The south end of the UVA Lawn at night
Lifetime Learning

“Old Dorms” Made New at McCormick Road

Flashbacks of first-year life in the Old Dorms may conjure images of sultry rooms and greasy food runs to The Castle. Change has come to McCormick Road, and the transformation continues. Gay Perez, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and Executive Director of Housing and Residence Life at the University of Virginia, shares details about the first renovation of the Old Dorms since their creation in the 1950s.

If you have ever lived in – or visited—the Old Dorms, Lifetime Learning wants to hear from you! Was you window fan on full force? How about that pay phone at the end of the hallway outside the group bathroom? What music was blasting out your window? Share your best–and worst–memories of the Old Dorms!


“Old Dorms” Made New at McCormick Road

A critical aspect of Housing & Residence Life’s work to create open and welcoming on-Grounds communities is identifying and pursuing housing renovation projects. We are constantly in the process of improving comfort and access in our existing student housing, simultaneous with embarking on new construction that will expand our housing inventory. The University’s first-year “live-on” requirement makes these efforts necessary as we support a growing number of enrolled first-year students, and seek to offer second- through fourth-year students convenient and competitive choices for housing as they progress through their studies here. Project examples range from recent refurbishments to our Gooch/Dillard suite-style housing to a brand-new, six-story building on Brandon Avenue that will offer upper-class apartments beginning in 2019.

Kent Dorm by Richard Dizon, Cavalier Daily

Perhaps the most anticipated project has been the renovation of “Old Dorms,” our first-year residence halls on McCormick Road. Constructed between 1946 and 1951 to fulfill a need for additional post-war student housing with the passage of the G.I. Bill, these buildings have long been popular for their location close to Central Grounds. Among a handful of non-air conditioned residence hall buildings (surviving a Virginia late summer there can almost be worn as a first-year badge of honor), the sense of history and place is palpable – which perhaps explains why, when the time came to address the McCormick Road Residence Area, both current and former residents indicated a strong desire to renovate the current structures rather than demolish them in favor of new buildings.

Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications

Beginning in the summer of 2017, Housing & Residence Life embarked on a project to modernize the McCormick Road residence halls, with the work divided into three phases. The first three buildings in the project — Bonnycastle, Kent, and Dabney – were completed in August 2018, and members of the Class of 2022 were the first to move into these new versions of “Old Dorms.” Page, Emmet, Echols, and Humphreys are currently under renovation during the 2018-2019 academic year, and the third phase in Lefevre, Metcalf, and Hancock will complete the project by August 2020.

McCormick Road move-in day by Kristen Gleason

In addition to the long-awaited arrival of air conditioning, the renovated residence halls feature lounges, studies, and other community spaces; elevators, televisions, and monitor signage; and new visual identity for the area conveyed in environmental and wayfinding graphics placed throughout the buildings. When complete, McCormick Road will house approximately 60 more students, with a total occupancy of 1,390 students and resident staff.

The Castle corner by Clark Nexsen
Castle interior by Kristen Gleason

Bonnycastle, Kent, and Dabney were not the only makeover subjects this past summer at McCormick Road. Modernizing Bonnycastle meant a similar opportunity for the much-beloved greasy spoon, The Castle, which has also been reimagined. Along with a contemporary wraparound patio, sleek new interior, and copious amounts of natural light, The Castle now features a new “plant forward” menu of creative salads, grain bowls, and paninis, including options with chicken. The change in fare has been a hot topic since its announcement, with many reminiscing over shared memories of fried food and late nights. That said, a recent lunchtime visit to The Castle saw full tables – both inside and on the patio – of current UVA students enjoying the food, the redesigned space, and each other’s company.

The 2018-2019 academic year is history in the making for the first-years in the Class of 2022 who are living at McCormick Road. For one year only, these students are bridging the old and the new. Those living in Hancock, Metcalf, and Lefevre are the last who will live in these historic buildings as they were originally created in the 1950s, and residents of Bonnycastle, Dabney, and Kent are the first to experience the renovated houses. All will take away enduring memories of their first year at UVA.



We appreciate your comments. Thank you for sharing your memories of the Old Dorms!


Thoughts on ““Old Dorms” Made New at McCormick Road

    August in the Old Dorms was a hot and sweaty experience. The Who and Earth, Wind & Fire came blaring out of open windows, and room doors, before the days of high security, were open to passers-by in the halls to encourage drop-in visits. The inhabitants of the room closest to the pay phone had a busy job on Sundays when parents would make their once per week calls to their first-years. Our names would be yelled for everyone to hear, and we would come sprinting down that long, straight hallway to claim our ten minutes on the phone. Then back to our stuffy rooms we would go, waiting for autumn air to allow us to put our fans under our beds–until May.


    I spent 2 years in the old dorms ( which were new dorms at the time). First year in Dabney, the second in Bonnycastle. Because most of my classes were in Thornton
    Hall, these dorm rooms were a godsend. I had more meals at the Castle than elsewhere.
    Think of the convenience of dropping down from my room in Bonneycastle, regardless of the weather, for a meal. ( The hamburger steak platters were the best.)
    I never understood tearing down a perfectly good building..Renovation was the obvious answer.


    Hi I have a daughter coming in August to Dabney, and the thought of community bathroom is scary to her, she is thinking about others being clean and germ frrr


    I lived in Lefevre House (rm. 202) during my first two years and in the basement (rm. 08) of Echols House during my third year. While living in Lefevre, I worked at the student-run radio station (WUVA) which was located in the basement (very convenient!). My late-night snacks (WISE potato chips and a chocolate shake) were usually taken at “The Castle.” I don’t remember my room in either Lefevre or Echols being particularly hot (never had a fan in the window), but I was never there during the summer months. I remember the telephone which was located at the very end of my hall(s) but don’t remember it ringing a lot. Living on McCormick Road was very convenient to Thornton Hall where I labored for five years in the civil engineering program. Many Monday mornings, on my short walk to Thornton Hall, I would often see a bicycle which someone had hung high up in a tree! Ahhh…. those good ol’ days of WAH-HOO-WAH! 🙂
    Bob Corder, Engr. ’63/LM


    I have a daughter coming August, and really did not want community bathroom and now she has to share with 45 other young ladies is there anyone the checks to make sure it is clean


    I lived in the old, old navy barracks on Copley Hill in 49-50, while the “new dorms” were being built. We were told they would be torn down as the new dorms opened in september. Being full of energy we decided to start the demolition a little early. Instead of bothering to go out in the hallway we commenced to just go through the walls. When september came around the new dorms were not complete and I don’t know what condition the rooms were in for the fall semester. Stupid kids!!


    I lived in Metcalf (room 108) my first year at U.Va. ’85-’86. The walls were painted cinderblocks that did not readily yield to tacks or nails. This was before Command Strips were invented. I can definitely remember brutal days & nights in late August and through most of September, when the lack of AC was a major issue. That was especially true because everyone was running multiple fans at full speed, which then blew out fuses.

    The bathroom was also an issue, because if someone flushed a toilet while you were showering, all the cold water disappeared and you got scalded. There was only one shower head that was not affected. You could always tell which one it was, because the person standing underneath it would be the only one not screeching from pain when a toilet was flushed.

    Even so, I have very fond memories of my “first-year experience” — and U.Va. in general. I did my undergrad and medical school training there and am so glad that I did.


    3rd floor Boneycastle in 1956. Great memories for me.


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