Curtis Roosevelt to Speak at Harvard’s FDR Memorial Lecture & Dinner


too close to the sunCurtis Roosevelt, FDR’s eldest grandson, will give the Third Annual FDR Memorial Lecture at 4 PM, February 27, 2010, at Adams House. His topic will be his new book, Too Close to the Sun: Growing up in the Shadow of My Grandparents, Franklin and Eleanor. Mr. Roosevelt, now 79, will be traveling from his home in Provence to speak to us.  First -grandchild “Buzzie,” as he was known, was quite a celebrity in his own right, having spent a large portion of his formative years in the White House, and this will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear FDR history from someone who knew FDR intimately.  Dr. Cynthia Koch, Director of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum, will also be joining us for the festivities, and will be introducing Mr. Roosevelt.

Some other plans still in the formulation stage:

• a pre-dinner cocktail reception and book signing with Mr. Roosevelt.

• a live auction to benefit the FDR Suite Foundation.

• a gala dinner dance with the Bo Winiker Orchestra, Boston’s premiere big-band. This year’s theme will be “FDR’s White House. ” The dinner will be based on a State Menu from the 30s, and we’ll be counting up the years musically from 1932-1944, so get out those dancing shoes! Plans call for current Adams House students to join us for dancing from dessert onwards, and we’ll be doing ballroom refresher classes at the House on several nights prior for those of you (like me) who may want to get those foxtrot and swing steps in shape.

For non-resident guests, or for locals who simply would like a romantic weekend in town, I’m arranging two special packages: one at the Charles Hotel (a few blocks from Adams),  for those of you who prefer to be nearby, as well as at Boston’s newest luxury hotel, The Mandarin Oriental, for anyone who might want to come a night early, catch a show, shop Newbury Street, or simply indulge in the Mandarin’s 16,000 square foot spa. I hope to have details on all this, with pricing and reservation information,  here on the blog within the next two weeks.

So, in short: save the date for a real bit of history!  SATURDAY 27 February, 2010, starting at 4 PM


Piano Found! Donors…. still at large.


We’re thrilled to announce we’ve found the perfect piano: a pre-1900 Ivers and Pond, about an hour and half west of Boston:

piano

This old girl is in wonderful shape for 110! Cabinet lovingly restored. Ivories all perfect. Quite a grand dame, in fact. She was played daily by a little old lady (I kid you not) on the North Shore until her death in 1990, and since that time has sat used, and untuned, in West Brookfield, MA. Thanks to the generosity of Harvard Piano services, who’ve donated their time to vet the instrument, we have a clean bill of health and can proceed to purchase. To date, we’ve had pledges amounting to $1250 towards the $4500 total required to buy & transport the piano to Cambridge, as well as to repair some minor damage to the mechanism.

Any takers for the remaining amount? I’ll throw in a free serenade in my best PBS baritone next time we meet for anyone who helps us close the gap.


Annual Membership Perks


A rare survivor: the wooden pull chain toilet in the FDR Suite. The bathroom requires a lion-share of repairs: decades of water damage have weakened the surrounding plaster.

A rare survivor: the wooden pull chain toilet in the FDR Suite. The bathroom requires the lion-share of structural repairs: decades of water damage have weakened the surrounding plaster, necessitating a complete renovation to preserve the historic fixtures.

We’re making a major, two-pronged fund-raising drive this month: first, we’re knee-deep in the process of applying for corporate and foundation grants for the Suite, and we’ve had some traction: a $50,000 pledge which I’m hoping to be able to announce publicly sometime later this month. This comes on top of generous donations by Wolf-Gordon, Inc. to recreate and provide historically accurate wallpaper for the suite free of charge; and pro bono legal services to set up Foundation’s tax free status by our friends at Ropes and Gray. Together these two donations come to many tens of thousands of dollars, and we are extremely grateful. Shawmut Construction, in the person of their chief preservationist Carl Jay, has also been extremely generous with architectural and construction advice.

All of this leads to the second part of the equation: our supporters (read: you). I would like to encourage you to help out by becoming annual members of the Restoration. Even with the pledges I just listed, we still have over $200,000 to raise in order to fully fund the Restoration and our planned scholarship efforts. In order to encourage participation, we’ve added a series of incentives to our various membership levels:

Member (all dues annual)
$75
Supporter
$250
Donor
$500
Trustee
$1000
Angel
$5000

Members receive individual notices and invitations to private FDR events; 10% discount on all events; special members-only email notifications about all FDR Suite news and progress.

Supporters receive the above, plus 2 free tickets to the lecture portion of the Annual FDR Memorial Lecture & Gala Dinner; preferred seating at all FDR events.

Donors recieve the above, plus two free tickets to the gala dinner portion of the event.

Trustees receive the above, plus one free night (a $200 value) per membership year in the restored FDR Suite (subject to availability, and proof of Harvard affiliation; or by special permission of the Adams House Office or Masters).

Angels receive the above, plus 4 additional nights per membership year.

At the moment, only 5% of you are active financial supporters. Please help to the extent you’re able! To become a member, click here to print out a simple mail-in form. Also, if you’re aware of a private foundation or funding source interested in protecting our cultural heritage, please let me know and we’ll be sure to knock on their door. And for those of you who’ve already given, many thanks!

(IRS Notice: tickets, stays etc. claimed as a benefit of membership valued at more than $75 are considered by the IRS to be quid pro quo donations, and reduce the charitable deduction you may claim on your returns by the value of goods and services received. Values of tickets for events are published in the website; for tax purposes, stays in the Suite are valued at $150/night. For more information, please see this IRS publication.)


