The Michael & HWS Era, 1974–1986
For the next twelve years, from 1974 to 1986, The Twin Oaks continued to be a social center of campus under Frank Michael, but all things must come to an end.
Three factors led to the eventual closing of the Twin Oaks: problems with nearby residents, the desire of the Colleges to have a proper entrance to campus, and the raising of the drinking age from 18 to 21.
A busy bar in the middle of a residential area often led to problems. There had been complaints from neighbors about noise and drinking on the street since at least 1975, and in 1976, Frank Michael was denied the license to expand the building by the Ontario County Planning Board. His request brought “strong opposition from some neighbors unhappy with what they called restaurant generated ‘noise and clutter.’”
These tensions came to a head in the fall of 1980, as the residents of Pulteney Street attempted to sue the Colleges over the behavior of some students.
They complained of yelling, fighting, vandalism, and theft as students returned from The Oaks late at night. One resident claimed that she was required to call the police up to four times a night each weekend.
Around the same time, the Colleges hired site planners and architects Zion & Breen to study campus and suggest improvements. The firm wrote in the winter of 1980, "The present entrance to the campus from Hamilton Street is highly inappropriate—a small side street lined with a motley mixture of residential and commercial structures. Especially unattractive is the small restaurant-bar fronted by a weedy parking lot.”
Both of these problems were solved in 1981, when the Colleges bought the Oaks, 81 Hamilton, as well as 8 other properties on Hamilton and Pulteney Streets, including the homes of the litigious neighbors. Eighty-one Hamilton, the Twin Oaks Condominiums, was demolished and the Oaks was leased to Michael on a year-to-year basis.
The Colleges initially intended to demolish the Oaks and build an inn or hotel, but these plans languished for a few years without materializing.
During these years, there was constant speculation about the closing of the Oaks. “Save the Oaks” t-shirts were made and rumors about its impending destruction were printed in the Herald.
In 1985, the drinking age was raised from 18 to 21, effectively eliminating half of the Oaks business. The Colleges chose not to renew the lease with Frank Michael, the Twin Oaks was closed, and its contents were auctioned off. Oaks beer mugs soon appeared for sale in the Herald for only $10.
The building was demolished on July 28, 1986.
The corner where the Oaks once stood was landscaped and a berm was built and planted with trees. In 1990, the Colleges’ sign, a gift of Douglas F. ’51 and Anna T. Miles and the classes of 1988 was installed.
The Twin Oaks continues to be loved and remembered by generations of Hobart and William Smith students. It is honored by the Oaks Tent at reunion each year, where the restaurant’s iconic sign frequently makes an appearance.
In September 1986, Elizabeth Foy, editor-in-Chief of the Herald wrote the following as part of a larger editorial about the demolition of the Oaks:
The Oaks was a place for the students to get away from campus, even if the geographical distance was less than 100 feet from actual H&WS turf. Once inside, the academic pressures virtually receded into some far away abyss. Of course no one can deny the fact that the Oaks was a bar. Utter libation was a frequent endeavor encountered by many hapless students. But the Oaks was much more than that—not just an ugly building on a street corner with floors turned spongy from too much spilled beer. The Oaks was, for all intents and purposes, a "happening."