RED ROOF - Axel Jansen interviewed Corinna Fisk, the great grand niece of A. Piatt Andrew, in September 2008
AJ: Corinna, is it true that A. Piatt Andrew, the AFS founder, had a bear for a pet? What about Andrew's costume parties?
CF: He had two bears for pets, named Silver and Gold, which he kept in the front yard at his house, Red Roof, for a short time before finding them an appropriate permanent home. Weekend evenings were a special time amongst A. Piatt Andrew's friends at Red Roof on Eastern Point, in Gloucester. Their capacity for self-dramatization would often take the form of themed dinner parties, musical performances and skits in full costume. Guests visiting Red Roof can page through the guests books to see the guest lineage as well as pictures of the bears, costume parties and other great events.
AJ: What role has AFS played in your family after Andrew passed away in the 1936? Does the younger generation remember what AFS was about or has that become less important as the family's interests shifted?
CF: AFS is inseparable from my family. We have always been deeply aware of A. Piatt Andrew's life and the impact it had all over the world. Over generations we have hosted AFS students at Red Roof and right now members of my family are hosting an AFS student from the Philippines.
AJ: Considering that Gloucester was just a small fishing town in the early 1900s, at that time what was a Harvard professor and director of the U.S. mint doing there?
CF: After visiting the area socially A. Piatt Andrew fell in love with the rugged and undeveloped Eastern Point. Within just a few years of building Red Roof in 1902 his close friends built neighboring cottages and together they formed a small but potent social clique that reached deep into the political, economic and artistic circles of early 20th century America.
AJ: Red Roof has been around since the early 1900s but it was closed to the public until recently. What has the house been used for, and what made you decide to open it up to visitors?
CF: Some generations of my family viewed Red Roof in a more private context than I do. I think there is tremendous value and relevance in A. Piatt Andrew's work. I love the idea that a visitor to our home will walk away wanting to know more about the AFS, the unique historical role of a Harry Sleeper, Isabella Stewart Gardner, or Cecilia Beaux, or this country's relationship with France and our early role in World War I.
AJ: Eastern Point in Gloucester is known as an "artsy" or a "well-to-do" area. In your impression, what has changed since Andrew decided to build Red Roof there? We know you live in Boston rather than Gloucester – but what is your impression, how has Gloucester changed in recent years?
CF: The history of Gloucester is in many ways the history of the fishing industry, so as that ancient trade struggles and progresses so does Gloucester. More tourism comes through the city now which is another reason why we have welcomed the public to Red Roof and shared with visitors the story of A. Piatt Andrew and the American Field Service.
AJ: Can you tell us about the "dugout"? What is it, and what did you make of it when you were a kid?
CF: The dugout really captures both the humor and the seriousness of purpose that was my great grand uncle. On one hand you have an economics library that charts his career through global economics, and you also have World War I and AFS memorabilia that he brought back from France. At the same time the whole wing of the house is only accessible through a hidden secret door in the living room, so while the dugout contains serious literature and the remnants of war, it is tucked away with a sense of humor that defies the gravitas of its contents. As kids it was perfect for hide and seek.
AJ: You have now decided to open up Red Roof to the public--to rent out rooms or the entire house. What is it that people can expect from staying at Red Roof? How big is it and what can people do when they are there?
CF: Red Roof was made for guests and is still the perfect spot for entertaining groups large or small. The house is a unique and beautiful Arts and Crafts style cottage with 5 bedrooms and several terraces overlooking Gloucester Harbor. At waters edge there is a salt water pool. To walk into Red Roof is to walk back in time. For anyone who studies the history of the American Field Service a visit to Red Roof is an opportunity to connect directly with the private life of one of AFS's architects. Here you can see the evolution of his relationship with public service, his growing regard for France, and the papers from the 16 years in Congress that he contributed to the nation after creating and ultimately giving AFS to the world. It's available for rent by the week during the summer season, from June to September. To see pictures and learn more about how to visit Red Roof, please visit us at redroofgloucester.org.
AJ: Thank you for this interview.
CF: Thank you! I enjoy talking about my great grand uncle, the American Field Service and the house that we are working hard to preserve.
© AFS Foundation
Photos by Axel Jansen
taken with kind permission
by the A. Piatt Andrew Estate