Financing the Reconstruction of the Stoa of AttalosPosted: March 20, 2021
1946 marked the re-opening of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or School hereafter) in a country that had been devastated by war. In reading the official correspondence between the Greek Ministry of Education and the ASCSA, it becomes obvious that opening museums and the preservation of archaeological sites ranked highly on Greece’s list of priorities. With the launch of the Marshall Plan in 1947, Greece’s chances of success were also tightly connected with the development of tourism, and a large part of U.S. aid was streamlined in this direction.
“It is well known that travelers come to Greece chiefly for the purpose of seeing the ancient sites and visiting the museums of the country. In other words, the antiquities of Greece constitute a productive source of revenue capable of adding to the national treasury some 30 million dollars in the course of three years… No investment in the economy of Greece can match this for returns” wrote Oscar Broneer, Acting Director of the American School, on June 29th of 1948, in a petition of the School to the Industry Division of the Marshall plan for a $1,149,000 grant that would re-establish the Greek Archaeological Service.ASCSA AdmRec 804/6, folder 4
Carl W. Blegen, the excavator of many prehistoric sites in Greece who succeeded Broneer in the Directorship of the American School (1948-1949) and had served as Cultural Relations Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Athens in 1945-1946, also thought along the same lines. In an additional memorandum to the U.S. Ambassador in Athens, in August of 1948, Blegen underlined “the lamentable state of disrepair of the Greek museums,” which looked like empty shells (ASCSA AdmRec 804/6, folder 11). Blegen participated actively in meetings between the Economic Cooperation Administration (ECA) representatives and the Archaeological Service and helped with writing proposals. (The ECA was a U.S. government agency set up in 1948 to administer the Marshall Plan.) Since the American School could not receive direct funding from the Marshall plan, the only way to benefit from it was through collaboration with the Greek Government. The School hoped in this way to secure about $100,000 from the ECA through the Greek Government to supplement the cost of the construction of a museum that would store and display the growing number of finds from the Athenian Agora Excavations that had been accumulated since 1931. Before WW II, the School already had secured a grant of $150,000 from the Rockefeller Foundation to build a museum on the west side of the Agora.
Forced by the War to abandon their plans for an Agora Museum, the Americans resumed work at the Athenian Agora in 1947, conducting excavations at the proposed site, in order to begin construction. The 5th and 4th century B.C. houses and industrial workshops that they found were considered too important to be covered up, and a new site for the museum had to be found. After considering every possible location in the Athenian Agora for the museum, the Americans, following Homer Thompson’s suggestion, came to the conclusion that “another and in many ways preferable alternative would be to restore the Stoa of Attalos and install in it the museum, workrooms, and offices…” (ASCSA Annual Report 1947-1948, p. 29).
The draft of a program agreement between the ECA and the Greek Ministries of Coordination and Education included figures for the preservation of 34 monuments, and the reconstruction of the Stoa of Attalos was first on the list.
THE RIGHT PEOPLE IN THE RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME
Unfortunately, the School’s appeal to the ECA of the Marshall plan met with limited success. Of the original request for $100,000 that the American School had hoped to secure in 1948, only $20,000 was granted for the reconstruction of the Stoa of Attalos. The rest was channeled to support the increased military needs of Greece. The Cold War had just begun. By the end of 1949, the School had already spent some $26,000 excavating the Stoa, to prepare the ground for the foundations of the reconstructed building. “It would be unwise to start any of the building operations, however, until we have studies made by an engineer… We should not want to set up a part of the stoa and then be told that the foundations were inadequate…” wrote the new Director of the American School John (Jack) Caskey to Louis E. Lord, Chair of the Managing Committee on January 2, 1950 (ASCSA AdmRec 318/5, folder 1). After a period with Acting Directors serving one-year terms (1946-1949), the American School had just appointed Caskey as Director for a term of five years.
At roughly the same time, there were two more significant changes in the leadership of the American School. The Chairmanship of the Managing Committee was filled by Charles H. Morgan, and this appointment, which would be extended by a further five years, led to one of the most distinguished and effective decades in the School’s history (Meritt 1984, p. 49).
