Landmark gift from alumnus Stephen A. Schwarzman to establish first-of-its-kind campus center at Yale

A $150 million path-breaking gift will establish a center that serves as an educational, social, and cultural hub, and enables virtual engagement with global audiences.
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Stephen A. Schwarzman ’69 B.A. and President Peter Salovey are pictured in Commons, future home of a center devoted to cultural programming and student life. (Photo by Michael Marsland)

President Peter Salovey has announced a $150 million path-breaking gift by Blackstone founder and Yale alumnus, Stephen A. Schwarzman ’69 B.A. to create a world-class, state-of-the-art campus center by renovating the historic Commons and Memorial Hall. Schwarzman’s gift, the second-largest single donation in Yale’s history, will establish a university-wide center that serves as a campus educational, social, and cultural hub, and enables virtual engagement with global audiences.

The Schwarzman Center will be transformational for Yale in providing, for the first time, a center dedicated to cultural programming and student life at the center of the university. It will be designed to draw together students and faculty from all of Yale’s schools and colleges, and with the help of state-of-the-art technology, enable virtual engagement with the outside world in a dynamic way never done before at Yale. The project will be a cornerstone of Salovey’s vision to build a more unified, accessible, and innovative university. The myriad educational, social, and cultural programs envisioned for the Schwarzman Center will further reinforce Yale’s role as a leading research university “that proudly and unapologetically focuses on its students,” as Salovey described Yale in his inaugural address two years ago.   

“So much of the educational experience at Yale takes place outside the classroom,” Salovey said in announcing the gift. “But until now, Yale has lacked a central gathering space that can serve as a locus — and a catalyst — for students from every part of Yale to interact with one another. We thank Steve Schwarzman for his vision and support in helping us advance our vision of a more unified, accessible, and innovative university.”

Commons Dining Hall (left) and Memorial Hall (center rotunda), as viewed from Hewitt Quadrangle. (Photo by Michael Marsland)

The Schwarzman Center will transform the historic Commons and three floors of the adjacent Memorial Hall, both built at the University’s bicentennial in 1901. It will be far more than a restoration. The 88,300-square-foot complex at the center of the campus will be reimagined to become the central hub of student life by creating versatile performance, exhibition, meeting, dining, and gathering spaces. The Schwarzman Center will also present performances and cultural events in the historic Woolsey Hall, which is another of the Carrère and Hastings-designed buildings built to mark Yale’s bicentennial in 1901.

Stephen A. Schwarzman ’69 B.A.

“My hope is that the Schwarzman Center will serve as the crossroads for the campus, but also place Yale at the crossroads of the world,” said Schwarzman. “The education I received at Yale changed the course of my life. It is now a pleasure to give back by creating something on campus that will be transformational for all members of the Yale community. Future generations will utilize the Schwarzman Center in innumerable new ways and, in so doing, keep the Yale experience at the cutting edge.”

“My hope is that the Schwarzman Center will serve as the crossroads for the campus, but also place Yale at the crossroads of the world.”

— Stephen A. Schwarzman

Schwarzman is the chair, CEO and co-founder of Blackstone. He has been involved in all phases of the firm’s development since its founding in 1985. Now one of the world’s largest alternative asset managers, with $310 billion assets under management, the firm invests on behalf of 29 million pensioners in the United States and millions more internationally, as well as academic institutions, charitable organizations, and governments around the world.

An active philanthropist with a history of supporting education and schools, Schwarzman attempts to find transformative solutions to major challenges through his philanthropy. In 2007, he donated $100 million to the New York Public Library, a gift that served as the anchor commitment in a $1 billion fundraising capital campaign to prepare the library to meet the challenges of the 21st century. In 2013, he committed $100 million and is personally leading a campaign to raise an additional $300 million to endow Schwarzman Scholars, a fully funded master’s degree program at Tsinghua University in Beijing, one of China’s top academic institutions. Modeled on the Rhodes Scholarship, Schwarzman Scholarship is designed to prepare the next generation of leaders for the challenges of the 21st century and beyond. Schwarzman also created an endowment to sponsor 200 children a year in perpetuity to attend Catholic schools in New York City, and has supported international student scholarships.

