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West Hall was completed in 1914 and named after Robert Haldane West who came to the Syrian Protestant College (now AUB) in 1884 to teach Mathematics and Astronomy. West also served as principal of the Preparatory Department, Director of the Observatory, Treasurer, and finally as Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences. So much for the name. West Hall is one of the buildings at AUB that has not changed its original purpose: student activities or a students' union. But many other things have changed over the past half century. West Hall was once the meeting place for dramatic entertainment both in English and Arabic. Student plays and shows were attended by the Ras Beirut community at large, not only by the parents of students who were performing.
Apart from University shows, plays were given by outside theater groups which often included AUB teachers, staff and students. The audience was made up of diplomats, businessmen, and occasionally members of government. Some of the plays were attended by the President of the Republic. In those days, gala opening nights were something special to see, with all the ladies in evening gowns and the men in tuxedos.
AUB had a Department of Music then and an orchestra was organized which included students and faculty members as well as musicians from town. The orchestra gave a series of classical concerts during the academic year. Again these concerts were open, as now, to all music lovers. Half a century ago, freshmen and sophomores had to attend Assembly at the West Hall Auditorium, while juniors and seniors went to Assembly at the Chapel. Assembly was at 8:30 a.m. and classes began at 7:30 a.m. (you had to get up early to acquire knowledge).
At that time West Hall Auditorium held about 500 people and there was a gallery as well as the main floor. Although the seats were wooden, most people managed to sit more or less comfortably. (Maybe people of half a century ago had a different constitution). Anyway the Assembly lasted for just under half an hour so students could get to their 9:00 a.m. classes on time.
Vesper services were held on Sundays and attended by all boarding students. But West Hall was not just for meetings and plays and concerts. On the upper floor, where the badminton court is now, and where Folk Dance Club members practice their steps. there used to be a roller-skating rink. In the center of the rink was an octagonal sky-light opening directly over the main staircase of West Hall. At that time girls were admitted only to the junior and senior classes in Arts and Sciences (and they were not many), and to the professional schools, so they were given preferential treatment. This is no longer the case today. The female population is nearly one half of the total and is treated on an equal basis.
From the top floor of West Hall we move to the basement, to spend an afternoon bowling. There were two alleys, continually occupied, with players practicing for the annual competition in hopes of winning a prize.
What else has changed since those days? Billiards! There were two
billiard tables - one for the four-cushion game, and one for snooker
(pool, pocket billiards). What do students do today instead of
skating, billiards, and bowling? They squat on the ground and play
cards. There were other things, too in West Hall which are no longer
there. In the area now occupied by the Office of Student Affairs and
the Bursary Office, both students and faculty had rooms where they
could relax, take a break, and have something to eat. For those who
visit the Office of Student Affairs now, the exact spot I am talking
about is where the Dean has his desk. The Soda Fountain and the
kitchen occupied the Student Affairs side, while the Faculty Lounge
and the Faculty Dining Room was on the Bursary Office side.
Created by the Digital Documentation Center at AUB in collaboration with Al Mashriq of Høgskolen i Østfold, Norway.
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