Good ol’ Gateway
Back when UCI opened in 1965, the first Anteaters were eating burgers and steaks in Gateway Commons, the former cafeteria now known as Gateway Study Center.
Instead of being one of many places to study on campus, this was, in fact, the only place to eat at UCI once upon a time. Unlike the university we know today, there were no dining options like the Student Center, Phoenix Food Court or BC’s Cavern Food Court, Mesa Commons, Brandywine or Pippin.
Gateway Commons was also referred to as Commons. Commons was a popular spot for many Mesa Court residents to mingle and eat with their friends when, at that time, the Middle Earth housing community did not exist. Mesa students used meal cards and even students not living on campus had the opportunity to stop by and pay cash for a hot and filling meal.
One such student named Dave Tomcheck attended UCI from 1966 to 1969 and was a regular Mesa visitor to Commons. After graduation, he worked from 1969 to 2010 on campus. One of his positions included the Associate Executive Vice Chancellor for Provost.
He remembers the cafeteria serving breakfast, lunch and dinner and that the food was set out in a “U” shape in the back of the main room with the cashier.
“Saturday dinner was the best meal of the week,” Tomcheck said. “A lot of times you had access to a steak. A lot of the time I was hungry, so the commons was a great deal. It was a very small population back then, so you’d sit down with people you knew.”
Tomcheck also talked about The Cave, which was a popular late night hangout spot on the ground level of the building that opened after Commons closed at 8 p.m. He said students had access to booths and machines that sold items like sodas, candy bars and sandwiches.
Commons was one of the eight original buildings constructed in the “brutalistic” tradition by campus architect William Pereira. Brutalism is a Modernist architectural movement which sought “to stretch the technical limits of ‘brute’ materials,” according to writer Rachel Sandoval for her commemorative work, “Designing UCI.” Like his predecessors, Pereira favored concrete as a construction material.
Director of Facilities and Space Planning at UCI Libraries Bruce Bromberger says that the expression “eyebrows” on the upper windows of these buildings is an indicator that it follows Brutalist structure, as the windows contain prefabricated concrete.
Bromberger said that cafeteria seating was located in the main space of the second floor, and just beyond that in the underbelly stood the serving lines. Behind the wooden panels right above the underbelly were the staff offices. The back area used to house the kitchen, equipment and preparation area, but it is now the study room section of Gateway Study Center.
Later, the library took up part of the space of the second floor portion for study space, while the back part of the cafeteria still housed the old kitchen equipment.
Then, in 2008, Commons began transitioning into a study center. The libraries completed a phase I renovation, which focused on the front area of the cafeteria, where they put in fresh paint, new carpet, soft seating, study areas and computer stations where students could work.
Phase II renovation began in 2009 and involved the back kitchen area where the libraries worked with University Project Management. They put in 13 study rooms there.
As for the outside of Gateway, it hasn’t changed much. The balcony area surrounding the building was cleaned up some, Tomcheck said.
Gateway today is primarily a study space for students. Not only is it a designated Quiet Zone area, but it is open 24-hours pre-finals and finals week.
While physical book collections are not necessarily growing as much in the libraries, said Bromberger, student study needs may demand more congregational areas like study rooms and soft seating than before.
“I think it’s a great use of space,” Tomcheck said about the transition from cafeteria to study center. “It’s a place where people can go to study and connect with friends. It’s an important place for off-campus students to go.”