Schwarzman is former chair of the board of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He is a member of The Council on Foreign Relations, Business Council, and Business Roundtable. He serves on the boards of the New York Public Library, Asia Society, The Frick Collection, New York City Partnership, the Shanghai International Financial Advisory Council, China Development Bank International Advisory Committee, and the advisory board for the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science, and Community Development. In 2007, Schwarzman was awarded the Légion d’Honneur of France, and in 2010, he was promoted to Officier. He holds a B.A. from Yale University and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School, and has served as an adjunct professor at the Yale School of Management and on the Visiting Committee of Harvard Business School. He currently serves as a member of Harvard’s Global Advisory Council and on the Advisory Board of the School of Economics and Management at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

Inspiring engagement

Michael Kaiser, longtime president of The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., where Schwarzman served as chair of the board, has been retained to advise Yale on the renovation, programming, and staffing for the center. New staff will be hired to design and implement a robust calendar of events and activities that will make the Schwarzman Center a thriving hub of activity on a daily basis. Yale will benefit from Kaiser’s expertise to cultivate at the Schwarzman Center the qualities that have made The Kennedy Center one of the world’s most successful cultural institutions, said Salovey.

“The Schwarzman Center will build on the strengths of our already-vibrant residential colleges and the communities within each of our schools and departments to inspire engagement in ways we can only begin to imagine,” added Salovey. “We have amazing students, but they largely associate within their own school or the college. Going forward, a signature of a Yale education will include learning from and forming friendships with other students throughout the university at the Schwarzman Center.”

The renovation will encompass the entire Commons building and large parts of Memorial Hall, including the under-utilized lower level of Commons, which was previously not accessible to students and mainly used for food preparation, storage, and equipment. The newly conceived Schwarzman Center is envisioned to house many distinct spaces, including the grand main hall, light-filled lounge areas, gallery spaces, performance spaces, and student meeting rooms. The Schwarzman Center will have the capacity to accommodate thousands of individuals simultaneously and will be utilized by hundreds of Yale student organizations — undergraduate, graduate, and professional — that will have access to the center’s multi-purpose spaces. The Schwarzman Center will also provide new dining experiences for the entire campus with expanded international food offerings that will be available late into the night.  

The walls of Memorial Hall are inscribed with the names of Yale war veterans. (Photo by Michael Marsland)

Final determination of the configuration and use of the center will be made in close consultation with a student, faculty, and staff planning committee that will be co-chaired by Jonathan Holloway, dean of Yale College, and Lynn Cooley, dean of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.

“I look forward to partnering with Dean Cooley on this project,” said Holloway. “The two of us have already had our first conversation about the Schwarzman Center and the possibilities it presents for all students at Yale. As far as the undergraduate experience is concerned, the center will simultaneously amplify what we are able to do in the residential colleges and provide opportunities for collaboration and innovation at a scale that we simply can’t achieve in the colleges. The center marks a radical and fundamentally positive change in what Yale College can be. I’m excited to get started on this important work.”

“Graduate students are eager to be integrated into the rich cultural and social life at Yale, and to extend their interactions with undergraduate students beyond the classroom,” said Cooley. “The new Schwarzman Center will provide a remarkable common space where all students can contribute to a united cultural cornerstone of the university. This is an amazing chance to expand beyond what is possible in the residential colleges, and catalyze interactions among students at all stages of study. I am particularly glad to work with Dean Holloway on planning this exciting center for all our students.”

History of Commons and Memorial Hall

Built just over a century ago to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Yale’s establishment in 1701, Commons and Memorial Hall were designed by the noted New York architectural firm of Carrère and Hastings, who were described by the architectural historian and journalist Christopher Gray as “an effervescent design team” who were “dedicated to the civilizing possibilities of the new metropolis.” Carrère and Hastings’ lasting legacy includes the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street, now the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. The firm also designed 14 “Carnegie libraries,” branch facilities including ones still in use in Washington Heights, Staten Island, the Bronx, and elsewhere.