The third change was the election of Ward Canaday, the Chairman of Willys-Overland Motors, as President of the Board of Trustees of the American School in 1949. Ward immediately invested all his energy and talent in the Agora project. (On Ward Canaday and his daughter Doreen Canaday Spitzer, see “They returned… but stay I did”: Doreen Canaday’s Experience of Interwar Greece.) The other significant participant in the project was Homer A. Thompson, Director of the Agora excavations, upon whose shoulders rested the successful execution of the reconstruction.
JOHN ROCKEFELLER, Jr.
By April of 1950, there was little hope that the ECA would continue funding the restoration of the Stoa of Attalos, despite John and Elizabeth Caskey’s efforts to lobby ECA officials in Athens. “The Paul Porters came to dinner with us the other evening. They were politely interested in our work and I hope to see more of them. I am told that Porter has not been too keen about the Museums and Monuments program, or about the whole muddled tourist campaign” Caskey wrote to Morgan on October 10, 1950. Paul Porter (1904-1975), who was responsible for the Marshall Plan aid program in Greece from 1949 to 1950, described the change in the goals and the character of the ECA as such: “We were like a peace-time factory converted to defense production” (Behram 2007, p. 303).
The lack of interest that the U.S. government showed in the reconstruction of the Stoa of Attalos forced the School’s leadership to explore private sources of funding. Ward Canaday initiated this change of course by presenting a review of the Agora situation to lawyer and banker Winthrop W. Aldrich (1885-1974), in an effort to establish personal contact with John Rockefeller, Jr. (Aldrich’s sister Abby had married John Rockefeller, Jr.). By November of 1950, Canaday had made contact with Dana S. Creel, Rockefeller’s representative. “The door remains open but the chain lock is still on” is how Charles Morgan described the Rockefeller situation to Jack Caskey in a letter dated November 20, 1950 (ASCSA AdmRec 318/5, folder 3). Rockefeller’s office had requested information about past and future costs both for the excavation and restoration of the Stoa, together with a schedule of work. Two months later, Morgan reported to Caskey after a meeting with Creel:
“…the door [to John Rockefeller] was still open but no further ajar… it is apparent that Mr. Rockefeller does not like to renew interest in an undertaking that he has previously considered closed.”ASCSA AdmRec 318/5, folder 3, January 10, 1951
Nevertheless, the good news came a few months later. On May 15, 1951, Creel announced to Ward Canaday that Rockefeller had agreed to contribute financially to the Agora project: “While it was not Mr. Rockefeller’s thought to contribute further to the project, he believes… that it is highly desirable to complete the entire undertaking as quickly as possible in order to avoid any loss or deterioration in connection with the excavation or its findings and to realize the maximum educational value involved in the project.” Rockefeller donated a quarter-million dollars from his personal funds (rather than those of his Foundation) and guaranteed, once this sum was matched by the School, to add a dollar to every dollar secured elsewhere by the School by May 31, 1954, up to an overall total of $2,000,000 (ASCSA AdmRec 202/15, folder 1).
CLOSE BUT NOT QUITE THERE YET…
To match Rockefeller’s gift, the School again approached the ECA whose officers suggested that the School stop playing the tourism card. They, instead, suggested that the School would have more of a chance if it supported a “Big Idea.” “I’m not very happy about using Human Freedom, International Peace, and phrases of that kind for acquiring money for any purpose… I think it true, however, that we ought to emphasize and dramatize a bigger idea than milking tourists of a few extra dollars” confided Caskey to Morgan on July 29, 1951 (ASCSA AdmRec 318/5, folder 4). For this reason, the School’s application to the ECA for $500,000 downplayed the tourism attraction, and instead emphasized the employment and training opportunities that the project would offer to Greeks. As to the “Big Idea,” the School chose to promote the Agora as the birthplace and symbol of democracy, as it had done in the past.
