Honoring Our Presidents Through Architecture on Presidents' Day

featuring Eric Ward

February 21, 2022

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum

On President’s Day, when we honor the individuals who have held the highest office in the United States, EYP reflects on the places that help us understand these figures better. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) manages the 15 presidential libraries where presidential records and artifacts are available to researchers and the public, and the National Park Service (NPS) manages presidential homes and birthplaces, where we can learn more about presidents’ private lives, revealing their humanity. EYP has had the unique privilege of working with both agencies on multiple projects that pay homage to three of the 20th century’s most notable presidents, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and John F.                                                                                                                                                  Kennedy.

President's Day 2022The FDR Presidential Library & Museum was the first presidential library and is the only one that was used by a living president. FDR established the library himself, and it was built in 1939 at the Roosevelt family estate in Hyde Park, New York. Inside, you can see FDR’s office exactly as it was when he worked out of the room, thanks to EYP’s preservation efforts. We also expanded the display of his personal collection. Did you know FDR was into model boats? His collection of over 400 boats was packed away in storage, but EYP engineered a display that also served another creative purpose. The library needed to have three different archival environments—which means three separate mechanical systems and lots of ductwork. By showcasing the boat collection at eye level, visitors can see their ornate detail, and there’s plenty of room under the display cases to hide ductwork. Most impressive? We kept the museum open to visitors over all six years of the project. And while EYP completed this work, we were concurrently renovating his childhood home, also onsite. Entering the home, you’ll notice the living room is lower than the hall. FDR put in his own ramp after he started using a wheelchair. To preserve the ramp and prevent damage, EYP designed a transparent landing at the entrance, from which visitors can see the historic room as well as the original stairs and FDR’s ramp, which are visible below them through the glass.

President's Day 2022In Abilene, Kansas, Dwight D. Eisenhower grew up in a small house at the turn of the 20th century before heading to West Point and eventually becoming an esteemed military general and president of the United States. In the 1940s, the Eisenhower family donated the aging, uninhabited house to a local foundation. A few years later, the foundation obtained 22 surrounding acres and a museum and library dedicated to the then-newly elected president and a chapel known as the Place of Meditation were built. These structures, now under NARA’s purview, are historic buildings themselves, and the campus is a monument to Eisenhower in every way—Eisenhower, his wife, and his son are even buried beneath the chapel. EYP has designed renovations at every building on the campus, delicately modernizing the HVAC systems, restoring the boyhood home’s exterior, and improving accessibility at the home, library, and museum so visitors can comfortably enjoy the buildings and view them as they were in the 1950s.

President's Day 2022The JFK Presidential Library and Museum in Boston opened in 1979, but the original design featured very little collection space, which quickly became a problem as archivists struggled to fit the historic artifacts and textual archives from JFK’s presidency. Many of these items were stored in a satellite space in South Boston for 20 years, a burden for researchers who had to traverse the city between the two locations to collect information. Furthermore, in the storage facility, HVAC systems did not meet NARA’s standards to optimally preserve artifacts, which were slowly deteriorating and hidden away instead of being given the display they deserved. EYP designed an addition that reunited these texts and collections with the rest of the library.

Now, historians can view all the papers from JFK’s administration in the same place, and anyone can marvel at the additions to the collections, which include personal artifacts and some incredible paintings and sculptures gifted from other countries. Just a few miles away from the museum, in Brookline, Massachusetts, is JFK’s childhood home, which was turned into a museum honoring him after his untimely death. It’s recreated as it was when he lived there, and it’s like stepping back in history. In most rooms, that’s the goal, but the basement, which is now a visitor center, does not meet modern accessibility standards. EYP designed a renovation to add staff and exhibition space and added a lift. Once construction is completed, all who visit will be able to enjoy this space.

Presidential libraries and former homes have the power to create a sense of knowing these enigmatic leaders better. EYP is proud to play our part in helping NARA and NPS maintain and improve these wholly American places. Happy Presidents’ Day!

Eric Ward

Project Director