Lathrop Brown, Long After Harvard

[For this this issue we’re delighted to have Pam Canfield Grossman, Lathrop Brown’s granddaughter, as guest author. – Eds.]

lathrop family

Lathrop Brown, Helen Hooper Brown, and daughters Halla and Camilla, about 1915

Questions about my grandfather Lathrop Brown and his life after Harvard keep surfacing in these pages, most recently concerning the Tin House at Big Sur. The life stories of Lathrop and Hélène Brown could practically be told as a succession of the houses in which they lived, nearly always at the edge of the continent. First on Long Island where Lathrop raised and raced horses [now the Knox School], then near the White House in Washington while Lathrop was in Congress and, later, when he was assistant to the Secretary of Interior. Afterwards they lived in Manhattan, then Montauk Point, and Boston. 

Saddle Rock and the Cove

Saddle Rock and the Cove

In 1924 they traveled to Carmel, California in search of a secluded site at the ocean. On a horse and mule trip to the Big Sur area they found Saddle Rock Cove where a waterfall poured over the rocky bluff into the Pacific. They purchased the adjacent 1800 acre cattle ranch and began a bi-coastal life, maintaining a residence in Boston as well as Big Sur.

THE BIG SUR & PACIFIC

The Big Sur & Pacific Railroad

The old ranch house at Saddle Rock was soon replaced with a new house built using the local redwood trees.  Electrical power was supplied by a waterwheel driven by the stream. In 1939 construction began on Waterfall House. Sited halfway down the cliffs from the newly built highway above and reached by a short funicular railway, it was a beautiful contemporary building, with gardens around the house and across Saddle Rock cove.

Waterfall House from the West

Waterfall House from the West

The Tin House, which the family called the Gas Station, was built in the mid 1940s high on the hills above Saddle Rock cove. It could only be reached by a rough dirt road climbing steeply up through the ranch to a bluff overlooking the ocean.

The house was actually constructed of materials from two abandoned gas stations and, oddly, had no windows facing the spectacular view. I have no idea why my grandparents built it.

The Tin House

The Tin House

The story that it was to be some sort of vacation retreat for FDR is pure fabrication. It was a small, primitive, and nearly inaccessible place, wholly unsuited to a wheelchair bound president. It has now fallen into total disrepair.

When Lathrop died in 1959, my grandmother left Big Sur and gave the ranch and the house to the state of California as the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. She wanted the house to be used as a museum and a center for local artists, and insisted that the house be destroyed if that was not possible. When funds for that purpose could not be found the house was bulldozed into the ocean below.

Pamela Canfield Grossman, Berkeley, California.

[There was one last amazing Brown housing project: at the time of Lathrop’s death, the Browns were in the process of converting a former Mississippi paddle boat into a winter home on Sanibel Island, Florida. It was never completed. For more on Lathrop’s fascinating life, see HERE – Eds]

FDR: A Life in Pictures

The Foundation is DEE-lighted, to borrow a turn from TR, to announce the publication of its new Roosevelt biography, FDR: A Life in Pictures.

front cover shadow 8.5

From the back cover:

“Lightweight yet Machiavellian. Frivolous but intense. Socialist and fascist. Devious yet charming. Communist while Caesar. Both traitor and savior combined. Rarely have such contradictory descriptions been attached to a single man. But at one time or another, each was tagged to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, perhaps the most influential political figure of the 20th century. Here for the very first time in one volume: a visual road map through the extraordinarily rich timeline of FDR’s life, charting step-by-illustrated-step his amazing progression from pampered youth to 32nd President of the United States. Meticulously compiled from more than 70 large-format, digitally restored period photos — some never before published, and most with extended captions — FDR: A Life in Pictures documents as no other book can the remarkable living legacy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.”

This 154-page volume features several newly discovered photos found in our archives, as well as a half-dozen full color spreads of the Suite. Three of these were recently shot for us by noted photographer Ralph Lieberman, who’s in the middle of a two year campaign to document the architecture of Harvard in conjunction with the Fine Arts Library and the Graduate School of Design. This is one of his great wide angle views, which finally shows the extent of the study.

2013 Suite 02 lieberman

This book has been a real labor of love, arising out of the hallway timeline exhibit I put together over the winter with my friend Dr. Cynthia Koch, the former director of the FDR Presidential Library and now public historian in residence at Bard College. The short story is that having spent a huge amount of time tracking down and digitally restoring so many fine images – and then researching and writing the extended captions –  I discovered due to limits of space we’d need to exclude dozens of important photos. So rather than limit the work, I expanded it, and decided to put the full range together in a book, and there you have it. This volume is particularly helpful for the Foundation, as not only does it expand awareness of the Suite and its activities, but it also goes a long way to placing FDR’s Harvard experience in the wider context of his life and presidency.

For now, copies are only available through Amazon or through us (Click here to order.). Proceeds, of course, go entirely to benefit the Foundation. So start thinking about that perfect gift for FDR fans on your list!

