Restoration Keeps Evergreen's character and history intact

Jacques Kelly

September 13, 1990|By Jacques Kelly

When the word came that Johns Hopkins University had pumped a staggering $4.3 million into Evergreen, the old Garrett estate in the 4500 block of N. Charles St., there seemed some cause for worry.

Could this very demanding house survive a restoration and still be the lived-in museum it has been since the death of its owners?

But this week, after a tour of Evergreen, it is apparent that the house indeed came out all right. The familiar cracks in the 1880s mosaic tile floors still are there. The vintage parchment lamp shades are a little brown around the edges and slightly crooked. The electrical switches remain the antediluvian black push-button variety. Evergreen is still Evergreen. Its character has survived, if some 40 years of dust and old varnish have been removed. The place has been freshly painted, given a new roof and all new heating, electrical and security systems. All the furniture was shipped to Sotheby's Restoration for refurbishment.

And, as befits, the editors of Antiques Magazine and House and Garden have each expressed interest in doing spreads of this house of the Garrett dynasty. The house and grounds open for public tours Monday. Parts also may be rented for social functions.

Evergreen, which sits squarely between the campuses of the College of Notre Dame of Maryland and Loyola College, is all of 48 rooms, plus gardens and carriage house. A new addition to the house, a home for Hopkins archives, was to have been constructed there, but the school ran out of money and deferred this project.

The history of the house begins in the 1850s, when William Broadbent built a large home named Glen Mary on what was then called Charles Street Avenue. By 1878, the firm of Robert Garrett and Sons, capitalists, financiers and Baltimore and Ohio Railroad chiefs, purchased the property for T. Harrison Garrett. Over the decades, through the 1930s, successive Garretts and their wives added and added to Evergreen. Architects, interior designers, artists and artisans, cabinetmakers and plumbers got to know the house at 4545 N. Charles very well.

"It is a house at once ungainly, unwieldy, elegant, and interesting, which surprisingly for such enormity of size nonetheless maintains warmth and intimacy," said Susan G. Tripp, director of Hopkins' collections.

The Garretts were a family of collectors. They bought coins, Shakespeare folios, paintings, furniture and Oriental lacquers. And the last two occupants of the home, John Work and Alice Warder Garrett, seemed as much in love with Evergreen as their forebears had been. John W. Garrett held diplomatic posts in the Hague, Netherlands; Italy; Berlin; Paris; Rome and Venezuela. He and his wife traveled through Europe, and they did so in a 16-cylinder yellow Cadillac.

Along the way, they bought and collected, both art and people. They entertained such names as composer Erik Satie, Jean Cocteau, art historian Bernard Berenson, novelist Edith Wharton and musical comedy composer Cole Porter and his wife, Linda. There's a particularly nice sketch of Linda Porter at Evergreen, as well as a stunning DeMeyer photo of her.

Part of the joy of Evergreen is the way all the objects are stacked around the 48 rooms. One reading room may have a red-bound Baedeker of Italy that could be found at the Smith College Book Sale for $2. Near it might be a delightful Raoul Dufy watercolor of France. And on the shelf down the way might be a silver-framed autographed photo of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. It's that kind of house, informal, unrestrained by some museum curator's rigid views.

Consider the John Work Garretts' guest list for a May 31 weekend of long ago: socialite John Nicholas Brown, violinist Efrem Zimbalist Sr. and Metropolitan Opera soprano Lucrezia Bori. Bori, a frequent guest at Evergreen, was a great friend of Alice Garrett.

Alice Garrett's collection of paintings (Degas, Bonnard, Modigliani and Vuillard, for example) never have looked better -- and there's not a sign of intrusive track lighting anywhere. It is a pleasure to those who like to enjoy art and antiques in a natural setting, lighted by old chandeliers or Louis Comfort Tiffany Studios sidelights. The gold bathroom never has looked fresher, worthy of the ablutions of a Roman emperor. Russian artist Leon Bakst's decorations for the home's small theater, along with his original stage set, are another surprise. Mrs. Garrett's playhouse is no longer the dusty afterthought it seemed to be for so long. You can visualize it being booked for all sorts of events.

And there are little surprises. And even though Evergreen now is the property of Johns Hopkins, John Work Garrett's orange-and-black Princeton University class banner still hangs in his former office. Go Tigers!

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