Seminary Life: Dining at GTS

haight arch rend-page-001

Dining at General didn’t always take place in “one of New York’s most beautiful interior spaces” [1]. When GTS first opened in New York, for $2 a week, students could eat in a basement dining room in the East Building. At the time, “there was little…feeling that fellowship in a refectory was an aspect of the students’ common life” [2]. As such, when having a common dining room became too expensive, students ate in the many boardinghouses in the up-and-coming Chelsea neighborhood.


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From the laying of the  cornerstone, Commencement 1899


Around 1850, Dean George Franklin Seymour began the seminary’s “Boarding Club” that gave students access to the communal basement dining room or a select number of boardinghouses in the area [3]. The revitalized dining room was a hit with the seminarians; Dr. Seymour wrote that with its unsurpassed food quality and excellent management, the General Seminary Boarding Club “need fear comparison with no competitor” [4].

In 1893, the Right Reverend Henry Y. Satterlee called for “the provision of a refectory adequate in size and convenience to the largely increased number of students” [5]. Construction on Hoffman Hall began with the laying of its cornerstone on May 17, 1899. The completed building was dedicated “to the glory of God” on Commencement Day 1900  [6]. The hall was among the final Seminary buildings designed by Charles Coolidge Haight for Dean Hoffman before Hoffman’s death in 1902 [7]. Hoffman Hall was built, in large part, by the generosity of General Seminary alumni and the alumni association [8].


The Gymansium underneath the refectory, 1900

The building contained a refectory designed to seat two hundred diners, a gym, an infirmary, a laundry, and apartments for refectory staff. [9] At its opening, approximately eight hundred guests came to survey the new building [10].


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The auxiliary refectory in Seabury Hall’s basement

During World War II, the Seminary’s resources, including students, and staff, were diminishing as members of the community were drafted and called to military service.  Hoffman Hall, among other campus buildings, were temporarily closed. During this time, students and faculty ate in an auxiliary refectory in Seabury Hall’s basement [11]. After the war the Seminary met “an unprecedented influx of students, many of them returning from battle experience” [12]. Dean Lawrence Rose worked to re-open and expand the Seminary’s services and dining resumed in the Hoffman Hall refectory.

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The interior of the refectory shortly after its opening, 1900

[1] Gerard R. Wolfe. A Guide to the Metropolis: Walking Tours of Architecture and History. New York: New York University Press. 1975. 227.
[2]Dawley, Powel Mills. The Story of the General Theological Seminary. New York: Oxford University Press, 1969. 133.
[3]-[4] Dawley 216-217
[5]-[6] Dedication of Hoffman and Eigenbrodt Halls. New York: General Theological Seminary, 1900. 2
[7] Dedication of Hoffman and Eigenbrodt Halls 62
[8] Dedication of Hoffman and Eigenbrodt Halls 3
[9]-[10] “Dean Hoffman’s Grand Design.” New York: General Theological Seminary, 1988. 13-15.
[11] Dawley 346
[12] Dawley 356





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