 

 

 

Books & People

“Books can not be killed by fire. People die, but books never die. No man and no force can abolish memory… In this war, we know, books are weapons. And it is a part of your dedication always to make them weapons for man’s freedom.” Franklin Delano Roosevelt

While many people are familiar with FDR’s philatelic fancies, few know that he was an ardent book collector from an early age. At Harvard he was the librarian of the Fly Club (a post not quite as arduous as it sounds, as presumably there was secretarial backup, but still important in the days before Harvard’s libraries carried any sort of popular reading: FDR was in charge of buying books for his fellow Club members.) He was also a member of the Union’s Library Committee, which at the time, housed Harvard’s principal undergraduate library, the equivalent of today’s Lamont. His notes and letters home are peppered with references to book purchases and in fact a principal impetus in founding his presidential library at Hyde Park (the first one in the country) was the sheer mass of material he had collected over the years, particularly on nautical matters, where his collection of manuscripts and prints was considered one of the finest in the nation.

To reflect FDR bibliophile tendencies, the Suite has slowly been collected books from the early 1800’s to 1904. This is not a quick process: not only do the books have to fall within a strict timeline, they have to represent books that FDR and Lathrop might have wished to acquire in terms of subject matter, and the quality of the volume itself. (No cheap books here.)  Additionally, we have to find books that are old, but still look reasonably new – it is after all 1904 in the Suite, and everything, with the exception of rare antique volumes, would have appeared fresh off the press, as it indeed they were.

This past winter, I and two student interns spent weeks inventorying the Suite, photographing each item, and selecting additional photographic views for the Internet museum we’re engaged in building. For the books, that mean choosing to highlight some of the internal illustrations. Today I thought I might share with you a few of the images that caught my fancy along the way. (Click on any to expand.)

The first three come from a grand leather-bound volume called Napoléon en Égypte; poëme en huit chants. (Paris 1829)

Here we have Napoléon waiting (impatiently) to disembark: (Note the barely detailed sailors on the deck below half-heartedly raising a cheer, also waiting to diseembark; reminds you of trying to get off the back of a packed 777 from coach!)

napolean

Encountering the wonders of the Egyptian desert:

desert

And perhaps my favorite of all, leading his troops past the pyramids.

pyramids

Here’s a delightful book given FDR’s Hyde Park associations: Summer Days on the Hudson (New York 1875) detailing a holiday up the Hudson, and showing the interior of Washington Irving’s study at Sunnyside. Amazingly, today’s visitor sees much the same view. (For those of you who haven’t taken the trip up the Hudson from New York to Albany (or vice versa) I highly recommend it. It’s a marvelous romp through some of the most beautiful countryside in the US and absolutely stuffed with incredible historic sites. Much maligned Albany and its wonderful museums is worth a couple days alone.) sunnyside
And how about lovely hand-tinted scene from Cape Cod by Henry David Thoreau? (It makes reading Thoreau, never one of my favorites, almost entertaining.) (Boston, 1896)

cape cod thoreau

And finally, a handy little volume donated by Steve and Susan Heard, the 1842 Massachusetts Register, which details, among others, a small college in Cambridge:

register

All I can say is, thank god Commencement is no longer held in the first week of August!

These books and several hundred more are now part of our growing on-line collection. It’s a huge project to digitalize them all, but we persevere, counting as ever, on your support.

Please help support the FDR Suite Foundation.
We exist solely through the contributions of our supporters and your our donations are tax deductible



 

Foundation to Publish New FDR Bio

We’re delighted to announce that thanks to a $20,000 donation from a supporter who wishes to remain anonymous, we’ve been able to bring two fantastic projects to fruition: The FDR Suite Timeline, and a new presidential biography, FDR: A Life in Pictures. Both are outlined in the short intro to our new book,  included below. The 150 page volume, which given its origin, pays special attention to FDR’s Harvard connections, should appear next month and will be available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and bookstores worldwide. Sales, of course, to benefit the Foundation, so start thinking Christmas and birthday gifts to your favorite FDR fan!

front cover shadow 8.5

From the Introduction:

The origins of this book are, like many I suppose, serendipitous. During visitor tours of FDR’s newly restored student rooms at Adam House, I noticed that many of our guests had questions as to where, exactly, the FDR Suite stood in the grand scheme of things. Did Roosevelt have polio when he was at Harvard?  Did we have pictures of the president as a student? How exactly did FDR get into politics? What were his later relations with the University? When exactly was he governor of New York? Wasn’t Roosevelt also the secretary of the navy before coming president? What about Sara? What about Eleanor…? Just enough time has passed since FDR’s death in 1945 to make the general outline of events slightly fuzzy for many, so I proposed building a simple illustrated exhibit in the hallway outside the Suite to place the restoration in the larger historical context of FDR’s overall life.

