Recent Acquisitions and New Views of the Suite

My apologies for not posting any news for the last several weeks, but these have been busy, heady days. Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, we’ve been able to begin the process of furnishing the Suite, slowing rolling back the years to May, 1904.

I thought you might be interested in seeing some of the progress to date:


Above: the view of the study towards the French doors. To the far right, a wonderful brass period oil lamp (now electrified for safety reasons, as all our lamps are, but in FDR’s time, kerosene, as the electric outlet had yet to be invented)  sitting coyly on a period Gothic revival parlor table. The small antique settee, purchased at a local flea market for $400 as a temporary holder piece in lieu of a daybed, turns out to be a John Jelliff!, estimated to be worth ten times that amount. To the left of this remarkable find, a period marble topped sofa table, (quite rare for the time) and the two new Morris Chairs handcrafted by Lary Shaffer this past summer. On the mantel, medals on museum loan from the kind family of Chester Robinson, ’04 (that’s 1904 for all you newbies); along with an elaborate 1900 adamantine coffer clock (with a marvelously deep, resonant chime, bong, bong!) by Seth Thomas. Another nickel-plated oil lamp sits to the far left, and the dual gas/electric light fixtures, just restored from awful fluorescents, shine with their original Edison bulbs. The walls are still carrying their temporary coat of paint, as we’ve had yet another hiccup with the re-created wall paper. Once that’s resolved, we’ll start hanging pictures. Period draperies are also in development. The ornate little table between the windows is actually the sole piece of furniture in the Suite we can situate with absolute certainty:  “The book-case turned out to be just ½ inch too wide for the space, & it was the narrowest I could get. I have got a beautiful table & it looks very well between the two front windows.” FDR to Sara, 2.18.01. Ours looks “very well” too, don’t you think?


Here’s the view looking the other direction. Our recently restored 1899 Ivers & Pond piano (“Our piano is coming tomorrow, $40 for the year which is $10 off the regular price.  It is a very nice one and of good tone.” FDR to Sara 11.23.00) carries a collection of period prints, including a lovely Piranesi view of the Arch of Septimius Severus in Rome. Below the FDR Memorial plaque, dedicated by Eleanor in 1960, a Victorian glass fronted bookcase, which just arrived last week, slowly fills with period books and memorabilia.


The SW corner of “FDR’s” bedroom as seen from the door to the study. (We actually don’t know who slept where, so we’ve assigned FDR to the south bedroom, which is slightly bigger but lacks a closet, and Lathrop to the north, principally because the furniture selected to match their rooms’ narrative works better that way.) In the photo above, a late 19th century railroad trunk sits next to a burled oak Eastlake marble-topped commode, part of a three piece set, including a spectacular bed, purchased with funds granted by the Lillian Goldman Charitable Trust. The walls are now covered in pale green silk, thanks to the generosity of Kari and Li Chung Pei, ’72


A vintage hand crocheted runner protects the top of the piano; the nickel plated oil lamp illuminates an original Gibson girl portrait, made iconic by illustrator Charles Dana Gibson. A figural “Turks Turban” meerschaum (one of a growing collection of period pipes) rests on its side to the left of FDR’s famous “dog tobacco jar,” which he specifically requested Sara bring with her from Hyde Park in the spring of 1902. (No comments there!)


How this for a great E-bay find? A fantastic small oil on board signed R. H. Bowman,  born in 1884 in New Harbor, Bristol Maine. Price tag: $20! This will eventually be hung in FDR’s bedroom, along with other nautically inspired memorabilia to echo FDR’s love of the sea. The decor of Lathrop’s room, done in dark gold silk wallpaper, again the gift of the Li Chung Pei ’72 and Kari Pei, will revolve around “Jake’s”  fondness for hunting, horses, and football.

And lest we forget to be grateful, a reminder of how things were two short years ago – 2008, compared to 2010:


Our most heartfelt thanks to all of you who continue to aid our restoration efforts!

Bloody Monday

Those of us fond of history (and I included myself in this group) often have a tendency to romanticize the past, or at least think that life today presents a certain level of crudity and barbarism lacking in more cultured times. Every now and then however, I am reminded that things weren’t always how I prefer to think they were. In my now daily quest of scanning the Internet for period Harvard memorabilia to decorate the Suite, I came across this piece, dated about 1900:


Intrigued (or perhaps appalled would be a better word)  I did a bit of research, and discovered this article in the New York Times from 1903.

bloody monday

Wow. All this in a supposedly dry town! Franklin and Lathrop would have both been present to see the “rough housing” described above.

1903 was a very different world indeed.

