European Letter from an MIT Grad, 1931 July 26
Prologue: When J. G. C. received his masters degree in Architecture from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1930 he was awarded a fellowship for a year of study and travel in Europe. He left in February, 1931 and remained there until June, 1932. He became a successful architect in New York City, as well as an excellent painter.
The writer is my grand-uncle, and our family has enjoyed sharing these letters for generations. I think they're interesting because they are a window into the everyday life, travelling style, and speech patterns of a different era, and because in many you can see the effects of the Great Depression and hints of European preparation for World War II.
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July 26, 1931
A great deal of my time when I first arrived back in Paris from Italy was taken up with helping...Dengler, (from Anderson's and Murphy's atelier or group, under their professor at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts) who was in the Grand Prix de Rome, the greatest thing that a Frenchman can win in the line of architecture. That is the thing that Prof. Carlu won several years ago. It is a huge competition, huge in the size of the problem required, but only ten competitors who have been selected by having about three previous competitions. It is a great honor to even be one of the ten finalists. The drawings were pretty well to a finished stage by the time I got back to Paris, but I helped on a lot of the smaller details that were yet to be studied. I got a great deal out of the associations with the Frenchmen in the Ecole, the contact with the professor, who is supposed to be one of the greatest teachers in the world, and just seeing how a thing of that size and importance is tackled, as none of the finished drawings had anywhere near been started, just the final studies. It was a very fine opportunity to work in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and one which was well worth the time spent. The judgment came three days after the drawings were finished, and Dengler was placed first. Let me tell you, there was some time around that quarter by Dengler's crowd. Gee, we started in about four in the afternoon and didn't go home until close to four in the morning. It is a treat to see a gang of students in Paris let loose and start celebrating, especially when it's a thing like winning the Grand Prix de Rome. If the fellows weren't up on the top of a telephone pole throwing their hats at all the horses that went by, or riding up and down the middle of the street on some other guy's back, they were marching snake dance fashion through all the cafes in that section, or riding the horses on every horse taxi that came along, climbing inside to sit all over the men or women who might be riding. It is such a great thing to win that all you had to do was to tell a cafe or night club man that the fellow in the middle had just won the Grand Prix and they'd bring out a couple of bottles of champagne and every one would drink a toast to Dengler, all given by the house. It was a swell celebration.
Over the weekend of July fourth a whole gang of us went out to Fontainebleau, where the American School of Fine Arts and Music is held each summer. Carlu is the head of the architectural school, or in fact of the entire School of Fine Arts. There are about fifteen fellows from Tech out there plus about ten other architects that I had known from other schools, so we weren't lacking in a swell gang all the time. The evening of July 4th, they held a dance for the Americans at the school. They had imported from somewhere an Indian and his wife who, for an hour and a half or about one hour and three saucers (the number that I broke fooling around there) too long, gave dances in native costume. You should have seen all the little French kids hanging on to the window bars outside trying to see what wild men we grew in America. At least the Indians gave me something to imitate all the rest of the evening in the middle of the dance floor much to the disgust of a few of the prim and proper ones but very much to the enjoyment of our gang which after all seemed to be the only bunch there who weren't dead and not afraid to make a little noise.
Fontainbleu is a very delightful little town about thirty miles outside of Paris and was at one time the favorite chateau and palace of Louis XIV, and later of Napolean. It is where Napolean signed his abdication and marched away between two rows of soldiers in the front court. I dont blame them for liking the old place. It surely is wonderful with its small lake, a very nice monumental canal on axis to a very formal garden, and its beautiful buildings which will take one two hours to just walk through going from one to another. They just seem to run for miles, and every one is in gorgeous decoration, of red, gold and Imperial purple, very far from the American movie theatre type. Napolean's bed rooms and council rooms are beautiful. The lake is filled with huge carp which all gather around by the bridge waiting to be fed. The whole place has one swell atmosphere of quiet and restfulness about it. For miles and miles the forest surrounds the town, for in those times this was all the kings hunting preserve. There is so much dampness in that section of France that the trees are all covered with a very thin moss from top to bottom, giving a very soft green, unlike anything ever seen in America. The trees are all very tall with perfectly straight trunks with no branches until way up near the top. So it is a beautiful effect looking through all these trees with the sunlight streaming down through. I had intended to go over to Versailles, but have saved that for next time in Paris, because of the enormous number of tourists that crowd it at this time of year. But all in all the general effect around Fontainebleau is one that you can get in no other country except France because of its soil, big trees and dampness. There are very few large trees in any other part of Europe that I have yet seen. It is at Fountainbleau that the former King of Spain is staying with all his family. He was over in England at the time I was out there. The school is run by the French government and is open to only Americans. It is held in the summer and is right in the old palace and chateau. It is the school that I said you should come to some summer, Christine and study harp. The harp teacher is world famous, don't know his name, and teaches at Curtiss Institute (I think) during the winter at about twenty dollars or more a half hour. Of course we didn't spend three days out there without going swimming a couple of times. Some day I'm really going to write a book on "Beaches I know, and Where to Swim in Europe." I could do it. Did rip off a couple of sketches while I was there but my sketches are nothing to take home for the family to see. One sketch we did was in the court of an old farm group with the huge grainery with an enormous roof all covered with moss, on one side of the court, and surrounded with the little wagon sheds and living quarters on the other sides. here were some typical old French peasants in there too, with their old wooden shoes which lent plenty to the picture. The dogs were all very glad to see us and hopped all over my pallet and then all over my paper giving it a texture that I never could have gotten myself. But they were excused because they were so glad to see us. It was O.K. when the first four came because they were all puppies and small dogs even if they grew but all of a sudden I was bowled over by the biggest St. Bernard dog you every saw, who ran all over the drawing giving it a good barn yard texture, and jumped at me, knocking me over, because I was just squatting, and just licked my face for all he was worth. I left when I saw a cow heading for me.
