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Then and Now: Accommodating the Fellows

Posted On June 15, 2017 | 15:30 pm | by Dumbarton Oaks Archives | Permalink

Fellowship House, 2015.

As a residential research institution, Dumbarton Oaks has always provided living accommodations for its fellows. While the accommodations may not always have been faultless, fellows often reminisce over their time at Dumbarton Oaks with fondness, appreciative of the chance to get acquainted with colleagues outside of the work environment. From its inception as the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection in 1940, the number of fellows has grown from only two senior fellows and five junior fellows pursuing Byzantine research to between thirty and fifty scholars working in a variety of fields. This growth has required Dumbarton Oaks to acquire and renovate existing residences.

When the Blisses’ estate was converted into a research institute, they commissioned Thomas T. Waterman to refashion the Beatrix Farrand–designed "Dwelling" on S Street. Although built in 1934, the Dwelling was intended to be the future quarters of resident scholars at Dumbarton Oaks once the property was transferred to Harvard University. This occurred in 1940, and the first fellows took up residence in February 1941. In keeping with Edwardian-era traditions, fellows were separated by gender, with unmarried men residing in the Fellows Building (then called the Quarters), and women residing in bedrooms in the Main House and in what is now the Refectory. It was customary for the fellows to take all three meals together each day—lunch was provided as part of board—affording myriad opportunities for both scholarly and casual discourse and bonding. Meals in the Fellows Building were opened up to all staff under Giles Constable, who served as director from 1977 to 1984, in order to make socialization opportunities more accessible. In 1981, Dumbarton Oaks hired architect George Hartman to restore the Fellows Building, an undertaking that included enlarging the dining room, adding a front porch to accommodate a fire escape system, and installing central air-conditioning, among other improvements. This building is today known as the Guest House, and as the name suggests, serves as housing for visiting lecturers and other Dumbarton Oaks guests.

Fellows Building Living Room, 1962
Fellows Building Living Room, 1962

Fellows Building Bedroom, 1962
Fellows Building Bedroom, 1962

Fellows Building Dining Room, 1962
Fellows Building Dining Room, 1962

Fellows Building Kitchen and Kitchen Staff, 1977-78
Fellows Building Kitchen, 1977

Fellows Building Living Room, 1981
Fellows Building Living Room, 1981

Fellows Building Bedroom, 1981
Fellows Building Bedroom, 1981

Fellows Building Dining Room, 1977-78
Fellows Building Dining Room, 1977

Fellows Building Kitchen, 1981
Fellows Building Kitchen, 1981

In order to accommodate the growing number of Fellows, Dumbarton Oaks leased apartments in an apartment building on Wisconsin Avenue called Sherry Hall, beginning in the 1970s and lasting until the 1990s. Sherry Hall is generally described as having had suboptimal conditions and, as it was the residence farthest away from the Main House, it was an interim solution at best.

Living room in a Sherry Hall apartment, 1985

Bedroom in a Sherry Hall apartment, 1985

Kitchen in a Sherry Hall apartment, 1985

Subsequently, in the spring of 1994, Dumbarton Oaks acquired La Quercia (“The Oak” in Italian) in order to expand fellows’ housing. La Quercia was constructed in 1922, and had functioned as a multifamily apartment building. In 1995, central air-conditioning was installed, and, from 1997 through 1998, the building underwent a series of masonry and paint restorations—repairs that were both aesthetic and functional. Now that the new Fellowship House has been completed, La Quercia is used to house visiting scholars during the academic year and Harvard interns during the summer. In the future, Dumbarton Oaks will continue to use La Quercia in this capacity, perhaps even expanding the scope of its Harvard-related activities and other academic programs.

First floor front entry at La Quercia, 1993

Dining room and kitchen at La Quercia, 1993

During the summer and fall of 2008, two new properties on R Street were acquired to provide additional housing accommodations: the Oaks, a seven-unit townhouse, and the Dumbarton, a one-bedroom condominium. The Oaks subsequently underwent a large-scale renovation process, which was completed in August 2011 and included the installation of a new roofing system, new heating and cooling systems, and a new meeting room, among other upgrades.

As it became clear that La Quercia required a great deal of restoration and even then would be unable to meet certain needs of the fellowship program, Dumbarton Oaks began to look into acquiring a new building to house its fellows. After scouting various properties around Georgetown, a building at the corner of R Street and Wisconsin Avenue emerged as the best solution. Named the Fellowship House, this new building, which underwent a large-scale construction project after its acquisition in 2010, has twenty-five residential units as well as a large space for receptions and meetings. Notably, the new building has achieved LEED Gold status for its strong dedication to environmental sustainability, demonstrated in part through its green, or living, roof and its reduction of impervious surfaces. As director Jan Ziolkowski stated during the groundbreaking ceremony in 2014, the new Fellowship House “does not belong to a single class of Fellows or even to all past and present Fellows put together. Rather, it is meant to embody and facilitate a larger ideal of fellowship.” The Fellowship House contributes to the institution's efforts to transcend interdepartmental divisions in the service of building increased unity toward a shared Dumbarton Oaks mission.

Garden Room, Fellowship House, 2015

Fourth-floor Oak Room, Fellowship House, 2015

Terrace of the Fellowship House, 2015

Fellowship House Bedroom
Bedroom in the Fellowship House, 2015