The White House: Hawken’s Taste of Times Past

The White House; photo by Caroline Vexler

Charlotte Doody

Every school day at 12:00 P.M. or so during the fall, we Hawken students take the chilly walk to the White House, eagerly awaiting the warmth that lies inside the doors. We wait for our food, oblivious to our surroundings. Yes, we eat lunch in a house, but why? Who are the people who once made this house their home, and what is their relationship with Hawken?

The White family once inhabited this magnificent mansion, hence the name the White house. The White family was the proud owner of the White Motor Company, an automobile and truck manufacturer. The company was based in Cleveland and had a large influence on promoting the American industrial revolution. Walter C. White was the youngest of three brothers, yet he proved himself to be more than capable of a leadership role and was thus appointed the company’s president and chief executive officer. White ironically much preferred the harmonious melodies of nature to the chaos of a booming city, compelling him to purchase the property that would soon be the foundation for the White house itself.

The White house took over four years to construct and was finally completed in 1923. The three hundred-and-twenty-five-acre estate that the White house is located upon was once the home of the most extensive dairy farm in Ohio, the Circle W. Farm. The dairy farm consisted of the largest barn in the state, housing over two hundred cows. The farm also was the location of a bottling plant and an interurban railroad used to transport products downtown. The White house, with its stately white pillars, was based on Virginia White’s childhood home in Statesburg, South Carolina. The murals found on the walls of the house are a depiction of the rolling hills of Virginia, where Mrs. White’s family home was situated. The White house was designed by the Walker and Weeks architecture group, founded by Frank Ray Walker and Harry E. Weeks here in Cleveland. The firm is recognized for their work designing many banks, but are most famous for designing the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. The Walker and Week architectural group also designed Severance Hall in University Circle.

This beloved White house and property was not given to Hawken school with great ease, but took many years of strenuous work by the Hawken board to acquire. When Hawken School first had a desire to develop a high school, as early as 1956, there was little idea of where the campus should be built. However, Hawken then received information that University School had declined the offer for the Walter C. White Circle Farm in Gate Mills. Hawken immediately seized the opportunity. As Jim Ireland ‘68 explains, “Hawken people immediately contacted Ann Stockton. The farm could be available to Hawken School.” This remarkable opportunity to purchase the White estate caused much dispute amongst the board members. The campus was originally positioned near University Circle near the newly remodeled Gries Center. The Hawken lower school then relocated to the Lyndhurst campus because the administration sought more room to enable the creation of a larger student body. The Hawken community worried that the high costs of creating a new campus for the Upper School could ultimately lead to the demise of the institution as a whole. Yet after much debate, the verdict was to take action. On March 7, 1960 a plan was drafted to purchase the estate as well as the additional surrounding acres. In 1961, the final draft of the purchase was created, which read that Hawken School would purchase sixty-five acres of the White estate with the additional option to acquire as much as two hundred-and-fifty acres of adjacent property. Hawken School bought the estate for one hundred thousand dollars, and later purchased the additional three hundred acres of the estate, for an additional hundred thousand dollars. On September 10, 1961, one hundred-and-thirty-four boys arrived for their first day of school at a brand new campus engulfed by the fresh scent of the country. Today, Hawken students enjoy the stunning land that surrounds the school, but, more importantly, adore the brilliant White house, now used for the lunch room. The White house provides a place to escape from the stress of strenuous Hawken academics and allows members of Hawken to focus on a simple pleasure of life: dining with friends.

 

  • David J Gill

    It took four years to build? One wonders why. In contrast, Severance Hall, a much more elaborate building was completed in just 13 months.