Despite all these changes, a month or so later, Roger D. Lapham (1883-1966), Chief of the ECA Mission to Greece, communicated to Canaday that there was little hope for funding. A change in America’s foreign policy towards Europe and Greece limited aid to projects of the highest military and economic priority (ASCSA Archives, Homer A. Thompson Papers, Box 109, folder 5, September 15, 1951). Two months later, the U.S. would cancel the whole tourist program for Greece, as well as the program for museums and monuments.
A second blow to the finances of the American School came from the Fulbright Foundation which had supported several fellows at the School since the inception of the program in 1948. In the spring of 1952, the Fulbright Foundation drastically reduced the number of fellowships that it granted to the ASCSA. In addition, the School was also rejected by the Ford Foundation (ASCSA AdmRec 318/5, folder 4, Caskey to Morgan, May 31, 1952).
In contrast to its failures with U.S. funding agencies, the School’s appeals to affluent individuals were better received, and by 1952 it had secured the first $100,000 needed to match Rockefeller’s first quarter-million dollar gift. Canaday had inspired two more trustees to offer their support to the Agora project: Arthur Vining Davis (1867-1962) and John Nicholas Brown (1900-1979), whose great-grandfather had given his name to Brown University. But there were also signs of frustration on the School’s staff. So much effort had been put into securing funds for the reconstruction of the Stoa of Attalos and the continuation of the Agora excavations that all other work was effectively put on hold. The Corinth excavations laid dormant, and the School had not recently embarked on any major field project with the exception of the excavations at Samothrace, annually funded by New York University. The need for a larger endowment, although vital, had also been set on a back burner.
“…In my opinion, the School cannot go on denying its other needs for five more years without serious damage to the whole organization. The plant must be kept more nearly up to date; the museum and records at Corinth must be put into shape; some new excavation should be undertaken… My admiration of the Agora dig and my devotion to the members of its staff are undiminished, but I honestly feel that we must soon stop channeling all our resources into that one enterprise” Caskey wrote to Morgan on July 15, 1952.ASCSA Archives, AdmRec 318/5, folder 5
GREAT TIMES AHEAD
By 1953, however, things were shaping up in all directions. Through private fund raising, the School had matched Rockefeller’s first quarter million, and Rockefeller handed over the second quarter-million. Trustee Arthur Vining Davis had pledged an additional $100,000 toward the completion of the Agora project. Most importantly, however, the recent devaluation of drachma by the Greek Government had effectively doubled the purchasing power of the dollar for all transactions. 1953 was thus a landmark year for the American School. After 6 years of hard work and with roughly $800,000 at hand, the School was finally ready to launch the reconstruction of the Stoa and enter a long period of stability. Morgan sent a congratulatory note to Thompson: “Finally, heartiest congratulations on the culmination of the Stoa program. Without your original idea and your persistent faith and tenacity in the face of opposition from every quarter it never could have happened!” (ASCSA AdmRec 318/5, folder 5, May 20, 1953). [Suggested further reading: “That Unspeakable Stoa” and Sakka 2013 for an in-depth study of “the various meanings and values ascribed to the reconstruction process.”]
The American School’s institutional history demonstrates the repeated difficulties it had in securing funds from U.S. philanthropic foundations in the immediate postwar years. While its work and mission could inspire enlightened individuals like John Rockefeller, Jr. and Arthur Vining Davis, the School’s proposals failed to attract institutional support from Marshall Plan bureaucrats and the Rockefeller Foundation (it was John Rockefeller, not the Rockefeller Foundation, who funded the reconstruction of the Stoa). Initial success with the Fulbright Foundation ended after a few years, while its early applications were at first rejected by the Ford Foundation.
The situation was best described by Caskey in his Annual Report for 1951-1952 (p. 20):
“… the policies of foundations have shifted largely from outright sums for endowment and special projects toward support of general programs usually of social or scientific rather humanistic character.”
Caskey was probably referring to the establishment of the National Science Foundation in 1950. The equivalent foundation for the humanities would not be established until 1965.
