The Worst Idea Georgetown’s Ever Had: Property edition

This week’s “Worst Idea” covers two of Georgetown’s silliest property-related decisions: building Lauinger Library as a brutalist interpretation of Healy Hall, and selling WGTB’s radio license. We’ll keep the polls open for your votes until next week, when we’ll move onto the next round.

Lauinger Library

When visitors cross under Georgetown’s august front gates, they see one of the best prospy-traps in all of U.S. collegedom. The regal form of White-Gravenor, the picturesque front lawn, Copley Hall—DC’s most gratuitously castle-like dormitory—and the soaring Flemish Romanesque-style Healy Hall comprise an unbroken panorama of magnificent pulchritude. But, then there’s Lauinger.

Lauinger Library is ugly. Ugly, ugly, ugly.

Today’s “Worst Idea Georgetown’s Ever Had” isn’t really a contest. Heller is going to recall the egregious actions of a group of conservative blowhards who sold off a free-speech outlet and educational opportunity because they were—well, conservative blowhards. It was a terrible decision, but it didn’t put a hulking, concrete behemoth on campus that visually assaults thousands of students every day.

What’s more, the library’s interior is a wasteland of scarce electrical outlets, occasional WiFi, and battlegrounds for sub-par study spaces. And it’s sucked for a while; the administration promised, then failed, to expand the library in the 2000 Campus Plan. Sure, the inside is also home to some great stuff, such as the terrific archives and historical collections. But most students will never discover or use those resources, therefore students cannot possibly forgive this monstrosity for its miserable state of existence.

Ask any Georgetown student to describe Lauinger in three words, and they’ll probably say “ugly,” “cramped,” and some variation of “industrial-looking.” (Maybe they’ll mention the Soviet Union!) Georgetown has made a lot of wise property-related decisions (e.g. selling GU Hospital), but building Lauinger is not one of them.

—Molly Redden

Selling WGTB’s radio license for $1

Sorry Molly, but this is all about the money. Forget about how former President Fr. Timothy Healy thought of WGTB as “the great animal that doesn’t belong in the zoo.” Forget about the station’s many FCC violations, its extreme leftist sentiments, and its role as a musical trendsetter in D.C. and beyond. Healy’s decision to sell the WGTB radio license cost Georgetown millions of dollars.

That’s right … millions.

Sure, I could dredge up how Healy’s decision amounted to shutting down a partially student-run group. I could tell you how WGTB had 100,000 at the height of its popularity, or how the station’s listeners were so devoted that WGTB ran one of the region’s most successful pledge drives. But those aren’t the reasons why this is Georgetown’s worst idea ever.

Healy “sold” WGTB’s license to the University of the District of Columbia for $1. UDC sold the same license to C-SPAN for $25 million in 1997.

Enough said.


16 Comments on “The Worst Idea Georgetown’s Ever Had: Property edition

  1. It’s too hard to choose. Both of these were such irredeemably terrible ideas.

  2. wow…. definitely said this like 2 weeks ago. good to see you two are working hard at your jobs.

  3. So, this series is great, but it’s depressing me. What with the party policy and the loss of what sounds like the most kick-ass radio station to have at your University, it seems like the most badass days of GU are behind her and I’ve showed up for the quiet and boring times on campus (as a sophomore).

  4. Those who didn’t experience WGTB will never know what they’re missing, but generations to come will have to suffer Lau. “Worst decisions” don’t have to be judged solely on their monetary impact. They can also include the intangible effects of those decisions, which includes quality of life issues.

  5. Timothy Healy, S.J. was a old-style Democrat, and not a conservative as you recast the story. He cut off WGTB because it was running afoul of the FCC at a time GU was lobbying for federal funds and the station was no longer being run by GU students.

  6. God, Lauinger. We’re stuck with it now that it’s part of the historic skyline. STUCK WITH IT FOREVER, including those stupid pointy things at the top. True story, I was once in a class with a professor (whose name and even gender I will obscure for his/her protection), one rather familiar with art and architecture, who took the class over to the library one day and commented that the best views of campus were from the fifth floor windows, as it’s impossible to see Lauinger itself from them.

    Every Blue & Gray tour guide makes jokes about the library. Every unofficial tour guide makes jokes about the library. Every student with a friend visiting makes jokes about the library. I once helped a lost grad student find his way about campus, and he made a joke about the library. Selling WGTB came at a huge financial loss, but at least it made sense. Lauinger’s architectural design makes no sense whatsoever.

  7. I’m afraid I must disagree with your last sentence Molly. Apart from selling the hospital, Georgetown has consistently failed to make good property decisions. One field that both of you fail to touch upon is land acquisition. Georgetown had the opportunity to buy two very large and close chunks of property, and failed both times. I am talking about the cloisters, and the now-GW Mt Vernon Campus. (see the article linked to in Alum’s comment). It is unbelievable that any university in an urban area would fail to buy land right outside its gates, especially for such a reasonable price. Imagine having enough dorms to house all the students (not that this would change much re: ANC), or better yet owning our own Basketball arena, but no; $4.5 million is too much for those dreams. That was the worst idea Georgetown ever had. Period.

  8. Georgetown Univ is not about spending $, but about making $$$$$. $40,000 tuition (one of the nations highest), second highest room and board fees in the country.

  9. Ask the Special Collections Department:

    Georgetown actually got an AIA award for the design of Lauinger.

    The AIA was clearly smoking crack in the 70s.

  10. Well, there was no crack in the 1970’s, but point taken: brutalist architecture was popular among critics in that era. No one around then will admit to it today, of course.

  11. Glad to see the story of WGTB given more publicity. It’s true that its heyday might be over, but the only way the current station will approach the former’s glory is to actually have listeners. There are some great shows (georgetownradio.com), and the kids working for the station also organize concerts that you should check out.

  12. The WGTB decision has got to be worse. Lauinger, while somewhat dysfunctional and ugly, does its job. WGTB was a thriving and popular student institution that the administration, instead of trying to work with, killed, not to mention did so at a $24,999,999 loss.

  13. The Cloisters was not a failed property acquisition, it was a piece of land *given* to Visitation to expand their playing fields. The good sisters decided to sell it for a profit to developers.

    The Car Barn was, however, a failed property acquisition; it is currently being leased for more than it would have cost to finance. Go GU!

    And then of course the old public school near Booey’s, totally blanking on the name — purchased to become admin offices, neighborhood stomps feet, GU backs down and sells it for a song to condo developers. Yay neighborhood relations!

    Lauinger, on the other hand, is a gorgeous piece of Brutalist architecture with amazing symmetries with Healy and the National Cathedral, and is not the type of thing to be appreciated by the artless narrow-minded Lacoste-wearing apparatchiks that make up the university’s undergrad population. I am sure some kind of gross overwrought arriviste collection of stone and spires would have been more appreciated.

  14. Pingback: Vox Populi » The Worst Idea Georgetown’s Ever Had: Wild card edition

  15. I completely agree with the comment about the Mount Vernon Campus. It is significantly closer to Georgetown than it is to GW, and it was offered to Georgetown. When alumni gripe about bad financial decisions by GU, this one ALWAYS comes up.

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