Presidential living

January 15, 2012

The Post reported last week that the University of Maryland is demolishing its president’s residence and constructing a new $7.2 million house and events center. The project is privately funded but has raised questions about how much is too much for a university to spend on a presidential abode.

U-Md. President Wallace D. Loh was out of town last week and unavailable to comment, officials said. Loh’s predecessor said the new home is needed.

“People really like being invited to the university president’s house,” said C.D. “Dan” Mote Jr. “They really like the idea of walking through the front door and seeing the president standing there.”

Here’s a glance at homes of some other presidents in the region.

●Washington and Lee University: President Kenneth P. Ruscio lives in the Lee House, built in 1869 for former Confederate general Robert E. Lee, who was the president of what was then known as Washington College. The house was built on a tight post-Civil War budget. 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 instead to reside on the Palace Green near the Governor’s Palace.

Noted visitors have included U.S. presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and John Tyler, along with every president from Woodrow Wilson to Dwight D. Eisenhower. Also: Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, Winston Churchill and Prince Charles.

●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 architectural firm that redesigned the Rotunda after a fire in 1895.

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.

●George Washington University: President Steven Knapp and his wife live in the F Street House, a 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 university bought the property in 1974, continued the club tradition and hosted presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. The club closed in 1999, and the building was turned into GWU’s Alumni House. In 2008, it was turned into a home for Knapp, who is the first president to have a permanent residence on the Foggy Bottom campus.

●Johns Hopkins University: President Ronald J. Daniels is required to live in the Nichols House on the Homewood campus, which is a short walk from 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. The house was renovated in 1996 and 2009, but the university does not disclose the budget of such projects.

●Catholic University: President John Garvey, his wife and their dogs live in Nugent Hall, which 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. Before the students left, the president’s wife, Jeanne Garvey, loaded the leftovers into Zip­loc bags and urged them to take everything back to the dorms.

●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.

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.

●University of Mary Washington: President Richard V. Hurley is required to live in the president’s house on campus, Brompton. The home is set on 3.5 acres and 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.

●George Mason University: President Alan G. Merten, retiring this year, is required to live in the Mathy House, valued at about $1.6 million.

●University of the District of Columbia: President Allen L. 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 she purchased in Hyattsville more than 20 years ago. She does all her entertaining at Trinity, which she says “has all of the elegant rooms a president could ever want.”

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” autographed by faculty.

“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.”

Jenna Johnson writes about Maryland politics, including the General Assembly, the administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley and the 2014 election.
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