segment of the membership, feel more comfortable. Perhaps the new furniture better suits the business-casual dress code that the club instituted a few years ago.
A member of the Yale class of 1959, Marshall Blonsky, who said he was speaking as a professional semiotician, said he likes the colors of the main's lounge's new decor. "It's a little brighter," Mr. Blonsky said.
One critic of the new look, though, who declined to be named, called it "Hilton goes collegiate" and said the eye formerly was drawn to the white ceilings and large portraits, in a way that it isn't now.
A bilious Web log called Otto Da Fe reports: "When I caught a glimpse of the new furniture in the lounge, I needed to brace myself against a column and a double bourbon. The room previously had a simple, visually unobtrusive, masculine feel. The most inexcusable additions are a few large brass torchieres with speckled glass bowls, which could only have come from the Target 1920s collection." The blogger adds that he has "long entertained the idea of starting my own club and perhaps beating a few over the head with it when it becomes established."
The Yale Club, across from Grand Central Terminal, is a great building, the president of the Beaux Arts Alliance, David Garrard Lowe, told the Sun. When it was built, it fit perfectly into the wonderful restrained classicism of the Roosevelt, Biltmore, and Vanderbilt hotels, Mr. Lowe said, as part of what was called "Terminal City." Its exterior conveys "a seriousness," he said.
Construction began at the current location in 1914. The building, designed by James Gamble Roger, Yale class of 1889, was praised in magazines for its "simple and dignified neoclassical design, decidedly Italian in spirit, with colonial modifications."
Throughout the club's floors, one can find black-and-white photos of the club's grand history and design. They recall an era when a club was a man's castle, as Cleveland Amory wrote in his book "Who Killed Society?":
"Here he had the best of his well-bred friends, the most comfortable of his well-stuffed chairs, the best of food, drink and cigars from his well-stocked larders and cellars, the least irritating of reading material from a well-censored library, and the best of games from well-mannered losers."
Traditionalists who oppose the design changes may hear again the word "bygone" in their school song "Bright College Years":
How bright will seem through mem'ry's haze
Those happy golden bygone days.
The Main Lounge has gone from "a room from another era to a room that's trying to look like it's from another era," said Joseph De Feo, '01.
That world without tipping, where porters know your name and members can enjoy a friendly game of backgammon after work, is, inarguably, changing. Now, suburban country clubs and urban health clubs and movie theaters compete for people's time. And even at the Yale Club, cigars are no longer allowed.