New Views of the Suite

It seems like ages, but here, at last, are some of the first views, post renovations. The walls are still bare, and the furniture a bit sparse, but we’re getting there!

Our new Morris chairs, and a chance discovery: a very sturdy, and reasonably conformtable Victorian setee.

Our newly replicated Morris chairs (thanks to the exquisite craftsmanship of Lary Shaffer at Scarborough Marsh Fine Furniture) combined with a chance antique discovery: a very sturdy, and reasonably comfortable Victorian settee that seems quite at home already under the golden light of the early Edison bulbs. A roaring wood fire illuminates the custom basket-weave fire-back characteristic of rooms in Westmorly Hall.


The view towards the French windows, with our Brimfield railroad chest in the corner. Window treatments are the next step and will alter this view substantially.

The view toward the French doors, with our Brimfield-Antiques-Fair purchased railroad chest in the corner. (One of two.) Period window treatments are the next planned step based on 1899 designs from the same vendor used by Sara and FDR; this vignette will alter considerably when they are completed.


A closeup of the chest; this item will eventually reside at the foot of FDR's bed, as he notes in his letters to Sara

A closeup of the chest; this item will eventually reside at the foot of FDR's bed, as he notes in his letters to Sara.


The vew towards the piano. The song waiting to be played is "Taking a Trip Up the Hudson." Thanks to the dedicated group of alumni who funded this project!

The view toward the 1898 Ivers & Pond piano, which FDR rented as a member of the Freshman Glee Club: "Our piano is coming tomorrow; it is $40 for the year, which is $10 off the regular price. It is a very nice one and of a good tone" (Letter to parents, 11/23/00). The song waiting to be played is the 1902 hit: "Taking a Trip Up the Hudson." Thanks to the dedicated group of alumni who funded this project, and to for the music!


The renovated bathroom, wainscoting, fixtures and granite floor restored.

The renovated bathroom, wainscoting, fixtures and granite floor restored.


Period chandelier in place, and walls coated with a temporary coat of paint until the final paper arrives, we're almost ready to begin acquiring the 1000 or so items that will eventually filll this room.

Period chandelier in place, and walls with a temporary coat of paint until the final paper arrives, we're almost ready to begin acquiring the 1000 or so items that will eventually fill this room. Tables, chairs, lamps, picture, sculpture, books, bookcases, pen, pencils, pipes, desk sets, period newspaper, umbrellas, walking sticks, spittoon, club albums, medals, trophies, Harvard ephemera. Soon, it will be 1903 again...

A thousand thanks to all of you who have helped us move this project forward! Special kudos to our alumni donors  and project supporters (you know who you are); Harvard College in the person of our honorary President Drew Faust, the Palfreys, Suzy Nelson, and Merle Bicknell; Shawmut Construction, especially Carl Jay, and his dedicated horde of motivated craftsmen; Ropes and Gray LLC,  in the persons of Christopher Leich and Sarah Shaffer-Raux; Kari and Sandy Pei for their incredible donation of the wallpaper and reconstruction labor; and last, but certainly not least, the offices of the Lillian Goldman Charitable Trust, which largely funded this phase of the Restoration.

Welcome to Boston!

As part of our opening festivities yesterday, members of the Adams Senior Common Room joined us for a bit of good cheer as we christened our newly restored (and just arrived one hour before) piano. Here are Adams House tutor Matt Corriel and I signing “The Bird in the Gilded Cage,” the smash hit of 1900. Change the clothes a bit, and it could be Franklin and Lathrop as the piano now sits precisely where it did 110 years ago.


Let the festivities begin!

Attendance By Proxy – In the Spirit of FDR

Yesterday I received the nicest note from one of our supporters. She’s had some health issues this year, and didn’t feel up to making the trip to Cambridge. Instead, she sent us a check for two tickets, asking that we give them to someone who might not otherwise be able to attend.

This got me to thinking: there are a number of wonderful people we know – older alums, current undergraduates, volunteers – who’ve had a rough time this past year, or quite simply, can’t afford a $175 ticket, even for a worthy cause. And while we at the Foundation can help to some extent, we’re limited in what we can do by the high costs involved in holding an event like this: give away too many free tickets, and we actually lose money, which defeats our whole purpose. So…

My generous fellow supporters and fellow alumni, if you can’t join us for the dinner on the 27th, won’t you think of contributing the cost of one ticket to share some of the wonderful enjoyment we’re so privileged to partake of?  The lucky recipients will benefit,  the Project will benefit, and no doubt, you’ll benefit too.

And, I’m pretty sure FDR would approve.