The Hilltop’s Hidden Spaces
On a campus with 48 buildings dating as far back as 1850, there are always treasures that have yet to be discovered. On these pages we reveal 10 spaces that most people rarely see, but that serve important functions in the daily life of the college.
The Van Etten-Lacey House is home to the Center for the Literary Arts, where classes meet, student-lit mag staff pore over submissions, and guest writers conduct readings of their work. What isn’t as well-known is that down the stone steps and beyond the mechanicals room is the Washington Press Room, home to a Washington letterpress. When you open the wooden door covered in printed posters, you’re met with a sun-filled room, and suddenly you feel yourself transported back in time, where printing was an art form that required a hands-on approach. You feast your eyes on all the pieces used to create the inked indentations into the paper and remember the tactile experience of handling the papers used to create posters, cards, and books.
Cornell’s Mail and Service Center, tucked in the back of the lowest level of the Thomas Commons, is a spacious, well-lit area run by two full-time staff with nine students (including Lily Heinzel ’22, above). In addition to design and printing services, this team processes all incoming and outgoing mail plus approximately 27,500 packages a year. There are over 1,600 mailboxes, one for each student, faculty, and staff member.
A view of one of the mail center bays. There are over 1,600 mailboxes for Cornell students, faculty, and staff.
In the northeast corner of Allee Chapel is a qibla wall facing Mecca for Muslim prayer. This space was established by a local imam after two prayer rugs (one on the floor, the other rolled up nearby) were given by the mother of sisters Roshan Iqbal ’00 and Roohi Iqbal ’00. The nearby shelf holds resources to support a variety of traditions including Qurans, a book of common prayer, and Jewish prayer books donated by Temple Judah in Cedar Rapids. The chapel is open daily during the school year for individual meditation and group worship.
Once a coveted dorm space known as the Sky Room, the Scott Alumni Center’s Call Center is staffed by eight students who contact Cornell alumni and parents by phone. These student ambassadors log more than 550 hours a year, making 20 to 30 calls an hour. Last year they generated over $72,000 in gifts as they made personal connections with each donor.
Armstrong House is named for Cornell’s first Black graduate, Frank Armstrong, Class of 1900, and later a physician in Chicago. This older home next to campus houses six students, provides programming space for BACO (Black Awareness and Cultural Organization), and is a safe space for students of color. “The first floor is open to all students who may need time to get away from their roommate or a stressful situation,” says Anthony Pilgrim ’23, a member of BACO’s executive committee. From left: Kimberly Maitland ’24, Quelinda Matos-Joaquin ’24, Lena Cheatham ’24, and Anthony Pilgrim ’23.
Tucked away under Bowman-Carter Hall is the Cornell Purple Bike Shop. It’s easy to miss even with a welcoming bike tire wreath hanging on the window when the shop is open. Director of Campus Safety Mark Winder (at left) oversees the shop and the program that lets students check out a purple bike to take for a spin. It’s a bike library, of sorts. Need to store your own bike out of the weather? They do that too. Need your bike fixed? Student workers employed at the shop can take care of your broken down flat. If Winder spots students cruising (or crashing) their own bikes on campus, you can bet he will be tapping them on the shoulder and asking them if they want to work in the Purple Bike Shop.
Bicycles are stored and fixed in Cornell’s Purple Bike Shop.
College Archivist Meghan Yamanishi oversees the College Archives, a two-room, temperature-controlled space on the second floor of Cole Library. The space is dedicated to preserving Cornell’s history and its various artifacts, alumni memories, and faculty and administrative odds and ends. To say the Archives is eclectic is an understatement. If you enjoy the unusual, there’s a good chance Yamanishi has seen it and can locate it within her realm. Yamanishi has many favorite items in the Archives including Cornell’s less-well-known history, like photos and stories of Black students from the 19th century, a banister newel post with a hidden interior from an old boarding house in Mount Vernon, the many donated scrapbooks from alumni, and a stereograph photo viewer.
The press box at Van Metre Field at Ash Park was built in 1991 by Steve Miller ’65, Jim Wallace ’68, and Doug Van Metre ’50, and renovated in 2018. It is abuzz with gameday personnel for home football, track and field, and lacrosse competitions. Sports information staff, media, scoreboard and timing/clock operators, and an announcer (in this case, Zach Perry ’24) occupy the main level. The upper level includes coaches’ booths on the ends, with the center section used by home and visiting videographers. Photo by Ray Borchert ’24.
Students have had access to cadavers on campus since 2002, rare for a small college without a nursing program. In 2021-22 one female and one male cadaver were stored in a small room off the Kirkpatrick Anatomy Lab in Russell Science Center, and brought out during lab sessions. The cadavers are kept at room temperature and covered by towels moistened with embalming fluid. At the end of each year they are returned to the Deeded Body Program at the University of Iowa for cremation and a memorial service.
The only time you’ll spot all the facilities vehicles lined up at the Facilities Services building south of campus is when the staff ends their work day. From big projects to small items, a dedicated Facilities Services team builds, repairs, maintains, and answers the call across campus when and where they’re needed—no matter if it is a sunny, humid afternoon or an icy cold winter morning.
Do you have a hidden space in mind that we did not cover? Tell us about it by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org