By Danny Freedman, BA ’01
In 200 years, no GW touchstone even comes close. Not the appearance of President James Monroe and the Marquis de Lafayette at the first commencement or the hippopotamus outside Lisner; not the aura of the Tin Tabernacle or the patchwork athletic glories; not any mark of physical and academic manifest destiny.
None of them has become living legend quite like Thurston Hall.
For decades Thurston has been the magnet on the edge of campus that attracts as strongly as it repels. It is college concentrate: more than a thousand teens funneled into nine floors—mostly four to a room—all of them utterly on their own together.
“Thurston is a dorm of unending chaos, excitement, noise, people and frustrations,” as The Cherry Tree yearbook distilled it in 1978. While the mechanisms of those joys and pains may have changed, the feelings remain.
The building itself, originally the Park Central apartments, is nearly a century old. The university bought the building and in 1964 re-opened it as a women’s dorm, switching to co-ed in 1972 and, later, freshmen-only. Today it’s a structure that seems as if held together by cement and lore and smears of toothpaste reaching back to Lyndon Johnson’s administration, which plug a galaxy of pinholes in every wall.
It’s endured 56 years of far more waking hours than sleeping ones, a perpetual spasm of youth on an otherwise august street that dead-ends at the tip of the executive branch.
“I’m told that there are no windows or clocks in casinos in Las Vegas because they want people to have a sense of timelessness—just keep gambling,” former President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg told The Washington Post in 2007. “That’s sort of how it is in Thurston.”