The Last Summer of White Court

The century-old Classical Revival mansion in nearby Swampscott which served as the “Summer White House” for Calvin and Mrs. Coolidge in 1925 is not long for this world, as just last week the Swampscott Historical Commission agreed to reduce the requisite demolition delay ordinance period to just 90 days in return for its purchasers’ agreement to salvage and reproduce significant architectural elements as they transform the estate into 18 condominiums. Looking at all of the old photographs of White Court, which was designed by architect Arthur Little and built near his family’s summer home on Little’s Point, “reproduction” seems unlikely; I can’t speak to salvage. In any case, the mansion will be demolished, and along with it will go a material reminder and symbol of a notable era in Swampscott’s history, a golden era when the residence of the President drew many eyes to this seaside town.

White Court 1900

White Court Arrival

Coolidge firstWhite Court in 1900, Bain News Service, Library of Congress; The arrival of President and Mrs. Coolidge at White Court in Swampscott in June of 1925, and the pair with one of their white collies (either Rob Roy or Prudence Prim ) at the estate during the summer, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries Special Collections and University Archives Alton H. Blackington Photograph Collection, ca. 1920-1963.

The Coolidges were welcomed warmly and seen about Swampscott and surrounding towns occasionally: according to the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation blog, the President worked from an office in Lynn, sailed on the presidential yacht Mayflower docked in Marblehead, and attended services with Mrs. Coolidge every Sunday at the Salem Tabernacle Congregational Church. There was not a lot of entertaining, as the Coolidges had lost their sixteen-year-old younger son, Calvin Jr., just a year previously. There were many strolls around the six-acre seaside property, white collie alongside, apparently: we only get to see one such stroll, right after the Coolidges arrive when the press were clearly on hand to see them settled into their summer home. Their smiles come and go; this is a dutiful walk—I’d like to see them on a more casual stroll but I’m glad the photographers were not enabled to intrude for too long. We have many photographs of their activities off the estate however: this was a well-documented presidential vacation!

Coolidge Leslie Jones 7

Coolidges Leslie Jones 5

Coolidges Leslie Jones 3

Coolidges Leslie Jones 6 BPL

Coolidges White Court Leslie Jones Close Up

White Court SalemLeslie Jones photographs of President and Mrs. Coolidge at White Court, Swampscott, 1925, Boston Public Library; the Coolidges attend the Tabernacle Church in Salem, July 1925, Blackington Collection, University of Massachusetts.

I felt like I was intruding yesterday morning when I drove over to Little’s Point to see the condemned mansion, which was very much in the midst of a construction zone. It didn’t seem possible to walk down its long entry lane (which was also marked private) to snap a photograph, so I have no “now” to contrast with all of my “then”. The last time I was on the premises was a couple of years ago, when the mansion was the main building of Marian Court College, a Catholic commuter college operated by the Sisters of Mercy from 1964 to 2015. There were institutional additions to its exterior, and I did not see the interior, but the core of the building looked pretty much the same as it did in that spotlight summer of 1925. But apparently its foundation has deteriorated beyond repair, and so White Court must cease to exist, come September.

White Court Interior HNE

White Court Leslie Jones BPL The drawing room of White Court in its residential era, Historic New England; an exterior view by Leslie Jones, Boston Public Library.

Appendix: Thanks to Jonathan for informing me that White Court was the site of Northshore Magazine’s “Best of the North Shore” awards just last year: great photographs of the mansion below and more here. Also, in return for their reduced demolition delay period, the developers have agree to document the house thoroughly, so we will (at least) be able to see detailed architectural photographs at some point.

White Court 2017

White Court 2017 2

17 responses to “The Last Summer of White Court

  • markd60

    It seems all the pics are from the 1930’s. I’d have liked to see a current image, to see what it looks like before they tear it down.

  • Piper B.

    It truly suddens me to see another magnificent structure lost to the ages. Like hearing of a death. I think most preservationists would agree.Thank you for sharing.
    PS I still truly enjoy your blog, Donna. Thank you!

  • FairytaleFeminista

    What a shame that a structure with such rich history and named Best of the North Shore only last year will now become something as sterile as a condo! I hope they’ll try and take some of the architectural touches and apply them to it.

  • Helen Breen

    Hi Donna,

    Thanks for another great piece. White Court is one of dozens of former Swampscott summer estates that have passed into history since the town’s summer hay day in the late 19th century. Last spring I attended an excellent lecture at the Swampscott Historical society by local historian Mary Daone Cassidy on the subject of these estates. Much of her research was based on the work of Dorothy M. Anderson who wrote a book on the subject in 1985.

    The work is most authentic since Anderson was raised on the estates where her father worked. In it she lists at least 65 properties that had specific names like The Gales, Greystone Hall, Tedesco Lodge, Sea Bend, and the like. After World War I many estates were sold off with the land divided into house lots. Many of the “smaller” estates still stand majestically along Atlantic Avenue on the road to Marblehead.

    Dorothy Anderson gave the rights to her book to the Swampscott Historical Society so it is still available for sale – SUMMER ESTATES, Swampscott, Massachusetts 1870-1940.

  • Pearl

    This excerpt from the Salem News upsets me, “The process to get the building on the National Register costs about $10,000, and that process has been put on hold.”

    Number one, why should it cost $10,000 to get a building on the National Historic Registry? And number two, do they need a fundraiser? Seems like it wouldn’t be that hard to come up with the funds.

  • Helen Breen

    Donna, you will see that there are many copies of THE ERA OF THE SUMMER ESTATES, SWAMPSCOTT, MASSACHUSETTS 1870-1940 by Dorothy M. Anderson available in the NOBLE library system.

    You also alluded to the sadness of the presidential couple at this time because they had lost their sixteen year old son the previous year. When we were young my mother would admonish us, “Never wear a tight shoe. President Coolidge’s son died after a blister became infected back in the days before penicillin was discovered.” Very sad …

  • Rick Dodge

    Auction this weekend of anything of value. In other words stripped of everything. Rest will be a pile in a few weeks. No one really cares

  • Rick Dodge

    david_pierrepont and ahomeonpuritanroad have photos of the soon to be gone house.

  • Rick Dodge

    on Instagram that is

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