From cognac to bouillabaisse, knockwurst to finocchi, the CBS cafeteria wall work of art celebrates the world’s culinary traditions and is as renowned as its visionary designer, Lou Dorfsman. Spanning 33 feet in length and inspired by a partitioned drawer known as a California job case that was designed to store movable type used in printing, the piece is a smorgasbord of carved words, spoons, canned peas, a recipe for escargots, an eggbeater from Dorfsman’s own kitchen and even a quote from Longfellow.
Lou Dorfsman with his wall in the CBS cafeteria, circa 1966.
The wall was completed in 1966 and installed at Black Rock – the CBS Manhattan headquarters designed by Eero Saarinen – in a cafeteria by Florence Knoll. As the interior designer, Knoll had originally specified vintage maps for the walls, but when Dorfsman pitched her his idea, she “absolutely flipped out” (we’re assuming in a good way).
For 25 years, designers studied and were inspired by this national treasure. Milton Glaser called it “a significant contribution to the history of graphic design,” and it’s shocking to imagine it being unceremoniously ripped down and thrown in the trash, but that’s what happened when CBS remodeled in 1990. Fortunately, the building manager at Black Rock called Dorfsman, who was then retired, and told him that the wall was being destroyed. Dorfsman immediately called Nick Fasciano, who rushed to CBS, saved the mural from the dumpster and trucked all nine panels to his Long Island home.
For the next 24 years, Nick stored the wall in his basement, including the letters, food items and even the carved bare feet crushing a bunch of grapes (imagine playing hide-and-seek in that basement). Looking for a home for the wall, Nick mentioned it to his neighbor Nick Valenti, who was the chairman emeritus of the The Culinary Institute of America, or CIA, and just happened to have an old photo of the wall in his office. Fasciano had found a fan – one who had plenty of, well … walls for the wall.
The CIA paid $75,000 toward the wall’s restoration – Fasciano spent five years replacing and repairing the letters and food reproductions – in exchange for having it permanently installed in the Marriott Pavilion conference center on their Hyde Park campus. The William S. Paley Foundation, named for the CEO who transformed the CBS radio network into a communications empire, donated the balance of the $100,000 restoration cost.
Sadly, Lou Dorfsman passed away in 2008 and did not see his wall fully restored and installed in February 2014. When the New York Times asked Fasciano what Lou would say about the wall, he replied, “Nick, the ‘w’ in ‘wheat’ is a little crooked.”
How to Visit Lou’s Wall
Located 90 minutes north of New York City, CIA is a small campus on the east bank of the Hudson River. Feeling a bit like Candy Land, you’ll travel on Sage Way, Parsley Place and Thyme Terrace while searching for the parking garage, being careful not to get lost in student dorms called Cinnamon, Cayenne and Ginger. Park at Anton Plaza and walk along the right side of Roth Hall to the Marriott Pavilion, where the wall is installed on the ground floor.
After satiating you appetite for great art, enjoy a nice lunch at the Apple Pie Bakery Café in Roth Hall. The spinach salad will change your life.
Culinary Institute of America
1946 Campus Drive (off Route 9)
Hyde Park, NY