Sunday, July 22nd, 2018

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Oberlin’s New Motto: Live, Learn and LEED







“The Hotel [at Oberlin] is evocative of a tree house,” notes Erica Todhunter, general manager of the Hotel at Oberlin and our tour guide through this sustainably built accommodation at the corner of College and Main streets. The Hotel was constructed to qualify for LEED platinum certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. Platinum certification is the highest designation given to structures built to use less water and energy, plus reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


I’m more of a classical architecture fan. Walking into the Hotel’s open lobby with the sun bouncing off famed artist Maya Lin’s (Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial) beaded installation quickly changed my mind. It was mesmerizing. The free-standing bar that separates the Hotel’s 1833 Restaurant (the year Oberlin College was founded) from the rest of the atrium-esque lobby was inviting. It seemed even more so when we saw a man dining there flanked by two fascinated (at least by his food) golden retrievers he was carting back to Philadelphia. He mentioned he drove 60 miles out of his way to find a hotel that would take his well-mannered canines.


“There are seven miles of piping throughout the Hotel,” Todhunter explained. The Hotel is one of the first in the country to use geothermal, radiant and solar heating and cooling. Indeed, when the light’s right, visitors can see the cooling and heating tubes under the lobby’s floor. It’s demonstrable evidence of the town’s environmental commitment. (The Oberlin Project aims to make Oberlin a “climate-positive” community by switching the city and College to renewable energy sources and radically reducing carbon emissions.)


Environmentally correctness aside, the Hotel’s sleek beauty is omnipresent.

The rooms are spacious and the Peter B. Lewis Ballroom incorporates lots of natural light and shades to control temperature while offering elevated views of Oberlin’s verdant Tappan Square. I could go on for days about the clever design aspects, but really the best thing is that it’s in Oberlin, one of Ohio’s most charming college towns with a tradition of progressive thinking and outsized entertainment options. My husband and I visited on a muggy weekend in July, so the town was more tranquil than usual. Still, it exuded a youthful aura that proclaims, “We keep learning in every season.”


When we went in search of ice cream, we found a queue of boisterous teenagers at Cowhaus Creamery and discovered it was the final recital weekend for Oberlin’s annual summer Credo Music Festival. Musically talented adolescents from around the globe attend this chamber music training camp at the highly regarded Oberlin Conservatory.


The campus boasts several buildings by famous modern architects, including Hall Auditorium by Wallace Harrison who worked on the United Nations complex and Lincoln Center. (The similarity of the Auditorium’s exterior to Lincoln Center’s “skin” brings an immediate nod of recognition.) The Hotel’s friendly staff suggested we take in a free play at Hall Auditorium, home to Oberlin’s Summer Theater Festival. But “Barefoot in the Park” isn’t one of my favorites and we had the good fortune of a friend arranging a tour of the Allen Memorial Art Museum by its Director, Andria Derstine. So we marched towards the imposing Renaissance-style Allen.


Dorm Décor Extraordinaire

“It’s among the top five art museums owned by American colleges and universities,” Derstine said when we asked how the Allen compares to other college museums such as Harvard’s Fogg Museum and Bowdoin College’s Museum of Art. It’s unusual to have “memorial” in an art museum’s name, so Derstine related the story of its namesake’s (Dudley Peter Allen, class of 1875) death at the Waldorf Hotel before the museum was built. Dudley married Cleveland’s Elisabeth Severance and became a surgeon. Both of them loved art. At one time Oberlin College produced lots of Asian missionaries who collected art, then gifted it to the College.


One prolific collector, Charles F. Olney–who loved the College’s “ethos”–donated some 8,000 objects in 1903. Dudley and Elisabeth decided the College needed an appropriate venue to display these treasures.


While the Allen doesn’t have a huge collection (about 15,000 objects) compared to municipal museums, Derstine describes it as an “encyclopedic collection” that currently engages five curators: Asian, Modern and Contemporary; European and American (pre-1900); a curator of Education and of Academic Programs. The Education and Academic Programs curators insure the Allen plays a vital role in every student’s experience. Derstine notes, “Classes of all kinds visit.” When my husband asked if the Allen’s venerable Art Rental program still exists, Derstine assured us students may rent Lautrec, Picasso, Renoir and prints of other greats for $5 per work per semester to adorn their dorm rooms. Started in 1940 by Art History Professor Ellen Johnson, the program was premised on Johnson’s belief that “having good works of art in their rooms would have a health-giving effect on their thinking and feeling.” It’s still a big day on campus when Art Rental lines start forming.


Students have their favorite eateries and we inquired about a few. Ultimately, however, the lure of the 1833 Restaurant’s grilled peaches with burrata drizzled with an exquisite wine reduction sauce proved irresistible. Earlier, we’d met locally grown Chef Jim Barnhart, who worked in Florida, California and Spain after graduating from Lorain County Joint Vocational School’s culinary program. He advised us, “Don’t miss the grilled peaches.” As ecstatic moans rose from our table, Chef Jim said the key is perfect peaches from Grobe Fruit Farm in nearby Elyria. We didn’t have time to tour Oberlin’s Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Usonian home (also managed by the Allen), but we peeked in the windows before driving to Grobe’s farmstand to stock up on these giant juicy spheres.


So don’t wait until your teenagers are considering Oberlin College: Make it a weekend in one of America’s most interesting and sustainable destinations.


See, Art Museum) and for more information.



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