Foundation House: Progress and Tradition

Constructed in 1885 to accommodate Head Master James Cameron Mackenzie’s growing family, which would eventually number eight children, Foundation House quickly became the center of campus life. It was named for the Green Foundation, which managed the legacy that transformed Lawrenceville from a “Classical and Commercial High School” into “The Lawrenceville School.” Situated on the Circle, the house was deliberately positioned so the Head Master could monitor what was then the entire campus from his office on the first floor.

Much has changed over the years, but the perceived role of Foundation House as the heart of the School has remained constant. Thanks to a comprehensive renovation beginning in January 2015 and concluding this past August, Foundation House is once again emerging as the center of campus life. Its new full-time residents, the family of Head Master Stephen S. Murray H’55 ’65 P’16 and his wife, Sarah, include the two youngest of the five Murray children, Grace ’16 and 12-year-old Henry, and Labrador retrievers Rocky and Roscoe.

Upon their arrival, the Murrays quickly set about welcoming students, faculty, alumni and parents to the house and envision using its renovated spaces, particularly Alumni Study, a sizable upstairs “living room,” and an expanded and updated kitchen, to entertain frequently. By design, the kitchen is both family-friendly and well-suited to community gatherings.

While the kitchen underwent the most dramatic renovation, no detail was spared in restoring the House to its original glory. All woodwork – paneling and flooring – was cleaned, treated and waxed. In addition, the first-floor rooms received new lamps and sconces, and recessed lighting was installed for a brighter appearance. Great care was taken to ensure the historical authenticity of new fixtures and hardware, and recessed lighting was deeply embedded to make it as inconspicuous as possible. Thanks to all-new door and window hardware, the first-floor windows open easily for the first time in many years. The upholstered furniture and drapes are new, and all the carpets are either new or restored. The fireplace in Alumni Study is now fully functional, and the living room and library fireplaces have been activated with gas logs. New pocket doors leading from the parlor to the living room replaced an original set of pocket doors that had been covered by paneling, completely separating the two rooms.

When the furnishings from the House were catalogued, removed and, in some cases sent for restoration, a number of interesting historical facts emerged. For example, the grandfather’s clock in the dining room belonged to Isaac Van Arsdale Brown, the School’s founder. It was donated to the School in 1983 by a Brown descendant. A three-legged, 18th-century French corner chair that now sits in the parlor had been in the family of John Cleve Green, whose bequest created the Circle and gave rise to the modern Lawrenceville. A portrait in the Hutchins Gallery depicts Green’s nephew, Charles Ewing Green, sitting on the chair. The School’s curator dates a pair of demi-lune walnut tables in Alumni Study, which bear distinct cut-marks from hand tools, at around 1620. And the School seal over the fireplace in Alumni Study is an original piece created by H.B. Pennell of Boston, a prominent designer who was personally recruited for the job by former Head Master Mackenzie.

It is believed that the architect of Alumni Study, William Adams Delano, Class of 1891 and Parent 1929, worked with a woman named Nancy McClelland, who was America’s most famous antiquarian decorator when Alumni Study was built in 1922. The room features hallmarks of her style, such as Windsor chairs, the large Oriental carpet, and the refectory table. When the carpet was removed to the less-trafficked upstairs living room in an attempt to preserve it, it was discovered that it had been purchased by Delano from the estate of Anthony Fokker in New York, who built fighter planes for the Germans in World War I. Visitors to Alumni Study will be further impressed by the exhibit of Head Master and “first lady” portraits, their relocation from other parts of campus enabled by the upgrading of heating and air conditioning, electrical, and alarm systems throughout the House.

Modernization also brought Wi-Fi to every room in the House, lighting to the steps into the existing first-floor powder room, and a new ADA-compliant lavatory to the foyer at the entrance to the kitchen. The kitchen itself is all-new, from the pipes up, with two of everything to accommodate both catering and family use. And in deference to the Murray dogs, heating was extended to the mudroom off the kitchen and the adjacent porch was rescued from its state of disrepair, providing a warm refuge from winter walks.

The School sponsors any number of alumni and parent events in Foundation House each year, and we hope you will take advantage of an opportunity to visit. Special thanks go to the Board of Trustees for its commitment to the renovation project and, in particular, to the following individuals for their significant financial support:
 
  • Eugenia G. and Thomas L. Carter, Jr. ’70 P’01 ’05
  • Alexa and Michael S. Chae ’86
  • The Waldron Family
  • Cathy and Jeffrey G. Dishner ’83 P’15
  • Dan Tapiero ’86
  • The Getz Family – Globe Foundation

Originally published in the Fall 2015 VSV.
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Through House and Harkness, Lawrenceville challenges a diverse community of promising young people to lead lives of learning, integrity, and high purpose.  Our mission is to inspire the best in each to seek the best for all.