May 1940. Germany has just invaded France. Neville Chamberlain resigns as British Prime Minister. The country is poised on the brink of war. The burning question – how are they coping at the Harvard Club?! Something like that must have been behind Life’s decision to dispatch photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt to 27 West 44th St. in New York, just as the Germans captured Paris causing the U.S. Navy to augment its ranks – including several able-bodied Harvard men.
Others however were content to whittle away the hours in the stately confines of the Harvard Club, centered on a three-story red brick neo-Georgian building by McKim, Mead & White constructed in 1894. Within its richly-paneled walls was everything a gentleman could require: good food, plentiful cocktails, a vast library, a barber, a smoking room, an indoor swimming pool, squash courts and a fully-stocked wine cellar, all far from the fields of battle.
Actually, the Club was not entirely unaffected; the swimming pool – known as “The Plunge” – was an early casualty of the looming conflict. After the U.S. entered the war it was floored over to create dormitory space where members in transit to various postings could rent a cot for the night. My grandfather, Harvard ’33, may have looked in for a visit about then; the last time I was there myself a few years back it looked much the same as it does in these photos (most of which were never published). Thank god for that.