Living Like Kings: When the Palace of Prince George Was the Annex of the American School of Classical Studies at AthensPosted: September 1, 2015
Immediately after the destruction of Smyrna in 1922, a sudden influx of hundreds of thousands of Asia Minor refugees created severe housing problems for all those arriving in Athens, including the incoming students of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (hereafter ASCSA or the School). Its female members could not find any accommodations, whether rooms in a boarding house or a hotel. Until then, only the male students were allowed to board in the School’s facilities. Plans for a female dormitory on a plot of land on the other side of Speusippou Street had been in place since 1916, but construction delays sprang up after communication problems between the School’s Managing Committee, headed by the mighty Edward Capps, and the Women’s Hostel Committee, led by M. Carey Thomas, the dynamic president of Bryn Mawr College.
To cope with the situation, the School allowed women to live “on campus” for the first time since its establishment in 1881. Elizabeth Pierce (Blegen), Natalie Gifford (Wyatt), and Dorothy Cox were among the female students to stay in the School’s bedrooms in 1922-23 and share bathroom facilities with the male occupants of the building. Not surprisingly, the Managing Committee, unhappy with the solution, expressed its “earnest hope that the emergency arrangements of the year 1922-1923 might not recur….” It was suggested “that an annex might be rented which could be used for the accommodation of the women” (Louis Lord, History of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Cambridge, Mass. 1947, 163).
Bert Hodge Hill, director of the ASCSA since 1906 and well-connected to the Greek royal family, offered an ideal alternative. The School would rent the palace of Prince George at the corner of Academias and Demokritou streets in the center of Athens. This offer was facilitated by the royal family’s sudden departure from Greece during this period of political unrest. Following the Asia Minor debacle, King Constantine was asked to resign and leave the country together with the rest of the royal family. Several letters in the Archives of the American School contain requests to Hill from members of the royal family, asking him to safeguard their personal belongings in the palace. Just to remind readers, in March 1924 Greece was proclaimed a republic. It lasted until 1935 and only then was the royal family allowed to return.
Initially rented for one year, 1923-1924, the royal residence on Academy Street continued to be occupied by ASCSA members until 1929 when construction of Loring Hall was finally completed. Except for a brief mention in Louis Lord’s History and the rental contracts contained in the School’s Administrative Records, there was no other information in our archives about the dwelling, which no longer stands. Happily this situation changed in the late 1990s with the arrival of an envelope containing two photos from the papers of Caroline Morris Galt (1875-1937). One image showed the exterior of a three-storey neoclassical building identified as the Palace of Prince George; the other depicted an elaborate sitting room. I remember my eyes lingering on a large, white porcelain elephant resting atop a chest of drawers. Later I found out that the porcelain elephant had been given to Prince George by the Emperor of Japan as a token of gratitude for saving the life of Tsarevich Nicholas (later Tsar Nicholas II) during an attack near Kobe. Cousins George and Nicholas had taken a trip together to the Far East in 1891.
Galt, a graduate of Bryn Mawr College in 1897, and professor of archaeology at Mount Holyoke College (1903–1937), had been the Annual Professor at the ASCSA in 1925-1926 (the first woman in that position) and lived in the Annex on Academias Street while in Athens. For more about Galt, see Sara Immerwahr’s biographical essay at http://www.brown.edu/Research/Breaking_Ground/results.php?d=1&first=Caroline&last=Galt
I published one of Galt’s photos in the ASCSA Newsletter for 1998, but this was still in the early days of the internet and my research was limited. From time to time I would come across mentions of the Annex in the members’ correspondence, but they did not add anything new to what I had already written.
For years I had been intrigued by a set of photos in the Oscar Broneer papers that depict School members dressed in exquisite costumes. What struck me most was the elaborate, almost theatrical background of the photos, pillars with Chinese vases atop, a large church organ, and exotic plants. Of the eight adults and four children in the photos, I could identify only two: Oscar Broneer and Priscilla Capps (the daughter of Edward Capps). Four of the women, including Priscilla, were dressed in traditional Greek garb, while the fifth had gone to the painstaking effort of dressing herself as an Archaic kore. Two of the men, including Broneer, were dressed as harlequins, while the third had clothed himself in a traditional costume from Asia Minor or the Pontic region (Black Sea).
Two years ago at a conference dedicated to famous archaeologist George Mylonas, Michael Cosmopoulos, professor of archaeology at the University of Missouri in Saint Louis, showed one of the photos and identified the “man from Pontus” at the far right as George Mylonas. Indeed, it is a young George Mylonas, from the time he worked as a bursar at the ASCSA (1925-1928). Mylonas also belonged to one of the Greek families that the Greek-Turkish War of 1919-1922 had uprooted from Asia Minor. I asked Michael if there was any writing on the back of his photo, but he said there was not. He had discovered the photo in the papers of George Mylonas at the University of Missouri.
I found myself wondering anew about the costume photos. Having identified Mylonas as one of the people helped me narrow down the chronology of the photos to the period of Mylonas’s service at the School. A Google search for Prince George’s palace on Academias Street produced new information and, most importantly, photos, primarily from an illustrated essay by Vassilis Kazantzis written in 1957, a week after the death of Prince George (http://www.royalchronicles.gr/palace-prince-george/). A careful study of the architectural details in the background of the costume photos and those in Kazantzis’s essay convinced me that the fancy party had taken place in the palace of Prince George sometime between 1925 and 1928.
