By Richard Gaines
---- — Behind the eight-foot high stuccoed wall on Eastern Point Boulevard, the historic Red Roof — an eccentric dowager of a waterfront Eastern Point home to A. Piatt Andrew, perhaps Gloucester’s least-known influential citizen of the world — has bitten the dust.
It was on Dec. 14 that Red Roof was demolished, 86 years after the bachelor Andrew — APA to his friends — died at the age of 63 in the garden room of his turn-of-the-last-century creation that featured secret passages (there was a hidden Prohibition wet bar disguised as a section of the great library), art, and hosted bacchanalian parties by and for the American aristocracy, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt when he was Professor Andrew’s economics student at Harvard.
The .77 acres of property acquired by Andrew for $2,500 in 1901 was sold by his descendants for $1.6 million in 2011 to a couple from Greenwich, Conn.
Attorney Joseph P. Hadley, an attorney in New York City, and his wife, Anne Marie Reilly, will build a new home in the same shingle style, on the same footprint. Work is already in the earliest stages, directly adjacent to the south of Beauport, the more renowned kindred cottage which is on the National Registry of Historic Places, according to Mark Pellegrini, the site supervisor for the builder, Carpenter and MacNeille of Essex.
“We harbor no ill will toward the new owners, who encountered prohibitive rehabilitation challenges,” said Roger Fisk, whose wife Corinna was one of Andrew’s descendants who co-owned and co-sold the property to Hadley and Reilly.
“Given the significance of APA and his Red Roof to Gloucester,” Hadley said in an email, “it was a wrenching decision to have to do as much as it turned out we have had to, but we are looking forward to a new Red Roof rising up to honor the old, and have taken a page from the original builder’s book by saving many of the original elements to incorporate into the new.”
Pellegrini said the new Hadley home being built on the site will have a red roof — though Red Roof it could never be.
In an email, Fisk, a highly placed operative in the Obama re-election campaign and a former longtime member of Sen. John Kerry’s staff, said Andrew wrote of meeting FDR for breakfast on the presidential yacht moored off Red Roof that “as kind as the gesture is, our friendship is in the past.”
Among the guests drawn to Red Roof, Fisk wrote, were philosopher and author William James, painter John Singer Sargent and the eccentric art collector Isabella Stewart Gardner, who “tended to the house during APA’s service in the war,” Fisk wrote.
“The house itself was deceivingly simple as you walked through the gate,” wrote Fisk. “Once inside the Arts and Crafts design, the mysteries unfolded and multiplied; secret passages, a hidden library, second floor bedrooms in color themes, and all of it punctuated by a Tudor music hall called the Garden Room that hosted dinners and theatrical performances ...
“To walk down towards the water involved passing through numerous portals and gates, all connecting three themed terraces (Italian, Opera and Mexican) and finally ending with a salt water pool at water’s edge. Woven throughout its worldliness was still a childlike playfulness, and we would watch with pride and love as families would walk around on their first visit, with everyone from child to grandparent wide-eyed, smiling, clearly energized by how the fascinating house welcomed and delighted them.
“Fast forward to recent decades, and Red Roof suffered the same splintered fate that consumes many great houses in the third or fourth generation of family ownership. We did our best to consolidate ownership ten years ago, and gave it everything we had, but time and nature come with price tags that arrive again and again,” wrote Fisk.
Encased for protection in plywood for the winter is an ornate fireplace from a parlor; still left standing for re-connection to the new house is the old great room, epicenter of the alcohol-fueled parties in the era we know best through the novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald, as the roaring ‘20s, but which seemed to start earlier at Red Roof.
Andrew — the Route 128 bridge across the Annisquam was dedicated to him in 1953 — became one of the first Americans to take an active part in the Great War, 1914-1918.
“Going to France in December 1914, he secured from the French Army authorization for American volunteer ambulance units to serve with the French divisions at the front, and with American volunteers as drivers, and with cars purchased from American donations, he built up an organization known as the American Field Service, which, before any American troops had arrived in France, had thirty-four ambulance sections and twelve (truck) sections serving with the French troops in France and in the Balkans,” according to the National Cyclopedia of American Biography, modified by Andrew’s sister, Helen Patch.
He spent 41/2 years with the French and U.S. armies, and was decorated by the French Army with the Croix de Guerre, and the Legion of Honor, and by the U.S. with the Distinguished Service Medal.
Before his efforts in the Great War, Andrew, a Republican, predicted the panic of 1907 in an article in New York’s Journal of Commerce, and studied global monetary and economic problems before he was named by President William Howard Taft to be director of the mint and assistant secretary of the treasury.
He also served in Congress from 1921 through his death in 1936.
In his 1973 history “Eastern Point,” the late Joseph E. Garland wrote that the building of Red Roof “catalyzed” a colony “that would spring up around this brilliant, creative, handsome man ... His grace. his intellect, his sensitivity, his overpowering ego and his mesmeric charm captivated men and women alike and drew from those admitted behind the gate of his urbanity an often passionate devotion.”
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.