Paris treated us pretty well as far as weather around those parts is concerned. We only had about five or six days of rain until near the end, and since then we've had only about four without rain. The next few days were spent mostly in getting the car fixed up to start away on our trip; getting the international licenses fixed up to allow us to drive in other countries, etc. Boy: I spent more time trying to figure out just what I should write and where and then after filling out a whole set of papers discovered they wanted my American address instead of French, so had to start all over again; and in another set of papers after fillng 'em out find they wanted a French address instead of Ameriean that time. But after awhile, and after Mrs. Homsey had cabled home to have some bonds put up for security for customs in other countries we finished the thing up.
The Fourteenth of July in France is to them what our fourth is to us, the birth of their republic, so consequently there are big things doing that day. In fact they had just about a week of it. Most of France takes most of Saturday off anyway, so it really started Friday night. The 14th was on Tuesday, so they made Monday a holiday also, so from Friday night to Wednesday morning no one did anything except celebrate. They rope off streets and all the cafes hire an orchestra and the people all dance in the street out in front. Boy, they have one big time. Then on the fourteenth they held a big parade in the spirit of their Colonial Exposition with soldiers from all their colonies, in all the different uniforms for years back, marching. It was about three miles long. The most impressive bunch were the ones from Africa. These jet black fellows with white turbans, wicked looking swords, and big flowing pants with rifles strapped across their backs were absolutely swell. And then came their horse men in rows of white and then black horses. Their faces are just and ebony black, most of them have pointed whiskers, and all are perferctly wonderful riders. They were all dressed in white, and stood up on their saddles when they rode past the President. It was a marvellous sight.
All those days in that period were spent in working on that rendering and as most of my gang were out to Fontainebleau I did not have any distractions. I was given a couple of tickets for Josephine Baker's show and took that girl who came from Albion. Joesphine Baker is a colored girl from the Harlem, and is Paris's sweetheart. Of course over here negroes and whites go out together all the time, a very common thing. You will see plenty of white girls out with negro fellow and vica versa. She really is great and can dance like nobody's business. She really is very cute too, and gets all fixed up like a Parisien doll, with greasy black hair and great big painted eyes. It was just about the swellest thing I've ever seen, only I wish when girls wear these long black silk stockings that come to their hips (half of 'em wore darn little more) that they wouldn't wear stocking with runs in 'em.
Some of the sets were the most wonderful stage decorations that I've every seen, and they had a darn good chorus too. I haven't seen Follies Bergere, but from reports of those who have Joesphine Baker has it all over that. Anyway it was a darn good show.
I called Commissioner Burke up, and made an appointment to meet him at the American Embassy one morning. He took me out to the Exposition in his car. I struck it very lucky for that day the French General who is the head of the entire Exposition and his entire entourage were to be at Mt. Vernon to see the opening of a new exhibit. So they threw a big party and I of course met the whole gang, not that it'll ever do me any good, but I did get some swell cakes out of it. The hostess and assistant hostess are very charming, as also were three very pretty girls from New Orleans who were there giving an exhibit of old French weaving in New Orleans. The exhibit wasn't much good, but the girls were swell. Mr. Burke is a very nice man and seems to know French about the way I do, and cares about it just about as much. He's very proud of Mt. Vernon and gets a big kick out of having people look it over. I liked him very very much.
