For months LouAnn Lamb’s office has held a standing audience of young twentysomethings, some dressed in bell-bottom jeans and corduroy vests, many with feathered hair and platform shoes.
All of them in life-sized cutout form.
Lamb, the university’s marketing director for business services, is charged with rounding up the nostalgia for what has been referred to tongue-in-cheek as “the last supper” at UNC Charlotte’s Residence Dining Hall.
She has pored over vintage yearbooks to create memory-tugging displays throughout the dining hall, whose days are numbered.
RDH, built in 1970, will serve its last meals April 28 through May 1. Each day of its farewell week will have a different event, from throwback dinners reminiscent of the 1970s to the final Fried Chicken Thursday, a longstanding RDH tradition.
After that, the old building will be replaced by a new state-of-the-art dining hall in the South Village.
Until then, Lamb and plenty of others who sat in the cafeteria as students, gulping down mystery-meat patties and heaping piles of mac-and-cheese, are determined to give the old dining hall a proper farewell.
“Just because it has run its course and its time has come doesn’t mean it didn’t serve its time well,” said Lamb. “We want the students to have a context for it. There are a lot of memories there.”
Lamb, for one, had her first date with her future husband in RDH back in 1974.
“It was during steak night,” she said. No one was ever late for steak night, she recalled.
More than a cafeteria
For many, RDH tables were where their first meals away from home were served.
In the 1970s, UNC Charlotte was known more as a commuter college, with just a few dorm buildings, situated in farmland that was miles away from downtown Charlotte.
“Everyone would leave except for the people who were bound to be there,” said Bruce Keith, a retired architect in Charlotte who arrived at the university from Pennsylvania in 1976 at age 17. “The dining hall was the place. In a sense it was the place of misfit toys.”
More than a cafeteria, it was the main social hangout, too. The dining hall’s basement housed a coffeehouse called the Ratskeller, which hosted unknown, up-and-coming comedians and musicians on their way to fame.
“We saw Steve Martin for a dollar,” Keith said. “It was right about the time he started out on ‘Saturday Night Live.’ ”
Robin Williams once performed there before he landed his breakout role on “Mork & Mindy,” and Paul Simon was known to stop in from time to time for a set.
What’s next for RDH
Officials are still figuring out the next purpose of RDH – the 38,000-square-foot building is still structurally sound.
“We’re studying what to do right now,” said Keith Wassum, associate vice chancellor for business services. “It could be torn down for a future housing site, or it could be morphed into a couple of different things we’ve been talking about.”
The South Village Dining Hall, a 56,000-square-foot facility that sits 75 yards from RDH, will open in late July. Part of the South Village concept, the dining hall will connect to several residential buildings. It will offers an Asian station, Italian ovens, a diner, a deli, a bakery and an outdoor terrace.
It’s a far cry from the cooked-in-the-back, slung-in-the-front, old-school cafeteria style of RDH.
“I remember when they put in a griddle,” Lamb said of the kinds of innovation that caused a stir back in the 1970s. “Oh, my God, we thought we’d died, that we could eat burgers.”