Mount Ida Press announces the publication of The President as Architect: Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Top Cottage, written by John G. Waite Associates, Architects. Richly illustrated with 120 photos and architectural drawings, this new book traces the history of Roosevelt’s long-forgotten retreat near Hyde Park—from the president’s original drawings for the modest, two-bedroom cottage to its recent preservation by the Open Space Institute, the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute and the National Park Service. The 160-page book ($29.95, ISBN 0-9625368-3-0) examines Top Cottage as a symbol of Roosevelt’s love of the Hudson Valley and as one of the country’s first barrier-free buildings. Top Cottage joins Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and Poplar Forest as the only homes designed by a U. S. president while in office.
“Few people knew it existed, what it meant to Roosevelt and how important it was to his heart,” said John F. Sears, the former Executive Director of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute. “Top Cottage expresses his need to get away, his love of nature and history, and his simple tastes. It wasn’t pretentious and was built for informal living and his needs, and was very personal to him.”
Roosevelt planned to retire to Top Cottage and write his memoirs there, but after Pearl Harbor it became a setting for discussions about winning World War II.
Newly restored and now open to the public, Top Cottage was built in 1938 by the 32nd U. S. president atop one of Dutchess County’s highest hills. It would be “a small place,” he wrote, “to escape the mob” of neighbors and politicians who clamored to see him at Hyde Park. He sketched the plans himself, incorporating fieldstone walls and sweeping roofs that recall the old Dutch buildings of the Hudson Valley. In front of the stone fireplace, FDR buttered teatime toast for Daisy Suckley and friends, and on the wide porch he strategized with Winston Churchill and enjoyed hot dogs with King George VI.
“It’s incredibly important in the history of the country,” said Clay S. Palazzo, project manager for the restoration of Top Cottage by John G. Waite Associates. “This was FDR’s retreat, designed by a president in office in the tradition of Monticello and Poplar Forest, reflecting the architectural heritage of the Dutch Hudson Valley. It’s located in a very relaxed setting, tucked away in a secluded wooded area.”
The President as Architect: Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Top Cottage analyzes the planning and original construction of Top Cottage. The book contains valuable information on mid-20th century building materials and techniques, a period just now gaining the attention of architects and preservationists.
“Once historical research began and the fabric of the building was investigated, its significance quickly became apparent as one of the few houses designed by an architecturally literate president while in office. It is also one of the first buildings designed to be fully accessible to people who are disabled,” said John G. Waite, whose firm was involved in the six-year project from the beginning. “The Roosevelt family knew that there was a lot of history made there, and they are the ones that pushed for its preservation. No one else really knew that it survived. It turned out to be a real treasure.”
A direct reflection of his physical condition, originally built without steps or other barriers, Top Cottage came to symbolize Roosevelt’s determination and independence.
“More than half a century after FDR’s death most people still don’t fully grasp the fact that he was unable to stand, let alone walk, unaided, entirely dependent on his valet for his most basic needs. Determined to be more independent in the privacy of his own cottage, he carefully designed it all on one floor with no threshold barriers in the doorways so that he would need no help moving in his wheelchair,” writes Geoffrey C. Ward, a Roosevelt biographer, in the foreword of the book. “So far as I know, there is no other historic structure anywhere in the United States that specifically commemorates the achievements of a disabled person. As someone who had polio myself, I can imagine few things more inspiring for young disabled people than to be able to see for themselves this eloquent symbol of the heights to which a paraplegic was able to rise in America.”