For Release May 25, 2023
Opening Reception and Discussion Evening of May 25
(New York, May 25, 2023)—In tribute to longtime Hunter College President Jennifer J. Raab—as she enters the final month of her consequential 22-year-long leadership of the school—the public policy institute she created in Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s onetime family home today opened a new exhibit exploring its entire 115-year-old history. The exhibit traces the building’s origins, its role as a springboard for Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, and finally President Raab’s instrumental role in preserving, restoring, and re-creating it as a Hunter College public policy institute.
Roosevelt House: Saving a National Treasure for a New Generation explores in period recollections, new interpretation, and dozens of compelling images the history, preservation, and rebirth of the building on East 65th Street in Manhattan. Built by the future president’s mother in 1908 as a multi-generational double town house, it served as the family’s New City home for 25 years, and in 1932–33 as the transition headquarters for President-elect Roosevelt. Sold by FDR to Hunter in 1942 (for a deeply discounted $50,000) after his mother’s death, the building became a college interfaith center and headquarters for campus clubs.
After falling into dangerous and seemingly irreversible disrepair in the 1990s, the landmark building was shut down and faced the threat of sale and demolition. Rescued by President Raab early in administration, it was re-designed to both preserve its unique historic character and serve today’s students as a policy center. Since 2010, it has served as a Hunter College center for undergraduate study of public policy (in recognition of FDR) and human rights (in acknowledgment of Eleanor) as well as a place for faculty engagement and free public programs and civic engagement.
“This show celebrates the three extraordinary women deservedly identified with this building,” said Harold Holzer, the Jonathan F. Fanton Director of Roosevelt House. “We remember Sara Delano Roosevelt, who built it; Eleanor Roosevelt, who sanctified it by launching her career in public service here; and the indefatigable Jennifer Raab, who saved it, rehabilitated it, and re-purposed it so brilliantly. We encourage our students, this semester and next, to learn how this onetime family town house evolved. None of this would have happened without the foresight, astonishing fundraising acumen, and visionary planning of Jennifer Raab. As she prepares to leave the school she has served so inspiringly, we want to share this important story about a cherished part of the campus she enriched.”
The exhibit formally opens this evening with a reception and a “Fireside Chat” between Holzer and President Raab. The talk will take place in the Roosevelt House auditorium that President Raab had carved into the home’s old kitchens during the building’s restoration. The house was in fact the site of Roosevelt’s very first Fireside Chat, the day after his 1932 election, when he sat before the hearth in his second-floor family parlor to assure the nation that he would work tirelessly to save it from economic collapse.
“I am so touched by this amazing effort,” said President Raab. “Nothing I worked on at Hunter gave me more satisfaction than saving the Roosevelt family home and re-imagining it in service to new generations of students and faculty. I remain deeply grateful to the generous funders — both public and private — as well as the visionary colleagues and architects who collaborated with us so ingeniously. Working together, our goal was to rescue and re-purpose this building while preserving its unique status as a historic home where, among other things, FDR recovered from polio and later built the foundational elements of the New Deal, including Social Security. Here, Eleanor gained her independence and began emerging as an inspiring public figure in her own right. I count Roosevelt House as a major part of my legacy and I will always be proud to see students, teachers, authors, and public figures using it to enlighten and inspire us in the future.”
The exhibit includes building plans documenting the evolution from private center to college center to public policy institute, along with images of the historical interiors and the restoration and reconstruction. Featured will be numerous photographs of the Roosevelts and their visitors to the house and its key historic role as the nerve center of the 1932-33 presidential transition and incubator of the New Deal. Two of the major activities of the public policy institute — undergraduate education and public programming — are amply represented in dozens of photographs. Many local and national leaders, prominent authors, human rights activists, policymakers, filmmakers, playwrights, and musicians have visited Roosevelt House over the past 13 years and thousands have attended programs here — and they are also well represented in the display.
The exhibit is curated by Roosevelt House Historian Deborah Gardner and designed by Roosevelt House staff members Daniel Culkin and Aaron Fineman with research assistance from Bianca Oliva.