But who were the other participants in the costume party, in addition to Broneer, Mylonas, and Priscilla Capps? I went through the list of female students and professors at the School during those years, but you rarely find photos of unobtrusive academics on the web, and, if you do, it is hard to match official mature portraits with photos taken in their youth (not to mention in disguise). The one exception involves our “archaic kore.” Carl Blegen, Acting Director of the School in 1926-1927, reported to Edward Capps the activities of the students in a letter from February 1927. There he mentioned that “Miss Clarke… besides attending the regular course…has also begun a study of the details of Sixth Century costumes and draperies, as represented in the sculptures of the Acropolis Museum” (Carl W. Blegen Papers, Box 15, folder 4). Is Eleanor Parker Clarke, a graduate of the New York School of Fine and Applied Art, the archaic kore of the photo? Clarke would have been in her late 40s in 1927. The “Archaic Kore” of the photo appears younger, however…
And who was Prince George, the owner of the palace on Academias Street? He is not to be confused with King George II (1890-1947) who reigned from 1922 to 1924 and from 1935 to 1947. Prince George (1869-1957) is better known as the first High Commissioner of Crete (1898-1906) during the island’s brief period as an autonomous state, after it was freed by the Ottomans in 1898 and before its unification with Greece in 1912. After clashing with Eleftherios Venizelos, Prince George resigned in 1906 and the following year he married Marie Bonaparte (1882-1962), a French princess and granddaughter of Napoleon’s brother.
Princess Marie, who was the heiress to a fortune received from her grandfather Francois Blanc (who increased his wealth by running the casino in Monte Carlo), is remembered today for her studies in psychoanalysis, her life-long friendship with Sigmund Freud, and her provocative writings on female sexuality. She even went so far as to have her clitoris relocated surgically in the late 1920s! (Freud was furious with her decision.) Her book on Female Sexuality was translated and published into English in 1953. (Please note the timing of the English translation. Alfred Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Female appeared in 1953 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinsey_Reports). The story of Marie Bonaparte’s fascinating life was recently adapted as a film for French television in 2004 (“Princess Marie“) with the famous actress Catherine Deneuve playing Marie.
The couple led independent lives throughout their marriage, with Prince George spending half of the year in Denmark near his beloved uncle Prince Valdelmar (1858-1939) and Princess Marie preferring the intellectual life of Paris and Vienna. In addition to owning a residence in the affluent neighborhood of Saint Cloud in Paris, Marie also owed two more houses, one in Brittany and a villa in Saint-Tropez, where she did much of her writing.
The couple must have used the palace on Academias Street briefly before WWI and for longer periods after WWII when Marie and Prince George spent more time together as an elderly couple. Early on in her marriage she complained about the empty walls of the house and wanted to decorate it with engravings depicting Napoleon’s battles. She hoped to “inscribe” Napoleon’s image into her young son’s subconscious (Bertin 2008, 229). Later photos of the interior of the palace depict rooms stuffed with paintings and bibelots, not an inch of a wall or table top empty, most likely reflecting Prince George’s taste. Marie’s elegance can be seen in the choice of rugs and curtains. A marble bust and a bronze statuette of Napoleon must also be credited to her.
Never an idle person, during her winters in Athens Marie made an effort to know the leading psychiatrists of the city, some of whom also practiced psychoanalysis, such as Dimitris Kouretas and Georgios Zavitzianos, as well as poet and psychoanalyst Andreas Empeirikos (see Appendix by Roula Tsitouri in Bertin 2008, 499-510).
Prince George died in 1957 and Princess Marie in 1962. Both are buried in the royal cemetery at Tatoi. The house was sold and demolished in 1962, and the Hotel Galaxy was erected in its place. In 1994 it was fully renovated to house Southeastern College. Today it belongs to the Οργανισμός Απασχολήσεως Ελευθέρων Επαγγελματιών (ΟΑΕΕ). This building hardly merits any comment, unless you know its pre-history.
Postscript: Reading a post by film director Lakis Papastathis, titled “Οι κινηματογραφικές καταγραφές της Μαρίας Βοναπάρτη,” I have recently learned that Maria Bonaparte donated her wedding dress to the Benaki Museum together with a rare color 16mm movie that she herself made in 1941. She and Prince George were briefly in Greece in the early months of 1941 before moving with the rest of the royal family to Egypt to escape from the Germans.
Célia Bertin, Μαρία Βοναπάρτη. Η ζωή της, Athens: Potamos Editions, 2008 (Bertin’s biography of Marie Bonaparte was also published in English in 1982; for a NYT review, see http://www.nytimes.com/1983/02/06/books/an-unlikely-analyst.html
Alison Moore, “Relocating Marie Bonaparte’s Clitoris,” Australian Feminist Studies 24, 2009, pp. 149-165.
On Freud and Maria Bonaparte, see http://www.nytimes.com/1985/11/12/science/freud-s-mind-new-details-revealed-in-documents.html
For information after the building was demolished, see https://www.facebook.com/149801415032228/photos/a.170816552930714.39368.149801415032228/710177538994610/