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About the Cool House

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Built in 1925, the Cool House anchored the western side of the McKim, Mead & White service court. In early drawings and correspondence, the Cool House was often referred to as a second Orangery. Unlike the original Orangery located east of the house, however, the Cool House served as a practical work area. Before the Blisses gifted Dumbarton Oaks to Harvard, the Cool House busily supported the gardening activities of a private estate. With year-round heating provided by pipes running through the floors, the building housed off-season plants.

After Harvard took over in 1940, space was at a premium. Dumbarton Oaks Director John Thacher began exploring options to repurpose the Cool House. Detailed upkeep of the gardens and extensive indoor cultivation of plants were less important than the effort to find new collection and work space. At the time, the Cool House was used to house and grow orchids. In 1941, Thacher suggested turning the Cool House into a sculpture gallery, as an extension of the new Byzantine Gallery constructed in 1939-1940. Although Thacher never carried out his plan, the Cool House remained a potential site for renovation. In 1949, Mildred Bliss and Beatrix Farrand discussed the possibility of remodeling the Cool House into a Garden Center to house Mildred Bliss’s growing library. Robert Patterson drew plans for the proposed Garden Center, but the Cool House was passed over yet again.

Beginning in the 1950s, Frederick Coles used the Cool House as his stonecutting studio on the property. When he turned over the space in 1962, it was to make room for a scale model of the new Pre-Columbian Gallery. A short time after, the Cool House returned to housing plants. Garden staff cultivated orchids there, and the building became unofficially titled the Orchid House. The orchids remained until Dumbarton Oaks began plans for a new, expanded research library in 2001. The old Cool House building was integrated into the architectural design. After the new library opened in 2005, the Cool House served as a reading room. In the summer of 2014, with space again at a premium, the reading room was remodeled into office and work space to accommodate the growing number of fellows.