It is interesting to read in the official history of the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) that there was much skepticism about the worthiness of appropriations like the ones that the Foundation granted to the American School before WW II (the School was given half a million dollars in the 1920s to raise its endowment and build Loring Hall, as well as $150,000 in 1935 to build the Agora museum). In 1937, the then Director of the Humanities Division of the RF, David H. Stevens (1885-1980) noted in an internal report concerning its humanities program:
“How was this program a credit to us? In having a sense of magnitude. In what way a discredit? By buttressing scholasticism and antiquarianism in our universities.”Fosdyke 1989, p. 239
Another RF trustee, Jerome D. Greene (1874-1959), who was in favor of the humanities, also commented on “the snobbishness of the classical tradition” and the possibility that its support “was getting us facts but not necessarily followers” (Fosdyke 1989, p. 241).
Classics as practiced by a small number of graduates from ivy-league schools had a limited place in post-WW II America, where access to a university education was no longer considered a privilege but a right. Foundations such as the Rockefeller, the Ford, or the Fulbright were eager to support programs related to theater, radio, and television studies, as well as language and area studies, with an emphasis on Latin America and the Far East. Humanities were no longer identified with the study of the past. In postwar America, there would be no boundaries between past, present, and future.
“It is sad that the F[ord] F[oundation] is not interested in us as we are. The Fulbright people have shown the same tendency… As I have told you, there has been an increasing tendency, among the Fulbright students especially, to have “a year abroad” and concentrate on the area (if not the language) at the expense of the subject matter itself… This is bad for the School and bad for Classical Studies… I am almost sure that a group of non-classicists in our midst would hasten the process of disintegration,” complained Caskey to Morgan in 1952.
ASCSA Archives, AdmRec 318/5, folder 4, May 31, 1952
It is a pity that the Ford Foundation’s rejection letter is not preserved in the ASCSA Archives, but, even without it, one understands that in the 1950s U.S. foundations were highly critical of the School’s unilateral focus on classical studies and its lack of interest in introducing more inclusive programs. A major redirection in priorities did not come from the School, which continued to focus on the promotion of classics, but rather from the U.S. government and the philanthropic foundations themselves. In the early 1960s, an in-depth study by the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) about the state of the humanities in America led to the creation in 1965, for the first time, of a national entity that would support humanities: The National Endowment for the Humanities. The ACLS Report of the Commission on the Humanities 1964 was based on studies presented by twenty-four organizations and institutions, including the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA). Note that four of the members of the Committee who represented the AIA had close ties with the School (Alan Boegehold, Cedric Boulter, Robert Scranton, and John Young). Therefore, it is not accidental that the AIA report within the ACLS Report included a section concerning the financial support of American excavations in the Mediterranean and the Near East, with a special emphasis on the continuation of the Athenian Agora excavations which was described as ‘the exemplary dig of all time,” with a call to raise $4,000,000 for the completion of the project (ACLS Report, pp. 73-74). (For a thorough discussion of the ACLS report and the AIA’s support of excavations of “advanced civilizations,” see Dyson 1998, pp. 228-231, 258-261).
A year later, in 1966, after having been rejected in the past, the American School received $1 million from the Ford Foundation, the largest single grant in American archaeology at the time, to support the Agora excavations. This was the Ford Foundation’s first contribution to classical archaeology, but why the Ford Foundation became interested in funding an archaeological project in Greece is a story for another occasion.
Behram, G. 2007. The Most Noble Adventure: The Marshall Plan and How America Helped Rebuild Europe, New York.
Dyson, S. 1998. Ancient Marbles to American Shores: Classical Archaeology in the United States, Philadelphia.
Fosdick, R. B. 1989 . The Story of the Rockefeller Foundation, New York.
Meritt, L.S. 1984. History of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 1939-1980, Princeton.
Sakka, N, 2013. ” ‘A Debt to Ancient Wisdom and Beauty’: The Reconstruction of the Stoa of Attalos in the Ancient Agora of Athens,” in Philhellenism, Philanthropy, or Political Convenience? American Archaeology in Greece, ed. J. L. Davis and N. Vogeikoff-Brogan, Hesperia Special Issue 82:1, pp. 203-227.