A Final Plunge at the Harvard Club

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.

Jared Paul Stern is the editor of Driven.

Comments on “A Final Plunge at the Harvard Club

    pjharv on April 13, 2011 5:22 PM:

    justification for higher education.

    JRS on April 13, 2011 5:48 PM:

    That’s it. I’m getting a mounted wild boar head.

    Cold Splinters on April 13, 2011 6:36 PM:

    I’ve actually been to the Harvard Club a few times with a family friend, and each time I go, I take a big stack on napkins with the HC logo on them. Stupid, but they’re shockingly handsome. For a napkin at least…

    MTV on April 13, 2011 6:58 PM:

    @JRS – No big thing, but that’s actually a warthog. Interestingly, all of the mounts in these photos are African.

    Brigzy on April 13, 2011 7:25 PM:

    Wow, how do you get Life photo’s that were never published?

    I love the sack-back windsor chairs in the dining hall, the shave by the barber, and look at that liquor storage room. I think he’s taking inventory!

    JPS on April 13, 2011 7:32 PM:

    Splinters – back in the day there were matchbooks as well, I always pocketed those. They’ve toned down the taxidermy a bit, there are cute chicks at the bar and as noted the swimming pool is no more, but otherwise unchanged, even if they rent the place out for some rather questionable events these days…. Last had lunch there with Whit Stillman, the food was no worse than Elaine’s.

    Billy on April 13, 2011 8:02 PM:

    Board games, taxidermy, booze, books, and dip in the pool.
    Now that’s a club!

    Andrew Hazlett on April 13, 2011 11:15 PM:

    There are some poignant photos in a second floor hallway of WWI dead. I don’t recall how they honored WWII casualties.

    xtimx on April 14, 2011 11:23 AM:

    im with JRS

    RyanZ on April 14, 2011 9:41 PM:

    I like how you plug your Grandfather.

    Paul Jefferson on April 15, 2011 2:52 AM:

    @ RyanZ *grandfather

    Ye Ole General on April 18, 2011 11:57 AM:

    Wonderful pictures. Love the chesterfield sofas.

    Don on April 19, 2011 10:27 AM:

    Is there a Chico State Club in NYC?

    EJ in Philadelphia on April 23, 2011 9:08 AM:

    Not quite in these photos is the room where old over-stuffed leather armchairs go to die, a rather magnificent, high ceiling room with more of those old red leather chairs that one is likely to see herded in one room together.

    Somewhat surprisingly, the club isn’t overwhelmed with Harvard crests and shields, and if they don’t have a policy of which alums are honored with a portrait hanging on the walls, it sure seem that way, again, it’s not overrun with portraiture the way some clubs are.

    If visiting, ask if anyone is playing “squash tennis,” and you might witness the national championships.

    There’s a small group (a club) that gathers at least once annually for “the grand tour,” drinks at each of the Ivy League clubs in New York, which takes a little more planning and finesse than one might think, due to Dartmouth. They each really do have different environments and characters that are reflective of the schools.

    And the most fun place to have drinks with Whit Stillman is The Players on Gramercy Park.

    Dave on April 24, 2011 4:51 AM:

    You mean that’s not Whit himself reading the paper under the boar’s head??

    Speaking of unpublished LIFE Mag photo shoots:

    My in-laws (f-i-l an H and B-school grad) were living in a walkup over a Chinese restaurant in 1941. LIFE did a similar photo layout of their life. We have photos of her in an apron cooking him breakfast and kissing him off to work, them playing ping-pong with another young couple in their bedroom where they had to fold the Murphy bed up against the wall, singing in a neighborhood G&S light opera group, having a party in the tiny apartment wall to wall with friends. NYC in the forties was one of the happiest times in their lives.

    The article was slated to be published in the issue coming out the second week of December 1941. Events in the Pacific put paid to that.

    Dave on April 24, 2011 4:53 AM:

    I meant the rhino head….

    EJ in Philadelphia on April 24, 2011 8:49 PM:

    The LIFE shots of their visit to Princeton’s eating clubs are pretty great too.

    The other mag that has some great photos of iconic places, but doesn’t get the credit or notoriety of LIFE is Holiday magazine. The Holiday issue of Philadelphia’s “Main Line” is a classic.

    EJ in Philadelphia on April 24, 2011 8:50 PM:

    Sorry, one more. Please, please, please, if you had recent drinks with Whit, tell us about his latest upcoming film that he’s been working on!!!

    JPS on April 24, 2011 10:04 PM:

    EJ – here is the official synopsis of the film. I will certainly get some more details and hopefully a sneak peek a little closer to release:

    “DAMSELS IN DISTRESS is a comedy that follows a trio of beautiful girls who set out to revolutionize life at a grungy East Coast university – the dynamic leader Violet Wister (Gerwig), principled Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke) and sexy Heather (Carrie MacLemore). They welcome transfer student Lily (Tipton) into their group which seeks to help severely depressed students with a program of good scent and musical dance numbers. The girls become romantically entangled with a series of men—including slick Charlie (Brody), dreamboat Xavier (Hugo Becker) and the mad frat pack of Frank (Ryan Metcalf) and Thor (Billy Magnussen)—who threaten the girls’ friendship and sanity.”

    Thomas P on April 28, 2011 11:22 PM:

    Incredible place.

Comments are closed.