Hailing from all 50 states and dozens of foreign countries, thousands of Harvard alumni arrived in the Cambridge area yesterday for the start of the University's 350th anniversary celebration.
A large majority of the 20,000 alumni expected to attend the five-day party have fended for themselves in buying tickets and finding accommodations, but most visible in Cambridge yesterday were hundreds of the class and school representatives to whom Harvard extended special invitations to participate in the epic bash.
"My feeling for Harvard brings me here," said John M. Patek '25. "It's a feeling of wanting to be back to the place of your formative years. I passed the Weld Boathouse. That was a thrill, since I used to cox out of it," Patek said.
Harvard invited 7000 potential alumni representatives, chosen for their involvement in the University's fundraising or social activity, to attend the celebration, said Associate Director of Classes and Reunions Victor A. Koivumaki III '68.
Roughly 3500 of those potential representatives accepted the University's invitation to come party in Cambridge, said Estelina L. Dalletta '87, an official in the 350th celebration office.
Unlike other alumni, representatives were offered the option of living in the houses and eating meals in the College dining halls for a charge of $200 per person, Koivumaki said. In addition, the representatives were given top priority for symposia tickets, Koivumaki said.
Many of the roughly 2500 alumni representatives living in a Harvard house registered yesterday at the Gordon Track and Tennis Facility, where they received an information packet and the tickets they had chosen. Many of the representatives who had turned down Harvard's offer to live in the houses registered at six area hotels.
Despite an expected crunch during yesterday afternoon's prime registration hours, "the amount did not seem as many as should have come," said Marion R. Briefer, associate for major reunions. "Probably many people are planning to come at the last minute, but because of the security, I'm not confident they'll make it to [the Foundation Day] convocation," Briefer said.
The University made arrangements with a total of 17 hotels, including the Ritz-Carlton, Charles Hotel and Four Seasons Hotel, to provide all alumni with cut-rate group hotel rates. Approximately 1000 non-representatives, in addition to about 1000 representatives, took advantage of University hotel arrangements, said Bernice Levinson, Harvard's hotel and hospitality coordinator. Thousands of other alumni made their own hotel arrangements, she said.
Almost 90 percent of the Charles Hotel, 20 percent of the Ritz-Carlton and 15 percent of the Westin Hotel were taken up last night by Harvard revelers, hotel officials said. "Everyone's dressed in tuxes, and everyone's wearing crimson ties," said Martha W. Sullivan, public relations director for the Charles Hotel. "The celebration is keeping the Charles Hotel, as well as other hotels in Boston and Cambridge, very busy," she said.
Upon registration, the representatives living in the houses parked their cars at the Business School parking lot, where they took vans to their houses.
"I think it's been superbly organized. I've never seen anything go so smoothly," said Sidney M. Weinstein '39. Weinstein said he came to Cambridge because he "wanted to be at such a big event, go to the symposia, and see some of my old classmates."
Alumni had mixed feelings about the celebration.
"To have 40,000 people for a four-day house party would drive the most organized of hostesses crazy," said Mary Blue Magruder '69.
"It's nice to come back," said Arthur L. Lawson '43. Lawson said that Harvard "influenced my life a lot," giving him a boost in his work at a Chicago can company.
Some alumni found the house accommodations less attractive now than when they first lived there. "The accommodations are a little spartan. I'm a bit disappointed," said Ralph Shikes '33.
Some also expressed doubts that the 350th celebration, which includes a stadium celebration with fireworks and folk music, would reflect well on Harvard.
"It may be a little too glitzy. I don't think it's really appropriate to look like the opening and closing of the Olympics," said Anne Schwarzer '51.
But others were happier about Harvard's unabashed self-celebration.
"It's going to be an extraordinary party. Everyone knows that Harvard can put on brilliant symposia, but people come here to have fun growing up. The celebration expresses that," Magruder said.