The exposition itself is a marvellous sight, with the reproduction of the old temple from Indo-China, and entire streets of old places in Tunis, etc., camels walking around taking people for rides, all the very latest designs in modern architecture, or architecture from the various colonies done with a modern spirit, all in very brilliant colors, and then the exhibits and surroundings of the other countries and their colonies, such as the U.S., Holland, Belgium, etc. And then of course the inhabitants of the various colonies are all there in their native dress and costumes. There is a little railroad that runs all over the grounds which are darn large, and they have a very beautiful lake right in the center. They have little bits of autos for hire to take you all over if you want to pay the price. Some do. The temples and colonial buildings are impossible to describe on paper so that'll all be left for pictures on the return. The streets have the swellest lighting fixtures imaginable and they certainly give a marvellous effect at night. One street has steam coming out of the top of each light which gives a swell effect. If the Exposition is swell during the day it just takes your breath away at night with its beautiful fountains of light and marvellous lighting effects. There is one fountain which is out in the lake and at one end of it. It is about ninty feet in height and has huge teeth on the sides like a giant saw. In each one of these is a powerful light, and from each one comes a stream of water. At the base there is a huge volume of water in a wonderful arch form, and when this water is all going and there are all of these wonderful lights on it and in the streams of water, it is a sight to be remembered. The fountains don't play during the day because so much depends on the lights. We watched the water and lights come on. It just kind of grew from the base right on up to the very top. The entrance and its fountains are beautiful too. And much more so at night. One of the huge buildings houses all the mechanical and electrical and transportation stuff, having huge locomotives of the latest types in both steam and electrical power. Then there are entire trains, huge models of steam ships, radio stations, automobiles, and even several huge aeroplanes. The buildings themselves are very very beautiful things in modern design and it is a shame that they will all be torn down after the thing is over. There is only one building that will stay and that is the museum. The entire front wall of this building is just a mass of sculpture in low relief. It is very effective. The Exposition is worth several days and evenings to view even a small part very thoroughly. The reproductions of the old native buildings and especially of that temple are almost perfect. They have been built of paper mache and plaster and they have a texture such that they appear to be hundreds of years old. Some of them including the temple have some marvellous reflecting basins, which go farther than making them beautiful at night. They are enchanting. Those words I'm using sound like the deuce but I'm just trying to describe things as I got the impression. An American movie company has bought the temple and after the exposition is going to make a movie using it and during the course of the movie, burn it. They have an amusement park that would suit you to a "T", Ginny. They also have a zoo with the only thing shutting you off from the lions and tigers being a big ditch which has been dug around the zoo. It doesn't seem very effective but so far there haven't been very many people gobbled up, so I guess it's all right. One of the fountains I forgot to mention was a bridge of light. In the lake there is an island which has been fixed up like Bagdad. On each side of the bridge leading over to it is this array of nozzles which at night shout the water from both sides in a very nice arc making kind of a tunnel of water which is lit with lights which are constantly changing color like those at Niagara Falls. Very effective, also. All in all, the various designers of the Exposition did a wonderful job of it all. It is worth a trip to France almost by itself.
The Seine River has assumed proportions more to the liking of the French people, which was not the case when I left in March. One afternoon I took a boat and went way up the river past all the famous bridges and by some of the nicest spots of country. It was a very pleasant trip. I once spoke of visiting the Russian church. It is a very small church, and all of the people who go there are Royalists of course. Prince Nicholas helps in the service. He was a cousin to the czar and the only one of the entire Royal family to escape with his life. He is a very wonderful appearing man with a marvellous face. He carries the stool and huge bible for the high priest. The high priest has a marvellous pure white beard and all the priests wear the most beautiful robes that you ever hope to see. They swing their incense pots around while the choir way up in the very top of this Russian basilica Church chant away. The music is the most beautiful in Paris, and some say the world, very deep bass voices and two wonderful sopranos. You must never fail to visit it if you get to Paris. Everyone stands and the services take place all through the crowd. The church is a very nice piece of Russian design and very old. Twice the Reds have tried to bomb it. Of all the people who go there, the Russians surely show on their faces that they've gone through a terrible ordeal. The city is just filled with Russians, and if you take a taxi the chances are half and half that you'll get an ex-noble to pilot you around. But a visit to the Russian church is very well repaid by the beautiful music, robes, and the impressive service. Dont miss it.