Additional Views of the Union


Many of you asked to see a bit more of the Union as FDR knew it, so here are some additional shots I was able to dig up in the Harvard Archives.

First, the basement plan I showed you before, though  this time with the complete rotunda area. FDR would have been quite familiar with this space, as not only were his Crimson offices next door, but the rotunda housed the ticket office for the Athletics office, the starting point for those all important football games.

unionbasement

Below, the first floor plan. Several interesting things here. Notice first of all, the separate entrance for ladies. (This by the way, has presented me with a bit of an historical puzzle, because if you go look at the old Union, it appears as if the door was on the other side. Of course I could be looking at it wrong. The facade has been altered several times.)

unionfirst

Where many of us will remember the kitchens and serving area, originally there was a restaurant dining room open to guests and alums, as well as an “athlete’s training table” where specially tailored meals were served for those in the rigor of sport pursuits. (What precisely they ate, given the nutritional mores of the time, I can but imagine: steak and eggs with cod liver oil?) Below, the dining room. The brochure advertising the Union (from which these pictures come) promises “excellent restaurant style fare and service” something “not always easily found in Cambridge.”

diningroom

Next, a view of the “living room” (McKim’s own term, and an interesting early usage) looking east. The dining room above is on the other side of the wall behind the fireplace at far end. In my day, a large door had been cut through linking the two rooms. Notice the TR chandeliers, as well as the elaborately molded ceiling. I’m trying to remember back, and I seem to recall that the medallions featured a design of interlocked “H’s”  and “U’s” This ceiling was completely destroyed when the room was carved up in the late 1990’s – a tremendous architectural loss.

livingroom

The second floor featured several interesting features: a ladies dining room, another billiard room, and the library and smoking room.

union2nd

Here’s the library, brand new and only half filled with books, just as FDR would have known it. (He served on the library committee and bought books for the collection.) Notice the statues of Victorian worthies, just visible on the top of each shelf. Later views show that this room had become almost a reliquary of white marble sculpture. It was from here, incidentally,  just a few years later, that T.S. Eliot borrowed a volume, Arthur Symons’s, The Symbolist Movement in Literature, which shaped his entire literary career.

libraryThe top floor featured guest rooms for visitors (sans private bath, as was the custom of the day) plus the relatively modest homes of the Harvard Monthly and Harvard Advocate.

union3rd


The Chest of 1900


February 22, 1900

At the last meeting of the University Council it was suggested that an attempt be made to bring together for the benefit of our successors at the close of the twentieth century, as complete a record as possible of the present daily life of the University….

Let each one during the month of March 1900 keep a careful journal of his daily doings, recording faithfully, and in as much details as he can, all that goes on from day to day, including his college work, his professional interests, his family relations, his amusements, in fact, all the elements of his life… Let him imagine that he is writing without reserve to some friend at a distance…in detail as vividly as possible, a picture of what is taking place…

It is proposed to add to the written narratives a comprehensive collection of photographs of places, buildings and rooms, and everyone is asked to contribute what photographs he can, particularly pictures of his home, both interior and exterior views…

These will deposited in a zinc-lined chest or chest, soldered up securely, locked by two different keys… to remain absolutely closed until 1925… with no general use of the records…earlier than 1960.

William Lane, College Librarian.

And so began the letter that saved the FDR Suite Restoration Project; for without this turn-of-the-last-century effort to compile a time capsule by the University, today we would have almost no knowledge of student rooms or student life of 1900. Fortunately for us, Lane’s call to arms, dubbed the Chest of 1900, was generally well received by staff and students: In response to this plea, Julian Burroughs, ’01, an avid member of the Camera Club, set off to photograph interior and exterior scenes of Harvard. These shots have provided most of the information on period furnishings and decor you’ve seen on the fdrsuite.org site, and form the base guide for our Restoration in absence of actual period photos of the FDR suite. In addition to this trove of pictures, the Chest also contains many volumes of journals, letters, diaries and other ephemera, which Nina Ranalli, one of our student researchers, is now sifting through to give us a more thorough picture of undergraduate life during FDR’s time at Harvard.

In looking through this invaluable collection, and realizing how completely we rely in it for information, two things immediately come to mind. The first is a prayer of thanks that responses like this one – also found in the chest – weren’t general:

no letter

Very truly? Hardly.

I’m afraid Mr. J Winthrop Platner, despite his grand signature (which is really swell!) loses that round to history.

Of course hindsight is 20-20.

But what of futuresight?

What’s truly scary is the realization that future generation of scholars won’t have the benefit of William Lane’s forethought. The University’s record of student rooms, for instance, is paltry for the period before 1900; occasional at best for the teens and 20s; a bit more flush from the 30s with the construction of the Houses; then it tapers off dramatically. The 70s and 80s are almost entirely blank.

The University too, is alarmed, and is actively trying to fill in the gaps (see below) though with what success I don’t know. With the FDR Suite, we’ve relied on the Victorians’ collecting mania, especially their fondness for scrapbooks. Without the various Harvard student scrapbooks stuffed full of theater programs, notices for athletic events, photos, ticket stubs, etc., we would very much out of luck.

What then is the permanent ephemera (if I may be pardoned that oxymoron) of today’s email age?

archives

I don’t know about you, but I’ve decided it’s high time to go through my files and dig out those old photos, letters and other bits and pieces from my student days, and send them off to the Archives. No one will see them for a while (the records remain sealed for your lifetime) but that’s just fine by me. If some future historian owes me the tiniest fraction of what I owe William Lane and his Chest of 1900, I will feel well recompensed indeed.

The FDR Suite Restoration at Adams is a self-supporting project, and advanced only through your contributions to the FDR Suite Foundation. Please consider giving generously to support our efforts.