Simple. Yes, simple. That was the original idea. A quick, easy project. But there is nothing simple about Franklin Delano Roosevelt, his life, his family or his political career, and given that we only had ten feet of wall space to cover the events  of 63 eventful years, deciding which life moments were singular enough for inclusion became an almost impossible triage. I must admit to having felt rather daunted — that is until I had another grand idea, to consult my good friend and member of the Foundation’s historical advisory board, Dr. Cynthia Koch, the Past Director of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum at Hyde Park. Cynthia was kind enough to donate hours of her spare time to guide me through the thousands of pictures available from the FDR Library, and with her help and counsel, our exhibit was born. Still, there were so many wonderful images left over, so many interesting aspects of the FDR legacy necessarily left out, that I felt strongly we ought to combine our top selections into the volume you now hold.

This book is in no way meant to be inclusive or definitive; you would need a thousand pages for that, and perhaps still fail. What it is meant to do, and what I think it uniquely succeeds in doing, is to give a real sense of the multi-faceted richness of FDR’s life and times. In most of his biographies to date, illustrations are small and necessarily limited to a few pages. That’s a shame, as FDR’s life coincided with the great advance of photography that made it possible for the very first time to document events in actuality, rather than merely descriptively. FDR’s privileged childhood comes so much more alive when he is seen dressed in his perfectly tailored riding outfit, ready for the canter; the vivaciousness of his youth is immediately evident as a strikingly handsome FDR sits at the polished wheel of his sailboat, steps off a bi-plane or whizzes across the frozen Hudson in an ice-yacht; the inexperienced first-time candidate is amusingly revealed as he peers down his pince-nez; the boy-grown-to-man standing with a newly married Eleanor and — as always — mother in between, tells volumes; the travel-weary face returning from Yalta painfully etches in place the ravages of wartime office and responsibility. The Dustbowl, the breadlines, the wheelchair, the smoke over Omaha beach: these pictures speak as no words ever could.

To the 70-plus full-page pictures that form this extraordinary visual chronicle we’ve added explanatory captions, many extended, which attempt to give the reader some sense of how each photo relates not only to FDR’s life, but also to American history as a whole. Some of the images in this book have never been published; some have been published the world over; all of them are revelatory, a few extraordinarily so. None, however, are more extraordinary than the man we remember as Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and it’s my hope that FDR: A Life in Pictures provides a suitable tribute to one of the most remarkable figures of the 20th century.

New Views of the Suite, November 2012

I was at the Suite yesterday, the day after Thanksgiving, beginning what’s going to be a three-month intensive effort to catalog the objects in the collection for inclusion in our new Internet museum. I was working away contentedly at Lathrops’ desk for an hour or so, when just before twilight, I realized that for the last few minutes I had been idly eyeing the room. Perhaps it was Thanksgiving-dinner-post-partum, or else simply the distraction of the hour; whichever, I noticed that the late afternoon light was casting lovely patterns of sun and shadow about the room, and so decided my time might be better spent with a camera.

It’s been a while since we’ve taken still photos for the blog, and I think you’ll agree this was indeed the golden hour.

Above: craftsman Lary Shaffer’s latest and second-to-last last creation for the Suite, the new daybed, takes pride of place in the study. (Double click on any image to expand; these are but thumbnails.) Lary and I reverse-engineered this piece from a tiny, grainy photo over a period of six months, and I’ll be doing a future post on how this magnificent creation came together. In the meantime, it’s easy to appreciate how the rich walnut and plush fabrics add to the Victorian elegance (not mention comfort!) of the room – especially when you compare these views to those taken in April 2010.

Above: On the smoking table, young Frank at Groton, 1899, next to “Uncle Ned’s dog tobacco jar” and our collection of pipes.

The Atlantic of 1903, record-holder extraordinaire, looking ready to sail at a moment’s notice.

Our exceedingly rare John the Orangeman mug caught in a golden beam on the mantle. Immediately behind is a recently acquired etching of Harvard Yard in the 1840s.

Another mantle view, this time with the light catching our Harvard football mug, and the 1904 stein recently gifted to the Foundation, already looking right at home.

 

FDR’s desk glowing in the sunlight. When this inventory project is finished, you’ll be able to click on any of the above objects to learn their individual history, and how that particular piece relates to other pieces in the collections, as well as to the history of the Suite as a whole. For instance, that large volume sitting on top the revolving bookcase? That’s not just any book, it’s the 1900-01 bound edition of the Harvard Crimson, where FDR’s soon to become a reporter. And that young lady next to Eleanor, why that Alice Sohier and of course you know how that affair went…  Ah, and then there’s the elegant Half Moon II… How fortunate to have your own yacht in the harbor… Given that there are currently well over one thousand objects to classify and digitalize, this isn’t going to be the quickest project in the world, and we will require substantial help – in fact, thanks to a recent pledge of support, we’ve already hired two student researchers half-time during Harvard’s new Winter Session. But given how far we’ve come, I have no doubt we’ll get there, especially with help from viewers like you!

Come Make A Little History. Support the FDR Suite Foundation!