Places that Matter

Roosevelt House

click on image for slideshow
Building long-shot, Jedediah Baker
Building long-shot, Jedediah Baker
Building exterior overview, Jedediah Baker
Building ornament close-up, Jedediah Baker
Plaque, Jedediah Baker
Front door, Jedediah Baker
Former home of President Roosevelt & family, now Hunter College's Public Policy Institute
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Place Matters Profile

By Deborah Gardner and Katie McLaughlin

The Roosevelt House was the home and political base of Franklin Delano, Eleanor, their children, and Sara Delano Roosevelt, FDR’s mother, and is the only original home of a U.S. president in New York City that maintains its historic integrity and is open to the public today. In keeping with the political and social activism of its former residents, the house was transformed into a vibrant center for interfaith and interracial student organizations at Hunter College in 1943 and will continue in this role as Hunter College’s Public Policy Center.

The Roosevelt's NYC Home

In 1905, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt lived a few blocks away from Franklin's mother Sara Roosevelt in the midtown-east neighborhood of Murray Hill. For Christmas that year, Sara promised the couple a new house, but stated that the location was "not yet quite decided." Wealthy families like the Roosevelts had settled in the Murray Hill area in the 1880s and 1890s, but by early 1907 Sara Roosevelt found the neighborhood too commercial and decided to relocate the family to the more residential Upper East Side. Two neighboring properties were purchased, the existing brownstones on the lots demolished, and the architect Charles A. Platt hired to plan a new structure.

With a central vestibule and entrance, a balcony across the second-floor level, a unifying single cornice, and the Roosevelt family crest centered between the third and fourth floor, the building at No. 47-49 East 65th Street appears to be one unified townhouse. The interior, however, has the unusual composition of two mirror-image rowhouses connected in the center with a large central light court. These connections, which allowed the dining room and drawing rooms to be doubled in size, were often utilized for family and social events, and for meetings of political and civic groups that Eleanor hosted.

The connections between the two homes sometimes created conflict, as Eleanor noted with her mother-in-law's visits, stating that "you were never quite sure when she would appear, day or night." This design, though, facilitated public and family gatherings, and made it easier for family members to support and interact with each other. When they moved into the house in December, 1908, Franklin and Eleanor had two young children, and they would have two more while living there, one of whom died in the house at only 8 months. The children, who attended school nearby and often stayed at No. 49 even when their father's political career required him to be in Albany as a legislator, were able to visit their grandmother easily, and servants, six at No. 49 and three at No. 47, could easily move from house to house as needed.