One day down by the Seine we came across a lunatic who was painting. There are plenty of them in Paris, plenty of lunatics and plenty of them who try to paint. But this guy really was one in earnest. He'd stand back, then give a yell and throw paint at his canvass, then he'd run his hands through his paints and just rub them all over his face and in his hair. He wasn't reproducing anything on his canvass or was he using any colors meaning anything. I never saw a wild man like him before. It surely must be a swell way to paint because no matter what you put down it is great.
Guess it is about time that I got out of Paris. We left on the 17th of July, in typical Paris weather, rain. Went out past Le Bourget airfield, where Lindberg landed. Gee, what a disappointing field. Just old iron hangars, and an office. But it's famous. We went to a little town called Senlis which is very much drawn by sketchers, etc. and saw the cathedral, which was very interesting. Then the next place was Beauvais which was the town that the British zeppelin fell at last year killing all its men. The town has a most marvellous cathedral which if it had ever been completed as it had been planned it would have been the largest in the world. There seem to have been several like that -- one at Sienna, Italy. But here just the apse and transcept are all that's built. The nave, which is the long part of the church never having been started. What is there is huge and beautiful. From Beauvais we went on to Amiens which has one of the most famous and beautiful cathedrals in the world. There is nothing that can even begin to touch a swell French Gothic cathedral. During the war this cathedral was almost completely covered with sandbags even though the Germans were careful not to shoot at it. They did destroy Reims cathedral, but only because the French were using its towers for artillery observation posts. Amiens certainly is a wonderful work. I wish I had more time to study the various cathedrals but you certainly cant do everything you'd like to over here, cant even begin to see it all let alone studing it.
From there on we were in the old war zone; in the British and Belgium sectors, not the American which were east and north-east from Paris. In Lille we came to a huge church in Italian style which had been completely shot away in the front. It was the first building that I had seen that had been shelled so it impressed me very much. We soon crossed the Belgium border and were in the section that saw some of the heaviest fighting during the war, Vimy Ridge, and Ypres with its famous Hill #60. The Tommies used to call it Wipers, but its correct pronounciation is like Eeps. That whole country side was completely wiped away. Now you see trenches still remaining, barbed wire, shell holes, concrete pill boxes and observation posts, and plenty of this corrugated iron sheeting they used for protection from aeroplanes. The entire country-side has had about three to four feet of its surface cut away and carted off since the War because it was saturated with all the poison gases which ruined it for producing any farm products. There is not a tree that is larger than a small plum tree, but they have planted plenty of trees. In one place they have built the new road around a different way than where the old one was, which is still there in the condition it was in at the close of the War. You never saw such a mess. It is impossible to imagine just how much they could shoot the place up and still leave anythin to show that there was once a town there. Here and there you will see an old brick wall still standing which hasn't been torn down. I saw some pictures of the place during the War and a picture taken from the same spot before. It's impossible to imagine the condition during the War. You just could not think that it was anything but an old brick pile and it was the beautiful old city hall in swell Belgian Gothic style. Just on the edge of the town is an old gun emplacement with the blown up guns just as they were at the end of the War. Boy, what a mess! But Ypres has come out of it better than almost any other town I've yet seen. Very charming houses have been built in the old style and it really looks like a very nice city. England has a very large War memorial there, which contains, I imagine, at least twenty thousand names, which are only the names of the men who are known to have been lost in that battle there, but of whom no trace has been found. Think of that, twenty thousand and they're only the ones who haven't been found. The entire country side is just dotted with cemeteries. They are all kept up very nicely, too. The thing that got me, was all the wreaths at the base of the memorial and one of them said, "In loving memory to John Green, Mother" and she was from Toronto. Gee, what a feeling the people must have to come clear across the ocean to see the place where some one of theirs fell, find their name among those never found, and leave a wreath as their tribute. The people in those parts never want to see another war. Let the darn Fasiciti endure a little bit of that and perhaps they wont be so ready to go to war as they are now.
From there we went on to Oostend which is on the English Channel. It has a beautiful beach but it was terrible weather so we didn't go swimming. It is a great resort for the English. It was occupied by the Germans during the War, and there are now several low concrete observation places build in the sand banks along the shore grim evidences of war. They are darn swell pieces of modern design too. After all that is what modern is, answering the problem in the best straight forward manner. We hit Oostend at just the right time for the next day King Albert was to unveil a statue to Leopold II, his father. We got right up to the front, trust us. I couldn't get in a position to get any pictures of the unveiling, but later on I got some of King Albert. I was up to within ten feet of him but of course there was a huge crowd and also it was raining most of the time. He's a peach of a guy and the queen and prince are swell too. The whole bunch was there, as was the prince's financee, Princess somebody from Sweden. People were crowding all around the King, and he was shaking hands with them -- much different than old Mussolini in Italy, where on the day that he spoke no foreigner, or even an Italian without a pass could get within three blocks, actually three blocks, of where he was speaking. All during the ceremonies there were hundreds of boats out in the water all highly bedecked with flags and colors and just parading back and forth. Then they held a parade with all the different flags of the different towns and cities in Belgium. Boy, it was pretty, and there were some pretty swell flags.
