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Posted at 06:46 PM ET, 01/09/2012

Presidential mansions: Historic landmarks, iconic gathering spots, lightning rods for controversy

As I reported on the University of Maryland constructing a $7.2 million president’s house (and students questioning whether that’s the best cause for donors to support), I kept hearing this sentiment from all sorts of people: There’s just something about being invited into the president’s home that makes students, faculty, donors and others feel personally connected to the school.

“People really like being invited to the university president’s house. They really like the idea of walking through the front door and seeing the president standing there,” said former U-Md. president C.D. “Dan” Mote Jr. Current President Wallace D. Loh is out of town this week, and spokesmen for the university said last week that he is not involved with the project and can’t speak authoritatively about it.

Unlike most other facilities on campus, spending money on the president’s home easily attracts controversy: How much is too much to spend? How much luxury is allowed?

Here’s a glance into the homes of other local presidents ...

(The Lee House at Washington and Lee University. (Photo courtesy of Washington and Lee University))
Washington and Lee University: President Kenneth P. Ruscio lives in the Lee House, which was built in 1869 for Washington College President Robert E. Lee. The house was built on a tight budget, as the college was financially struggling at the time. Instead of hiring an architect, an engineering professor at a neighboring college modified a floor plan that he found in a popular pattern magazine. The fireplaces are trimmed in slate instead of marble.

College of William and Mary: President Taylor Reveley lives in what is considered the oldest and most historic college president’s house in the country. The home was built in 1732-33, and every college president has lived there except for Robert Saunders (1846-48) who chose to instead reside on the Palace Green near the Governor’s Palace. The presidential pad is considered rather priceless.
The President’s House at the College of William and Mary. (Stephen Salpukas)

Noted visitors to the home have included George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and John Tyler, along with every president from Woodrow Wilson to Dwight D. Eisenhower. Oh, and also Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, Winston Churchill and Charles, the Prince of Wales.

Perhaps the most drama the house has seen was in 1781, during the final weeks of the American Revolution, when the president and his family were evicted from their home by General Cornwallis and his British forces.

University of Virginia: President Teresa A. Sullivan and her husband live in Carr’s Hill, a historic home that celebrated its centennial in 2009. The 11,647-square-foot house has 16 rooms and eight bathrooms and was designed by the same architect who redesigned the Rotunda after a fire in 1895.

Carr’s Hill at the University of Virginia (Dan Addison/U-Va. Public Affairs)
Over the past century, guests to Carr’s Hill have included presidents, governors, celebrities, Nobel laureates — and first-year students who stop by for “Cookies at Carr’s Hill” after opening convocation. During the 2010-11 school year, 14,425 guests visited the home and the president hosted more than 100 large-scale events and more than 60 meetings, including intimate breakfasts and lunches.

The president is required to live in the home. The university pays for maintenance, operating expenses, grounds- and housekeeping and utilities, although it doesn’t put a dollar value on those expenses.

George Washington University: President Steven Knapp and his wife live in the F Street House, a classic Georgian brick mansion built in 1849. In the early 20th century, the private home was transformed into the F Street Club, where “presidents welcomed dignitaries, policymakers talked strategy, first ladies hosted receptions, politicians debated issues, and journalists discussed the day’s headlines,” according to a university brochure.
The F Street House at George Washington University. (William Atkins/The George Washington University)

The university bought the property in 1974, continued the club tradition and hosted presidents Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Clinton. The club closed in 1999, and the building was turned into GWU’s Alumni House. In 2008, it was turned into a president’s home for Knapp, who is the first president to have a permanent residence on the Foggy Bottom campus.

Johns Hopkins University: President Ron Daniels is required to live in the Nichols House on the Homewood campus, which is a short walk to his office. The house was built in the late 1950s, but presidents stopped living there in the 1970s and it was converted into administrative offices. In 1996, the university converted the building back into a president’s house and leaders are now required to live there. The house was renovated in 1996 and 2009, but the university does not disclose the budget of such projects.

Nugent Hall at Catholic University ( Ed Pfueller/The Catholic University)
Catholic University: President John H. Garvey, his wife and their dogs live in Nugent Hall, an administrative building that also contains his office. The building was constructed in 1940 for Vincentian priests and acquired by the university in 1979. The free housing is part of Garvey’s compensation package and the university does not specifically disclose the value.

About a year ago, Garvey allowed me to sit in on a lunch he held for students in his dining room, which used to be a chapel. The students were all dressed up and seemed nervous at first, although they became more talkative as the president showed them around the house, pointing out expensive works of art. At the end of lunch, Jeanne Garvey loaded the leftovers into zip-lock bags and urged the students to take everything back to the dorms.

