Articles

LEGACY HOMES

AVENUE, APRIL 2002

John F. Kennedy and
Eleanor Roosevelt
leave her town house.

Roosevelt visits Prime
Minister Jawaharlal
Nehru in India.

Guests are welcomed
into the Gandhi home
by a Iovely staircase
and bright open spaces.
Pictures of India are
proudly displayed.

High ceilings grace the
Ghandis' living room,
accented by Indian art
and Corbusier chairs.

Alongside family port-
raits in Roosevelt's
bedroom is a bedside
photo of David Gure-
witsch.

While Roosevelt favored
round tables, the
Ghandhis' dining room
features a rectangular
one that can seat 14.

It wasnít just the airy, high space and wide ceil-ings that drew the Gandhi family to the elegant Upper East Side town house. It was also the allure of its previous occupant: Eleanor Roosevelt. "We feel a connection because she had a great love of India and was the first, First Lady to visit after its independence," says Meera Gandhi, who lives with her husband, Vikram, an investment banker, and their three children. "In fact, we were given pictures of Mrs. Roosevelt from that trip, which we display in the front foyer."

The Gandhis purchased the house from Edna Gurewitsch, who lived in the five-story house with her late husband, David, and Mrs. Roosevelt from 1959 to 1962. "It was a very happy house," recalls Edna, who just published Kindred Souls: The Friendship of Eleanor Roosevelt and David Gurewitsch (St. Martin's Press). "The house would always be full of people. She'd have breakfast with President Kennedy, tea with Khrushchev. There were also teachers, folksingers, the police commissioner, Golda Meir, Melvyn Douglas, and many others who came." Gurewitsch recalls Roosevelt once saying to the cook, "Only 17 for breakfast, Marge." The more people the better, and it was a special treat if the guests included Gurewitsch's children along with their friends.

Roosevelt would typically hold large dinner parties and host lunches on Saturdays that would run into the late afternoon. On Sundays, she put a chafing dish in the middle of the table and made scrambled eggs and tea for supper. This beloved figure maintained a busy schedule well into her 70ís - and never drank coffee.

Although these meals were informal gatherings, her breeding resonated in every room: A carefully set table. Beautiful silver. Place cards. Exquisite flowers. Eleanor Roosevelt inspired such affection among fans and friends that her home was graced with weekly bouquets - though her favorite remained small garnet roses.

Her favorite dessert was inspired by a visit to the restaurant Brussels with Edna and David. Although she never cooked, Roosevelt delighted in making dishes of vanilla ice cream topped with whipped cream, strawberries, and a splash of Grand Marnier.

"One time Leonard Bernstein visited. We were waiting for the next course to be served, and he started nervously ringing the dinner bell," recalls Edna. "Eleanor said to him, 'Put it down, Leonard. We all know you're here.'"

On New Year's Eve, Roosevelt would have an annual party that started after midnight. In those days, it was safe to leave the front door open, and she would await friends who stopped by to share in merriment, laughter, and lively discussions of the day. And she always served champagne.

In her private bedroom, Roosevelt chose stacks of books and family photos as the main decor. There was also a damask couch in front of the fireplace decorated in her favorite shade of blue. Like the bedroom, the living room walls were painted white. Here, she had a garnet Persian rug with long red couches to match. "She wasn't interested in decor or being fashionably dressed," says Edna. "The interiors were characterized by things that had meaning." For example, the living room held watercolor pictures from Venice, where she and FDR had spent their honeymoon.

When the Gandhis bought the town house from Edna, it had been converted into an apartment building. But r8 months of renovation restored it to its original glory: a large family home with plenty of opeJ'spaces for guests and family.

"We decorated it in a very Passage to India style," says Meera. Sheer drapes and light cream upholstery help reflect the high ceilings. Zardozi embroidered tablecloths and cushions are sprinkled throughout the house to add color and vibrancy. The art has a spiritual theme to embrace the universality of all religions. The Gandhis also bought some Corbusier chairs for the living room, as well as a custom-made wood inlaid dining table. "We wanted a table big enough to seat 14, though Mrs. Roosevelt's dining room somehow sat 22 people," says Meera. "Instead of a rectangular table, she would have round tables."

For the Gandhi family, it's an honor to live in this town house, "I do feel humbled by this amazing woman who really looked at the world as a global village," says Meera. I've learned so much about her, which is a good thing, since everyone now expects us to be experts on her life."