From there we went to Bruges, which is just about as picturesque a city as I ever hope to be in. It is called "The Venice of the North" because of its many canals, and it well deserves the name. It has the nicest old square with a beautiful City Wall and other city buildings around it, a couple of old hotels on one side and the usual number of cafes and beer places. At one end is the nicest huge Gothic bell tower with some carillons that are world famous. It seems that Monday and Tuesday of that week, two of the days we were there were National holidays, so we were lucky enough to hear an hour concert on the carillon bells. Gee, they are marvellous sounding bells. They played the Indian Love Call from Rose Marie for one piece. After that they had a torch light parade all over Bruges, lasting for two hours and had four bands or bugle corps that Belgium is so famous for. It was great, we got right in the middle and marched around with all the Belgiums. Old ladies were dancing their way around through the town and everyone was having just the most wonderful of times. It was great to go down all these streets lined with old houses and see all the heads sticking out of these dormer windows (all second floors are dormer windowed). These tiny little windows and about five heads sticking out, some with night caps, and some without. It was exactly as old paintings I'd seen of that country. Each house has up on the second story, a mirror or mirrors, tipped and turned such that one can sit back in the room and see who is coming down the street. These are called gossip mirrors. You see them throughout Belgium and Holland. All of these towns are spotless, and wonderfully clean, from top to bottom. In Bruges we stayed at a typical Dutch home and it was swell. I declare, never have I seen so many artists painting as were at Bruges. They were every fifty feet. One man was even sitting in a little iron cage out over one of the canals sketching away. I expected almost any minute to see him hop up and play monkey. It is the most fascinating thing to wander in some of the old courts in these old buildings and churches and see the swell old buildings and such. The paintings of the old masters of this country are some of the most wonderful in the world. There is the nicest little museum of Memling I ever hope to see. I never did like the Louvre in Paris, which I think is the worst exhibited museum I've ever been in. They have some of the world's most famous things and at the same time I think they have the world's greatest collection of junk. This land here is right in the section of wooden shoes, milk men peddling milk with dog carts, and a lot of windmills which are not worked anymore due to the modern machine age, which I suppose they will blame on poor America, as they blame the loss of all other old things and customs, etc. on her. Anything bad that happens in this world, the U.S. gets the blame, anything good is due to the wonderful minds they have in their own countries, and yet they all want to come to America.
We left Bruges and headed for Ghent, which I've always remembered, dad, because of that poem, "A Soldier of The Legion" that you used to read to me. Remember it? We didn't stay over night there. But did see it quite thoroughly, as you can do with a car in much less time and in a much more thorough manner. It has some very charming old buildings, some nice canals, and some swell old fortifications and walls and gates, all surrounded by a moat. In the cathedral is one of the most wonderful paintings that I've ever seen. It is marvellous. We then beat it for Antwerp, which is a huge seaport and a very modern city. It has the highest office building in Europe, about fifteen stories. The cathedral tower is very fine but the town as a whole is not very picturesque and could well be missed.
As a modern city in Europe it is very interesting and has miles and miles of docks with their huge cranes and boats from all over the world. Seaports and their harbors always have fascinated me, as I suppose they fascinate any boy because of their connection with the sea and every port of the world, no matter how distant or remote. There seems to be a lot of romance connected with such places. I could hang around them for hours making sketches, and day dreams about all the funny boats and men from Japan, The Philippines, Russia, South America, Australia, etc.
Next we went to Maline, where there is a very nice cathedral and the seat of an archbishop or something. It is in this church that Cardinal Mercier, the renouned Belgium cardinal during the War is buried in a new side chapel. The stained glass windows in it are very nice pieces of work and show different scenes in his life. The cathedral is the first one I've seen in France with the tower on the front, in the center. All other cathedrals have their towers either on each front corner, or there is only one on one corner. This church is very impressive on the exterior. In the tower are some beautiful carillon bells but they play only Mondays during August and September.