Woolsey Hall, Memorial Hall, and Commons were built to celebrate Yale’s 200th anniversary. (Photo by Michael Marsland)

The plans for the bicentennial buildings were heralded in the New York Times in 1900 as “the future of Yale.” When the Commons and Memorial Hall opened in September 1901, a Times story began, “Never before in the history of Yale has such a complete change come upon the face of the university.” Over the course of a century, the buildings have been used by countless numbers of Yale students, faculty, staff, alumni, neighbors from New Haven, and visitors from around the world. They are among the most iconic buildings on campus — and the most in need of renovation and repurposing for a new era and subsequent generations of Yale scholars and friends.

Special place for many

The buildings are at a literal crossroads of campus, as the university’s campus planning framework of 2000 noted — the place “where the north and south halves of the Central Campus meet at the crossing of Prospect and Grove streets.” The intersection is the most-used pedestrian crossing on campus, and streams of Yale community members and visitors pass through Memorial Hall throughout the day. Commons is primarily used as an undergraduate dining facility, especially for freshmen, in addition to being a venue for special events. Like the lower level of Commons, the second and third floors of Memorial Hall, above the rotunda, have not been regularly used by the campus community.

“The Schwarzman Center will allow the university to make the highest and best use in the present and for the future of an extraordinary historic structure at the heart of campus,” said Alice Raucher, major projects planner for the university. “This is an act of visionary philanthropy, enabling the rejuvenation and transformation of a place everyone knows, but many fewer use. Numerous students pass through the rotunda and pass by Commons every day, but most do not really have the opportunity to enjoy the facilities, except for special occasions. Now, with the Schwarzman Center, an exponentially larger number of Yalies will be able to meet, learn, eat, congregate, and be inspired in so many ways. What has been for many a place for special occasions will now be a special place for many all year round.”

Streams of pedestrians pass through the rotunda every day. (Photo by Michael Marsland)

The building will incorporate cutting-edge technology, which will allow those at Yale to interact virtually with peers around the globe. The Yale community will have new opportunities to view and participate in off-campus events and engage with a greater number of outside experts and dignitaries. Through digitally streaming performances as well as educational and cultural events at the Schwarzman Center, Yale will reach new audiences and extend its impact in the world.

When the Schwarzman Center opens in 2020, Yale College will have expanded by 15% with the addition of two new residential colleges. The total Yale student enrollment of undergraduate, graduate, and professional students will exceed 12,000 by that time. The Schwarzman Center will complement the kinds of programs available in the undergraduate residential colleges, the graduate school, and each of the university’s professional schools. It will enable new collaborations and connections among all the university’s students by offering additional activity space, new and creative events, and opportunities for interdisciplinary and inter-school interaction.

Shared vision to become a reality

The renovation will preserve and enhance the architectural beauty of the complex and Memorial Hall, where the names of Yale graduates who gave their lives in military conflicts from the Revolutionary War to Vietnam are inscribed.

“The Schwarzman Center will make for a more connected and creative Yale, one that is poised for greater global leadership in the years ahead.”

— Peter Salovey

The creation of the Schwarzman Center complements other large campus facilities projects that are advancing Yale’s mission. In addition to constructing the two new residential colleges, Yale is building a large new science facility, undertaking a major renovation of the Hall of Graduate Studies to transform it into a home for the humanities at Yale, and completing the renovation and expansion of Hendrie Hall as the Adams Center for Musical Arts.

Last fall, the Yale College Council (YCC), Graduate Student Assembly (GSA), and Graduate and Professional Student Senate (GPSS) issued a joint report to the university calling for the creation of a “campus-wide center that bridges the boundaries between undergraduate, graduate, and professional school students” and that “encourages vibrant, significant, and inclusive social interaction at Yale.” 

“The YCC, GSA, and GPSS report calling for a student center noted that it was important for the full realization of the potential of Yale’s student body and to harness more fully the academic benefits of interdisciplinary actions,” Salovey said. “My colleagues and I agree wholeheartedly with the students, and we are grateful to Steve Schwarzman for enabling this shared vision to become a reality.”

“Yale is a place where people collaborate, cross boundaries, and learn from one another. The student report last September said ‘students would whole-heartedly embrace a new student center,’” Salovey noted. “The Schwarzman Center will make for a more connected and creative Yale, one that is poised for greater global leadership in the years ahead. I am excited by the work that the faculty, staff, and student planning committee will do.”

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