After almost two years of construction and renovation, the newly redesigned Abbott Dining Hall re-opened earlier this month, just in time for Revisit Days and select Fifth Form meals. The updated facility not only features reconfigured dining and food preparation areas, but it was completely reimagined to better reflect the architecture and style of the Circle area of campus, as well as the School’s storied history and traditions.
“My first reaction when stepping through the grand entrance of Abbott was ‘wow,’” said Alexander Wey ’18. “I love the energy and communal aspect of the long tables while still having the familiar Lawrenceville look and feel. It could be one of my new, favorite buildings on campus.”
Built in 1962 and named for former Lawrenceville Head Master Mather Abbott, who served from 1919 to 1934, Abbott is the dedicated dining hall for Fifth Form students and often serves as the site of special dinners and alumni events.
The redesign process was kindled almost 10 years ago, when John Stephan ’59 sat down to dinner in the “old” Abbott Dining Hall for his 50th Reunion. According to Wes Brooks ’71 H’09 P’03 ‘05, Lawrenceville’s former chief financial officer, Stephan “lamented its condition,” and “the fact that you couldn’t tell if you were in Lawrenceville or a Marriott.” He was inspired to work with the School to envision a new and improved Abbott that would better reflect Lawrenceville’s history, traditions and style. Philadelphia-based Voith & Mactavish Architects brought their considerable expertise to bear on the project, empl0ying their innovative approaches to historic preservation.
Passionate about preserving Lawrenceville’s history and heritage, the Abbott redesign isn’t the first time John and his wife, Barbara, have focused their philanthropic efforts on projects that protect and showcase Lawrenceville’s rich history. In 2009 their gift created The Stephan Archives, a state-of-the-art physical and digital repository for Lawrenceville’s extensive collection of School-centric documents, images and artifacts. John, an emeritus professor of history at the University of Hawaii, worked closely with the School archivist to ensure that materials would be appropriately preserved and easily accessible to researchers, particularly Lawrenceville students.
Honoring Lawrenceville’s history and traditions was a key goal in the Abbott redesign, and special effort was made to create a space that visually tells Lawrenceville’s archival stories. Visitors are greeted by a display of House flags and cases filled with trophies and other School artifacts. The redesign also reflects the distinct architectural style of the Circle Houses, with a brick façade and arched windows reminiscent of Upper House, a copper cupola similar to that of Woods Memorial Hall, and wood-paneled elegance reminiscent of Edith Memorial Chapel.
The roof of the original building was raised significantly, and trusses with metal tie-rods were installed, a direct reference to the work of the original architects of the Circle, Peabody & Stearns. Similarly, hidden flying buttresses support the weight of the roof, creating cozy alcoves that feature leaded glass lunettes (little moons), a nod to the façade of Upper House.
According to Sarah Mezzino, the School’s curator of decorative art and design, the colors of the glass reflect the colors of the House flags. Norse dragons, like those on Upper House, adorn the window sashes inside the dining hall and represent both an ending and a new beginning, both unity and self-sufficiency – especially applicable to the Fifth Form.
“The inclusion of Norse dragons reveals Peabody’s genius in blending architectural styles and embedding symbolism to create The Lawrenceville School’s campus,” Mezzino says. “Peabody’s work here is so unique that there is no architectural term to define it, which is partly why campus is a treasured National Landmark.”
Mezzino also highlights the inclusion of multiple brass images embedded in the building’s new terrazzo flooring. Figures ranging from the trademark Lawrenceville “L” and “V” for the Fifth Form lie among cockroaches, acorns, oak leaves and strawberries – all of which have historic meaning for the School.
Two fireplaces carved with animal symbols borrowed from the exterior of Woods Memorial Hall, e.g. an owl for wisdom, flank the main dining room, which offers both banquet and alcove seating for 200 students and 100 faculty. Ten custom candelabras in the main dining room showcase a distinctive “L” in their design. Food service equipment was relocated from the dining room to the kitchen area, keeping the main dining area open and relatively formal. Smaller dining rooms can accommodate Board dinners and other limited-attendance events.
Panoramic wallpaper custom-printed with images of campus surrounds guests in the Stephan Dining Room, furnished with a flexible-use wooden table designed by American artisan Thomas Moser. The Mario Room sits along the entrance corridor, honoring the family of Trustee Jeremy Mario ’88 P’16 ’20 and its support of the renovation. Abbott also received a tech upgrade, says Project Manager James Kesilman, with new videoconferencing capabilities and wireless projection.
“Now that I’ve seen the final touches, it is obvious our team showed the right discipline and patience to ensure that every detail was properly attended to,” confirms Head Master Steve Murray H’55 ’65 ’16 P’16 ’21. “What a treasure for Lawrenceville. We are so grateful to the Stephans for their leadership of this project and to the Mario family for their support.”
Of course, the food options are as exceptional as the building itself. According to Director of Dining Services Gary Giberson H’11 P’10, the menu in Abbott targets the more sophisticated palate of older students.
Thanks to state-of-the-art food service and prep equipment, Fifth Form students can enjoy pizza baked in an Italian pizza oven with toppings like arugula, prosciutto or an egg, or the gourmet benefits of a new smoker and new, low-temperature slow cookers. The renewed Abbott also includes an expanded deli bar with a high-speed Panini press and upgraded noodle bar, wok joy, quesadilla bar and omelet station.
A new ice cream dispenser holds the perfect temperature for scooping smooth custard, and an innovative carbonated drink machine adds bubbles to flavored waters. Bunn coffee makers and a reverse osmosis water dispenser are also on the menu.
“I’m just excited to get back in there and start experimenting,” says Giberson. “I’m trying to focus on concepts and working with seniors to develop them, which is good because then they are directly responsible and leave a legacy of their ideas behind. It will be fun to have Abbott again.”
Dean of Students G. Blake Eldridge, Jr. ’96 H’12 noted in an interview with The Lawrence that the newly redesigned Abbott will serve as a bridge on campus. “We are a campus of neighborhoods—the Crescent, the Circle, Lower School—and this will be the center of gravity for the Fifth Form experience.”