And On An Entirely Unrelated Note
In researching Chet Robinson’s history for the previous piece, I was investigating the private Stone School in Boston which he attended, and came across the following ad in something called “A Handbook of American Private Schools.” I simply couldn’t resist sharing this with you:
Now granted, the original idea here was to prevent tuberculosis. But can you IMAGINE sitting day after day in that unheated classroom? As much as we often like to romanticize the past, there are many times that I thank my lucky stars we live when we do!
Interior Design, and Redesign, Harvard 1900
Shortly after last year’s FDR dinner, I received an email from a certain Mr. Dave Robinson in Maine, inquiring as to whether or not we’d be interested in taking a look at some of the Harvard photos and ephemera he’d inherited from his grandfather, Chester Robinson, ’04, a friend and a classmate of FDR’s. I said certainly. Well, one thing led to another, I got busy, Dave got busy, then we made arrangements to get the materials scanned, then there was further delay, then mysteriously the ISB drive Dave sent me arrived empty: you get the general idea. Almost a year passed, and I still really hadn’t had a chance to see the extent of the collection.
The files arrived last week, and I opened them today.
Are we in for a treat!
Over the next few weeks I’ll be showing you more of the incredible treasure trove of material that the Robinson family has been kind enough to share with us, but let’s just say we’ve taken a major step forward in locating specific items to purchase or replicate. For now, I wanted to share with you these six photos, of Chester (Chet) Robinson’s rooms. They show Robinson and his roommate Goodhue’s bay-windowed corner suite in the old Russel Hall, a Claverly like building that stood where today’s Russell (C-Entry) now stands. What’s fantastic about these photos, (and to my knowledge unique in the Harvard collection) is that they show the same room from three views, with two different decorative schemes. Somewhere during their four years, the pair decided to redecorate, in keeping with the shift in taste that was occurring right around the turn of the century. Ornate Victorian styling was moving out, and what would become Arts and Crafts, and eventually, neo-Colonial, was beginning to take hold. What’s critical about finding these pictures, just as we are about to paper the FDR suite, is what it reveals about the wallpaper: we’ve been wondering whether or not our selection of solid silk papers for the bedrooms, as we had seen in the Vanderbilt Suite, was typical of the time, or merely the product of Vanderbilt’s elevated design aesthetic. No longer:
Here’s the window seat before. Note the rather frilly drapes, and the striped wall paper. Two Morris chairs, similar to those coming to the FDR suite, and again, all those Harvard pillows we see in many of the photos. Heaven knows where we will find or recreate those! And how’s this for bizarre coincidence: the view out the windows reveals Westmorly, and the windows of the FDR suite!
Now look at this: a much more distinguished arrangement, with a solid, silk like material on the walls, almost identical to what we were guessing for the FDR Suite bedrooms. YES! The name placards, by the way, are another typical element of Harvard student rooms of the period, though generally they are located over the individual’s bedroom door.
A view of the hearth before. Note the Meerschaum pipes (present in almost every room photo) and the beer mugs (another ubiquitous student item.)
Here’s the hearth view after: you can tell it’s years later from the medals now hanging from the pictures: these are club and sports member medallions, and Dave’s family still has many of them, as well as the picture of dear old John the Orangeman, just visible on the mantle behind the mugs to right.
The doors to the bedrooms before: the curtains over the doorways appear in many of the room pictures of the period, and seem very odd to modern eyes. Most bookcases had curtains as well, as shown in the picture two above this one – to keep out coal and wood dust from the fires.
The door view after: a much more civilized arrangement than the ad hoc day bed previously. Note the Crimsons hanging from a hook on the wall. In general, it’s surprising how much the decor has matured over the interval. One (or both) of these gentlemen had a very good eye!
All in all, these six pictures provide a wealth of invaluable leads as to what kind of items we’ll need to acquire for the Suite, and as well as confirming both our reproduction of the printed study paper, and use of solid silks elsewhere. They also remind us what we often forget: the past is not static, locked at a single point and place the way we tend to view it from photos. It changed and moved, just like the present. Something to keep in mind when re-creaeting a set of rooms occupied for four years by two men of maturing times and taste…
We are all hugely grateful to Dave Robinson and his family for sharing this amazing time capsule with us, and I look forward to sharing more of it with you, our readers, over the next month.
Curtis Roosevelt Topic Announced, and an Update
Curtis Roosevelt, eldest grandson of FDR and our guest speaker for the Third Annual FDR Memorial Lecture and Dinner has announced that he will be discussing Past as Prologue: FDR, Obama, and the Perils of First Year Politics. This looks to be a fascinating topic, and we are absolutely thrilled to have Mr. Roosevelt come all the way from France to address our gathering this year.
In terms of updates, tickets are now on sale online. Click HERE to order. Tickets to the Roosevelt table can only be obtained by calling the HBO at 617.496.2222. Announcement to the general alumni population, and to the population at large, will begin next week, so remember all tickets are first-come, first-served, and only 180 are available for the dinner.
Also, both the Charles Hotel and the Mandarin will close our their special rates the 27th of January, so anyone looking to make a night or weekend of it, please book now by clicking HERE
Finally, for those of you who know of, or perhaps even remember, how bad the food was at the FDR White House, and have expressed some concern on this matter, rest assured we’re cooking up a fantastic 5 course menu of Nouvelle American Cuisine, themed to State Dinners, past and present. This will be the one and only part of FDR’s past we’ll let sleep, and if the food is anywhere near as good as the fantastic meal last year, you won’t ‘be disappointed.