I forgot to mention that in Antwerp as we were leaving we came to the site where they held their huge World's Fair last year but with several of the buildings still standing. It must have been very interesting for what we could see just poking around had a lot of interest. There was a very modern school being done over just outside the grounds which was great. When America, as some of it already has, comes to realize that better schools, can be built for less money, in this modern style, there are going to be buildings put up which will be so far ahead of any schools we now have that we'll wonder how we got along before. Also just outside the grounds there was a modern church built for the expositon but permanent. It is quite interesting, but crude in many spots. It really is modern only in details, not much in the fundementals.
While in Maline, we did a sketch of the tower of the cathedral, and although we had the top down and did it in the car we managed to collect about fifty people and sometimes many more. So we didn't lack for an audience or interest from the townspeople in that place. They evidently thought the things were passable because one of the guys made a couple of wise cracks and was promptly squelched and set down by the rest.
We stayed in Brussels several days, which is a very modern city, and very beautiful. There is a very high hill that runs right through the city, dividing it into the higher and lower parts. The Kings palace and the Palais du Justice are situated right at the edge of it, having the most marvellous sites that you could imagine. There are several very beautiful boulevards, and near the outskirts of the city are some very beautiful up to the minute apartment houses. In the center of the city there is a huge department store called "Au Bon Marche" which I imagine is connected with the one in Paris by the same name. It is in a very modern building and runs for two blocks, being about five stories in height. You would be very much interested in the stores over here, dad. I mean in the large ones, in their buildings and display of goods which they don't seem to care much how they are put before the public, and which I guess the public doesn't seem to care much about either. I am taking pictures of the exteriors of some of them which will show you what thet best up to the minute stores have for buildings.
In the museums at Brussels there are some very nice paintings by some of the old Flemish masters. And a lot of very nice sculpture by a Belgium called Meunier who died about fifteen or twenty years ago. He did peasants, and industrial people and did them in a strong manner, a lot like Bordell of France. In the Luxembourg Museum in Paris there is the swellest big polar bear in pure white stone. Gee, it is the simplest thing I've ever seen and just marvellous in its simplicity.
Waterloo, the site of the battle in which Napolean was so decisively defeated is just outside of Brussels. It is a low rolling country and the farms that figured so prominently in the battle are still there. It is a very impressive place, and to see the spot where Napolean stood to watch the battle and where Wellington stood to command his forces gave me a big kick. I get a great thrill out of those things, trying to imagine the battle going on. There is a huge panorama fixed up at the place where the famous sunken road was. The little knoll causing the sunken road has been dug away but the road is still there. That was the road about which "The Charge of the Light Brigade" was written. It is that thing that defeated Napolean and probably changed the history of the world a great deal. His general, General Eye, had failed to note this little depression in the terrain because it was only a little dip by this road and not very easily noticed. He gave the order for the cavalry to charge just at the moment when victory was almost Napolean's. These several thousand men on horses came charging towards the British, when all of a sudden before they got to them, only about a hundred feet away, the front ranks tumbled down this small embankment into the sunken road. The on-coming men continued to push the men who reached the brink on over, until it was filled with men and horses. Hardly a man of this several thousand got out alive, which so completly dismayed the French that what had been victory to them was a crushing defeat, which soon led to Napolean's exile.
Next we went to Louvain, where the large university is situated, and where the library given by American schools and colleges is erected for the university to replace the one that the Germans burned down during the war. It was here that there was such a controversy between Whitney Warren the American architect of it and the rector of the University. Warren had put an inscription of the front of the building "Destroyed by the fury of the Germans, replaced by the generosity of the Americans". He insisted that it remain, the rector insisted that it not because it would always breed hatred through the ages, and strange as it may seem, the Belgiums have forgiven and forgotten almost completly and hold no hatred for the Germans, while the French would still like to see them wiped out, as far as I can make out. Not the French public in general, but the younger generation, who in time will be the ones to do things. The students at the University had a big fight about it, they tore down the balustrade along the top of the whole building, which is still down in mute evidence of their actions. They too, wanted it removed. It has been.
When we crossed the Belgium frontier we sailed right by the Belgium Custom house which had no sign at all, but after a few minutes we discovered it and went back; they hadn't even noticed that we'd gone by. We told the Dutch customs officer about it and he laughed and said they had uniforms but this was all he had. He went over to a cupboard and got out a little dinky hat, put it on cock-eyed and threw it back in again. The instant you enter Holland you see a difference in their architecture, their terribly clean windows and such nicely kept homes. Gee, it is swell. Everyone rides bicycles. In one town we went through there were streets after streets of the most wonderful housing groups that you've ever seen. All absolutely new. Of course while other countries were fighting and paying money for munitions and still are, Holland was getting all the trade, and being thrifty anyway made a lot of money, so now it is a very prosperous, and right up to the minute country, with modern architecture that will put things in America to shame. It really is marvellous. Went through Breda which had some very nice things and then on to Rotterdam.
