The Brunswick Hotel, Boston's famous hostelry of presidents, dukes, princes, and elite of the 1870s, 80s, and 90s is opening its doors again this fall-but this time for Ex-Gls and their wives.
"Completely refurbished" for the Nth time in its history, and now minus some of the glitter that once added luxury to accommodations for early-day guests, the Old Brunswick remains a Grand Hotel, working full-time, serving as a home for Harvard University veteran-student couples.
One million dollars were poured into the Brunswick's construction, when red brick and sandstone were originally mortered together on the corner of Boylston and Clarendon Streets in 1874. And this summer, after the hotel had for nearly 70 years catered to what an 1880 advertisement called "influential persons of taste," the University invested another $25,000 to revamp the marble-floored hallways, high-ceilings bedchambers, and tiny-tubbed bathrooms, into suitable apartments for 115 couples who need, as well as a place to go to school, a place to live, in Post War year 1.
From Bare Rooms to 'Home'
As a student dormitory, the Brunswick has its strong points. Most residents agree that they have more room than they ever had before, and seem thankful for the spaciousness that a Brunswick suite assures. "It's heaven for us," sighs Dorothy Sparks, whose husband, bill '46, is a math concentrator and plans to enter Law School in February.
Two rooms and a bath is the standard student apartment-two rooms complete with a fireplace each; and a bath complete with a tub measuring 3 1-2 feet in length, an old-fashioned pull-chain toilet, and a marble washstand. Paul Miller '46 and his wife, Marjorie, have one of the few suites which is equipped with a shower. Necessarily, too, claims Miller, who measures 6 feet-seven, a height which Brunswick tubs were obviously not designed to accommodate.
"We feel we have about the best buy in the hotel," say Frederick Drayton '46 (History) and his wife Edith. Almost paradoxically, each couple seems to feel it ha the "best buy," and proceeds to go about making the most of the meager furniture which is provided--two chairs, a "sofa" and a table for the living room; a chair, bed or beds, and chest of drawers for the bedroom. Rooms on the first three floors of the Brunswick's five are a stately type, set off with bay windows overlooking Boylston Street for Copley Square, and fireplaces which comprise 19th century works of art in black walnut. Almost every living room has a mammouth mirror over one of those classic mantels.
By the time rugs, draperies, and pictures are added to a living room, the suite becomes a place called home--one nook devoted to a Harvard man's study, and another, more frilly, corner plainly designed for a wife's reading, sewing, or gossiping. So far, however, spare moments of both husband and wife noticeably have been spent in interior decorating, as a bare room becomes a place to live.
Wide Rent Range
New streamlined washing machines--a kind that takes clothes soiled and dry in one lump and, for a dime in a slot, turns them out damp and clean half an hour later, with no personal attention in between--are another Brunswick selling point to a student's wife, who is apt to have an 8 hour-a-day job in Boston or Cambridge.
Although breakfast and dinner is served to Brunswick residents in a paneled basement dining room, taking meals at the hotel is not compulsory, and some couples prefer to eat on the way to and from the university. Efforts are made, however, to provide varied dinners and breakfasts, similar to those served at Harvard Houses, for $17.50 per week per couple. The Draytons and the Raymond W. Ralstons (he, a graduate student in Physics) feel "portions could be larger" at the hotel dining hall, while Harry Eckstein '46 (a government concentrator) and his wife, Vivian, say the food at the hotel "is better prepared than at the College Houses."
Brunswick rents range from $25 to $80--suites on lower floors on inside courtyards renting more cheaply than those in outside corner positions. So a married veteran student, with his $90 per month subsistence from uncle Sam and, invariably, his wife's salary, manages to come nearer making both ends meet at the Brunswick.
90-Day Registrants in Now
The Brunswick isn't yet filled with its quota of 115 couples. Sixty suites have been occupied, according to a strict priority system set up by the Straus Hall housing office, which has as its basic rule: first come, first served. Many of the hotel's "Charter members," who came in during the last week of September, had been on the housing waiting list since January. At the present time, students are being accepted who registered within the last 90 days; and, at the rate of two or three newcomers each day, the hotel is quickly filling up.
Manager of the Brunswick is J. D. Connors, former Harvard Square business man and former Navy chief, who apparently has kept 60 varied students and student-wives satisfied through the Brunswick's "difficult days" of its first three weeks' operation. Plumbing was barely adequate on the top floors in those days; and the Back bay's direct current electricity was hardly useable for student's radios, irons, shavers, and fluorescent lamps.
By offering his own minimum facilities to those who needed them during these "early days," and by constant concentration on necessary repair work, to be done by a crew of plumbers, electricians, and carpenters, Jack Connors has whipped the Brunswick into shape in record time.
Society at the Brunswick
Most of the people living in the Brunswick believe they are "closer" to Harvard than they were when they lived at separate rooms and apartments throughout the city. Bridge clubs are bound to spring up, says Pris Brinshalder (Ed, her husband, is in first year of Business School); and, particularly when the new "ladies' and "men's" reception rooms are opened shortly, there will be more social activity. Right now, everyone is studying, but the Brunswick provides the opportunity for group study, as when Jordan Severinghans and Bob Allingham, both of the Business school, join the Brinshalder in their second-floor room. Sal Severinghans has an idea that a community kitchen would be welcome in the hotel for midnight snacks and quick breakfasts.
Up and down the Brunswick halls, the answer is usually the same, like that of Bill (1L) and Irene Moldoff: "It's a lot better than we ever had. . . "
The Brunswick's last service was a wartime job, just as her job is now a post-war job. As a Coast Guard barracks, the old hotel ago, had become a shabby, bare, dirty building, badly in need of new wiring and plumbing in places, as ell as a complete paint job. Kemtoned throughout in the interior, the rooms have been transformed by Harvard into green, yellow, and rose-colored suites; wiring was double-checked, new piping was installed; windows and doors were repaired, and the heating system was prepared for a New England winter.
But, last summer's dilapidated Brunswick and even this fall's pastel-shaded hotel are still another long jump from the elegant hostelry of 1878, when King's "Hand-Book of Boston" reported.
"The Brunswick . . . is one of the most comfortable and handsomely furnished hotels in the world . . . (done in) lavish and magnificent style.
"All chambers are supplied with every modern convenience; every apartment has hot and cold water; and every suite has a bath-room. The passenger elevator is one of the most luxurious in Boston."
In his informative "guide," King also notes that "many of the Harvard classes have selected the Brunswick as the place for their annual dinners," and says that "President Hayes, when attending the Harvard Commencement in 1877 occupied rooms at the Brunswick."