On a personal note, I’ll be heading off on a lecture tour next week until early February (yes, I do have a day job, lol) so things may be a little quiet here for a bit, and your correspondence may take longer to answer. But rest assured, preparations are well in hand, everyone at the Restoration is working away, and we are totally excited to welcome you all to Cambridge in February.
Advance Tickets for the 3rd Annual FDR Memorial Lecture Now Available
Curtis Roosevelt and FDR at Mt. Hood, September 1937
Good news! Advance tickets for the February 27th event will be available starting tomorrow 1/7/10 at noon EST at the Harvard Box Office. While online sales won’t open to the general public until the end of this week, you may order tickets by phone by calling the HBO charge-by-phone number (617.496.2222). I’ll post the web link when available. Keep in mind that seating is limited to 180 for the dinner, and thanks to the good folks at the Harvard Alumni Association, who are helping us publicize the event this year to the general alumni body, we hope to sell out fairly quickly, so please take advantage of this advance notice to you, our members and blog readers. (Those of you entitled to discounts must contact me directly for tickets: weishan at fas dot harvard dot edu.)
Also, just in time for April 15th: the IRS has officially granted the Foundation’s status as a public tax free 501(c)3 charity, so any contributions made in 2009 (and going forward, ahem! we still need your help!) are fully tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. We owe a HUGE round of thanks to Christopher Leich, Sara Schaffer Raux, and the entire team at Ropes & Gray LLC for their pro bono help on what turned out to be a fairly epic quest to incorporate the Foundation and set up the tax free status for our restoration and educational programs.
And finally, on the subject of donations, we’re currently soliciting contributions for our live auction during the FDR event. Non-tangible, transferable items such as vacation stays, donation of services, gift certificates, behind the scenes tours, celebrity meet and greets, club memberships, etc are ideal, so if you, or any or your acquaintances, are so generously inclined, we would be happy to receive your help. Plus it’s a great way to publicize your enterprise, and receive a tax credit to boot.
That’s all from a snowy and frigid Cambridge. More soon.
Christmas Revised: December 1900
Courtesy Harvard University Archives
When the streets of the city are whitened with snow
And windows coated with rime,
When the tree is awaiting its wonderful fruit,
And the bells are beginning to chime,
The children need listen no more in their beds
For the scampering runners of steel
And the reindeer of Santa Claus over the roof
For he comes in an automobile!
The poet no longer may sing of the bells
That glitter and jingle and shake,
The St. Nick of this year wears a rose in his coat
And sits with a hand on a brake.
Half tone and color page daintily drawn
In the holiday numbers reveal
A ruddy old gentleman booted and gloved
Who rides in an automobile!
From all of us at Adams House and the FDR Suite Foundation, to all of you:
the merriest of holidays and our most heartfelt good wishes for the New Year!
Lathrop Brown and FDR: Epilogue
Long before I had ever heard of the FDR Suite, I’d visited an absolutely spectacular spot on California’s coast. Located along Highway 1, just south of Big Sur, the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park boasts some of the most beautiful scenery in the nation. Face westward, and thousand foot cliffs drop off into churning blue seas, while behind you, redwood forests rise pacifically into the mountains. There’s even a waterfall, where a small stream catapults off the rock and onto the beach hundreds of feet below. It’s a perfect place to hike, picnic, or simply admire nature’s majesty.
The site is also interesting to history buffs. Home to some of the area’s earliest settlers, the land for the park was donated by a family who’d bought and ranched the property, building a series of successively grander houses perched on a point overlooking the ocean starting in the 1920s. The construction effort must have been nothing short of monumental: there was no Highway 1 at the time, nor anchorage in the rocky harbor. All supplies had to come over the mountains on mule train or unpaved track. By my day, the house was no longer extant – it had been bulldozed into the sea in the 60s when the State of California lacked funds to turn it into a museum – but bits and pieces of the gardens still remained, strange exotics poking through native coastal plants. An intrepid visitor can still sit where the grand old terrace once was, and on a clear day watch a vermillion sun sink through a mauve sky into a slate gray pacific. It’s a truly magical spot, majestically mournful, with a very special allure I’ve always felt keenly. Each time I was in the area, I made sure to find a few hours to wander around the park, resolving as I meandered to discover the name of the family who had been so drawn to this spot as to build a house here against such odds.
Of course, then I would return home to Boston, and amid the rush of quotidian living, forget, until next time…
Fast-forward a decade: Day one, minute five, of my involvement with the FDR Suite Renovation Project.
The scene: Judy and Sean Palfrey, Father George and I are sitting in the study of the FDR Suite. I’m looking around, awed:
Michael: Wow, so FDR really lived right here in Westmorly, eh?
Michael: Who knew? (We did, the Palfreys and Father George were thinking, but were too polite to say.)
Sean: That’s the problem. It’s a too-well kept secret. We need to get the word out.
Michael: I agree. Did he live alone?
Father George: No, there was a roommate.
Michael: Who was it?
Judy: Someone named Lathrop Brown. Friend of FDR’s, a congressman too, later.
Michael: Any other information?
Sean: That’s about all we know.
Michael: Hmmm. Lathrop Brown. Certainly doesn’t ring a bell. I’ll have to do some research.
So gentle reader: care to guess who donated the land for the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, and whose ruined house I had been so curious about all those years?
The plaque I'd missed on my travels...
And finally, at year’s end, as we contemplate indecipherables of past and present, a question: what odds might you have given that in eight thousand miles on separate coasts I would become intimately acquainted with two such tiny, but completely interrelated spots, so important to a single man of whom I’d never heard?
Personally, I wouldn’t have taken that bet in a million years.