Here in Rotterdam there is the most modern and the swellest building for a huge department store that I've ever seen. The sides are just long rows of glass running for a whole block and the most impressive mass that you can imagine. It is built of yellow glazed brick with a black marble base trimmed in gold brick. But much to my surprise the man at whose house we are staying says that there are a great many people who think that the new modern is very ugly and don't like it at all. I previously thought that since this country has been doing it for about twenty or twenty-five years that it was just an accepted thing with no struggle to get across. However, I notice that the people who dont like it are only the so-called on-lookers, and not the people who know what they want and are in the line of business of having needs in building and getting them taken care of in the best possible manner. It is very interesting to see a building of the very latest type built just around the corner from an old wind-mill which is still turning away, and grinding out the old flour. Rotterdam is very much of an up to the minute city with fast trollies, and buses, and lots of people rushing here and there. The cops are very stern creatures with hats that make them look like the old Teutons. The city is just filled with kids though, who hop on the car about every second and want to show you to a hotel or around the city. Most of them speak English, which seems to me to be known by a great many people in every country. We came across a modern church with a very nice tower, and when the Father learned we were architects he took a great interest and showed us through the entire thing, in the Parish house, the garden and all. There were some pictures of the Stations of The Cross done by an artist in a very modern manner, and then some large heads of the different Disciples. They certainly had a great deal more power than anything I'd ever seen before. The Father was all for that style of design because the times had changed and demanded it as he said. I was very interested to hear this because I've often wondered what a church man thought of getting away from Gothic and other conventional styles and really doing things in the materials that were at hand and used in this day.
I have just returned from a visit to a tobacco factory on the outskirts of Rotterdam, which is just about the most modern thing in design along industrial lines. It is perfectly marvelous. The massing as you view it from a distance is very fine and as you approach it you become more and more enthusiastic over the wonderful ideas that have been set forth and carried out in the design. The factory has three departments of merchandise, tobacco, coffee, and tea. The exterior expresses the three divisons very successfully and yet at the same time everything is held nicely together. It is practically all glass with the exterior walls cantilevered out from the columns so that there is no breaking up of the windows by columns. All stairways are set in corners and sections that are completely glass from the ground right up to the observation room, which is circular, of course entirely of glass, and nine floors above the ground. From it you get a wonderful view of the whole city. There is a coffee urn there, and visitors are given coffee as they sit around to view the surrounding country. It is the cleanest factory that I've ever seen, every bit of it being as clean as the very cleanest of kitchens. It has a scrubbing every night, the women beginning as soon as the employees are out.
We were taken around by one of the owners himself, and met the president. Every single one of them was marvellous to us, and all spoke very good English. They all spend some time in America and are constantly making trips there. Naturally they are very proud of the place and don't mind a bit in showing it to interested people. The office and executive section is just about the finest thing that I've seen. It is strictly business like, everything right at your finger-tips, and with the entire wall surfaces being glass, it is as light as if you were out doors. They have huge gray rayon or some such material curtains for days when there is too much light. The floors are gray rubber bordered with a deep blue. while the second floor where the president's office is, and other executives have offices, there is what might be called a promenade over-looking the huge general office which is two stories in height, and has a railing which is painted in brillant red with a stainless steel top rail, a very effective thing in the ensemble. The directors' room was absolutely sound proof and had the same simplicity with just one long table with a black vitrolite top, with a stand containing the telephone and call buttons, which revolved so that it was in reach of almost every man around the table. The president's office was a marvel in itself, and had a very nice terrace which could be used for work on days that permitted it. There is not the slightest doubt but that that style is absolutely the style for commercial purposes and anywhere commerce touches a finger. Whether it will ever have as strong a place in domestic architecture is a matter that only time and changing ideas can determine.