A 1930 photo of the Edward Miner Gallaudet Residence. (Gallaudet University Archives)
Gallaudet University: President T. Alan Hurwitz and his wife live in the Edward Miner Gallaudet Residence — better known as “House One” or the “EMG Residence.” The 35-room Victorian Gothic mansion was built in 1869 and named for Gallaudet’s founder. All 10 of the university’s presidents and their families have lived in the historic house.

Alan Hurwitz’s wife, Vicki, is working on a documentary about the house. A fun fact she has learned: When Gallaudet began admitting women in 1887, the upper floors of the home were used to house female students.

The Hynson-Ringgold House near Washington College ( Washington College)
Washington College: President Mitchell B. Reiss and his wife live in the Hynson-Ringgold House, a historic brick home in downtown Chestertown that was built in 1743. They have contemporaneous records that show that George Washington ate, drank and slept in the house.

The college bought the home in 1944 for about $15,000, and today it is valued, along with its furnishings, at about $1.96 million. The front of the home is filled with antiques, while the back is modernized and more cozy.

Oh! And the home might have a ghost. In 1988, an alumnus wrote a history of the house and learned that in 1916, “a Jamaican maid left to return home because she said a ghost would not let her sleep in her room in the back attic. The ghost kept brushing her fingers across the maid's face.”

University of Mary Washington President Rick Hurley talks with freshmen on the Brompton lawn at orientation in 2010. (Norm Shafer)
University of Mary Washington: President Rick Hurley is required to live in the president’s house on campus, Brompton. The home is set on 3.5 acres and is valued at $3.5 million. The 18th-century brick home was at the center of the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862 and was used as a Union hospital during the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864.

Georgetown University: President John J. DeGioia lives in a residence off-campus that is paid for by the university. The cost of the house was about $131,700 for fiscal 2009. DeGioia is the university’s first lay president in two centuries — previous presidents were Jesuits who lived with their fellow priests on campus.

Howard University: President Sidney A. Ribeau is contractually required to live in a university-owned home.

The Mathy House at George Mason University (Evan Michio Cantwell/GMU)
George Mason University: The president is required to live in the Mathy House, which is valued at about $1.6 million.

University of the District of Columbia: President Allen Sessoms lives in a university-owned house in Chevy Chase. The university bought the house in 1981 for a few hundred thousand dollars, and last year it was valued at $1.6 million. The house sat empty from 2006 to late 2008, and was renovated when Sessoms moved in.

Trinity Washington University: President Patricia A. McGuire lives in a home that she purchased in Hyattsville more than 20 years ago. She does all of her entertaining at Trinity, which she says “has all of the elegant rooms a president could ever want.”

Trinity Washington University’s parking cone (Patricia A. McGuire)
Although McGuire does not receive free housing, she does get a reserved parking spot on campus that is furnished with a “lovely orange parking cone” that is autographed by faculty members.

“I’ve tried to convince my brother presidents that they could be happier with just parking cones and the gratitude of their faculties for eschewing fancier residences,” McGuire told me in an e-mail, “but this idea has not gained much traction.”

Frostburg State University: The university got rid of its president’s house in the 1970s and now provides its top leader with an allowance for a private home. The current president doesn’t host university events in that home.

Virginia Tech: President Charles W. Steger lives in The Grove, a Colonial Revival-style three-story home built in 1902. In the 1970s and ’80s, most presidents choose to live elsewhere. In 1987-88, the house was remodeled to again serve as the president’s home and was renamed The Grove. In 2000, the home was renovated and a garage built.

Marymount University: President Matthew D. Shank lives in the neighborhood next to campus in a home paid for by the university. University events are generally not held there.

St. Mary’s College of Maryland: The school has not had a presidential home on campus since the 1980s, but is in the process of planning to build one. The college gives President Joseph Urgo a housing allowance, and he purchased a home near campus.

University of Richmond: President Edward L. Ayers is required to live in the President’s Home, which was built in the early 1970s. For the past 40 years, presidents have hosted a backyard picnic for all first-year students, an alumni reunion reception and numerous other events. Ayers has also taught an introductory history class in his home.

UPDATED: This blog was updated on Jan. 10 to add that St. Mary’s College gives its president a housing allowance.

Where does your university president live? Have you ever visited? Please share your stories in the comments section below.

By  |  06:46 PM ET, 01/09/2012

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