Trump isn’t the first president-elect with a New York City home base, FDR stayed close too
Just when you thought you’d get to enjoy a low-key pre-holiday Friday, the New York Times compares Donald Trump to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. While just 12 blocks away Trump Tower snarls traffic and confounds anything resembling daily life in the surrounding area with a round-the-clock hive of security details, reporters and protesters—and of course the prez-elect himself, his entourage and various cabinet-members-to-be—Hunter College’s Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute director Harold Holzer reminds us of another presidency whose earliest days were spent ensconced in a NYC residence. Of the century-old double-width townhouse at at 47-49 East 65th Street on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, now the Institute’s home, Holzer says, “It was the Trump Tower of 1932-33.” The 65th Street residence was the longtime home of Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt.
Seated by a fireplace amid East 65th Street’s quiet grandeur on November 9, 1932, after having been elected to the first of four terms as president, Roosevelt addressed the nation in a radio broadcast format that was filmed for a newsreel, “A 1932 form of tweeting,” said Holzer. The 32nd president and his wife, Eleanor, had lived in the house for 25 years.
Observers at the time were shocked and, in some cases, horrified at the state of chaos that quickly befell the once-orderly townhouse as legions of reporters, police and Secret Service security details “smoked cigarettes and made messes in a modest ground-floor parlor while they kept watch on who went upstairs.” Among those in attendance as the administration took shape was Frances Perkins, Roosevelt’s secretary of labor and the first woman to hold a cabinet post.
Roosevelt had been governor of New York previously. He had appointed Ms. Perkins, an avowed labor rights champion, as Labor Commissioner. Among the items on the agenda Ms. Perkins hoped to convince the new president to support was “old-age insurance,” known today as Social Security.
Ms. Perkins arrived at the house to find security had been tightened due to a recent incident in Miami in which a gunman had opened fire as Roosevelt was shaking hands with the mayor of Chicago. Though Roosevelt escaped injury, the mayor died and several others were wounded. She also would run into Harold L. Ickes in the townhouse; Ickes would become the secretary of the interior. Both would be among the builders of the New Deal’s unprecedented strategy of large-scale public works, unemployment insurance, minimum wage and Social Security, all designed to combat a crushing Depression (and prevent future ones).
The president’s mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt, had the home built in 1908 for herself, her son and his wife. Behind the single-residence facade, the home’s twin townhouses had separate entrances and elevators—a luxury at the time but a necessity when Roosevelt lost full use of his legs due to polio. The Roosevelts sold the two buildings to Hunter College for $50,000 in 1941. Current Hunter College president Jennifer Raab raised $24.5 million to restore the homes, which had fallen into disrepair.
If you want to learn more, guided tours of the house happen on Fridays and Saturdays, with more information available here.