When we had completed the tour of the factory, we had the chance, which was promptly accepted, of visiting the home of the president which has but recently been completed and is by the same architects who did the factory. It is absolutely the very latest thing in modern. The president is a bachelor and a house of that design is ideal for him. On the lower floor is a huge sun room two stories in height with a bright yellow floor. In one corner and extending along one wall is an indoor flower garden. Right in the center of the room is a very modern round table with a bright pink top, which goes wonderfully well with the floor. There is a spiral staircase in stainless steel in one corner. The huge kitchen and maids rooms are also on the first floor. The sun room looks out on a terrace and a garden with the tennis court farther back. Practically the entire side of the house on the garden is of plate glass, very nice from the interior but not so successful on the exterior. Along the entire front on the second floor, inside is his big lounge which contains radio, moving pictures, a very nice residence organ, a modern grand piano, and a huge built in lounge that is fully ten to twelve feet in length and four feet in depth. The huge plate glass windows which run acrose the entire facade are raised and lowered simply by pushing a button which starts an electric motor. There is every conceivable convenience and luxury in that lounge, and every bit of furniture in the entire house is of course in the most modern style. And let me tell you that there isn't a piece of furniture made in the world that can beat modern for being the most comfortable thing going, whether it is a chair, lounge, floor lounge with table attached or any thing else you might name. That is exactly what modern design does, gives the maximum comfort and ease for the minimum effort and trouble on the part of the user. People may say modern interiors aren't to their liking but they certainly never can say that anything they can name in the old stuff can be as practical and as comfortable. I defy them to find such a thing.
The various walls of the various rooms are painted different colors in very soft shades, depending first on the use of the room, whether it should have a cool feeling or a very warm and restful feeling. I mean by that that the dining room would be painted a different color than the lounge, because the dining room is used for just meals and then you move to the lounge where you will spend your time. Then the colors also depend on whether or not the sun gets to that wall and at what time, so that you will have the right warmth and color for the right time. It is all done very logically but unnoticed by the observer when it is right, but very much noticed and unpleasant if it were wrong. The dining room has curtains swinging around on a circular track in one corner to cut off one section to be used just for breakfast if one desires. The guest rooms are wonderful with the most marvelous dressing table for a woman that you can imagine, modern and simple but far surpassing any that you've ever seen before. His bed room is the simplest of things but with a very nice wardrobe and dressing room and beautiful bath room. The organ pipes are also on this third floor with the sound thrown in the ceiling of the lounge below and reflected up to the ceiling and then down to the floor and around the room by a curved metal coping over the lounge window and going their entire length. A very logical and straight forward treatment. On the top floor which is not built up the entire house lot, he has an astronomical observatory and gymnasium equipted with rowing machine, horizontal bars, punching bag, and a very up to date sun-machine. Out on the roof was a closed off portion that he could use for taking a regular sun bath. The rear of the house overlooking the garden stepped back at every floor so that each room had a little outdoor terrace. It was one wonderful arrangement with everything being done by electricity, even to the opening of the garage doors and the shining of the shoes. The house overlooked a very nice harbor with a beautiful park all around and several small islands out in the water. Way across, the other side had several windmills which were running.
In the afternoon we visited the airfield which leaves plenty to be desired, and then inspected many parts of Rotterdam which would have been impossible without the car. In fact what we have already covered in two days with the car is more than could possibly be covered in over a week without, because so many of the things that we want to see are outside of the city. We visited several very interesting and very nice developments of working mens' homes which have been nicely taken care of by architects in this section. The houses are very charming and unlike the type of workmens' homes that we know. They are like street after street of the most interesting Dutch and English cottages, in the very nicest of brick work, and each one has its little terrace and garden with flowers all around the front door. There are many many streets of these homes and the section presents an extrardinary wonderful design. Every now and then they'll be spotted with a modern church or school in the same brick work and fitting into the picture perfectly. And naturally it should, for the workmen's groups are a modern idea in the way these are done, for comfort and all and why shouldn't a modern church or school fit fine. It is noticed that though they do their homes in the old style which is exactly what I think should be done where there is a family concerned, yet when they come to a school, or gymnasium or some other thing where practicability is concerned and a very definite problem is served and answered, they resort to a modern building done in a modern style, and the two fit so perfectly. One section in particular was interesting. The buildings were four stories in height with a family having the first two floors and another family having the third and fourth floors. Milk and other things are delivered on bicycles, so instead of making the milkman and postman, etc. climb the stairs for each family, there was another street cantilevered out from the building at the third floor, and was about five feet wide. This ran for a great distanee for the houses were built on courts and just wove in and out. At different places there were lifts to take the bicycles and produce up and down, so the milkman would put his bicycle and stuff on the lift, go up to the elevated street and do the rounds up there delivering his things over a distance of half a mile or more before he would have to descend. Darn ingenious I think.
The harbor of Rotterdam, and all its wonderful canals filled with boats just as we used to see in picture books on Holland when we were kids are absolutely swell. You cant describe them, at least I cant, but there are just hundreds of these little boats jammed in selling their farm products, and containing the swellest collection of wonderful old men and women in their good old Dutch clothes. It is a thing that will long remain in ones memory. They say that Amsterdam is equally if not more picturesque. We shall see.