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Refectory (Garage, Director's House)

Designed by Lawrence Grant White (1887–1956)

brick, stone and wood

Not on view


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The Refectory (known between 1925 and 1941 as the Garage, between 1941 and 2001 as the Director’s House, and from 2001 on as the Refectory) was designed in 1925 by Lawrence Grant White (1887-1956) of the New York City architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White, with Beatrix Farrand (1872-1959) as consultant. McKim, Mead & White applied for the building permit for the Garage on July 22, 1925 (Building Permit #677).

The Garage sat at the south end of the Service Group and had a formal, Georgian Revival facade facing to the south. The first floor was designed as the living quarters for chauffeurs and male servants. This design comprised a central communal living room measuring fifteen by twenty-two feet and six bedrooms, three to either side of the living room, with a communal bathroom and shower room in the southeast corner. The living room had a barrel-vaulted ceiling that ran from the entrance door to the north wall window. The lower level’s design comprised a central area of four bays to accommodate cars and their maintenance, a machine shop at the west end, and a heating plan (which also served the greenhouse) and coal room at the east end.

With the Blisses’ creation of the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, the transfer of the property to Harvard University in 1940, and the hiring of John S. Thacher (1904-1982) as the first Director, the property was converted into a residence for the director in 1941. The Washington, D.C. architect Thomas T. Waterman (1900-1951) made alterations to the Garage to convert the first floor into the Director’s House without changing the square footage of the building. This design comprised an entrance hall leading into a drawing room which had an alcove with fireplace located in the northwest quadrant of the central core of the building. In the other quadrants of the central core were a bedroom (southwest), dining room (northeast), and kitchen (southeast). The west pavilion comprised a guest bedroom and bathroom suite with separate entrance, and the east pavilion comprised a servant’s bedroom and storage area suite with separate entrance.

In 1949-51, G. Morris Steinbraker and Son, Washington, D.C., considerably altered the Waterman layout and built an addition on the northeast side. This addition comprised a black walnut-paneled bedroom with fireplace and bathroom en suite on the first floor and a tool room, work room, and office on the ground floor. The changes to the room plan consisted of reconfiguring the living room as a large rectangle in the central and northeast quadrant—the fireplace and bookcases being relocated to the east wall—reconfiguring the bedroom and alcove as a pantry and dining room and part of the kitchen as a bathroom and hallway. The new kitchen was located in the west pavilion, which had been the guest suite, and the servant’s suite became a second bedroom. In 1969, the Steinbraker company built two additions on the south face of the building: a dressing room for the second bedroom (then occupied by Thacher’s mother) on the west end and a laundry room at the east end.

In 2001, the Philadelphia architectural firm of Venturi, Scott Brown, and Associates renovated the interior as a refectory.

J. Carder

Acquisition History
Commissioned in 1923 by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss from Lawrence Grant White, New York, NY. The building was completed in 1925.

Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, DC, 1925-11/29/1940.

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, House Collection, Washington, DC.