The Whittemore House tries to redefine its image
Long marked by an aura of exclusivity and inaccessibility, Whittemore House could be updating its image soon.
“My personal view is that we should open up our membership as wide as possible,” said Art Casolari, an employee of St. Louis Catering and general manager of the Whittemore House.
Located at 6440 Forsyth Blvd., directly across from Mallinckrodt and next door to the chancellor’s residence, Whittemore House serves as a conference center and meeting place for members who pay monthly dues.
The house was built in 1912 by St. Louis businessman Henry Haarstick and was later donated to Washington University. In 1969, it opened as a faculty conference center. Today, the house is owned by the University, which subcontracts it to Catering St. Louis.
Casolari, who oversees day-to-day operations within the house, believes that membership should be available to all alumni.
“They’ve poured a lot of money into Wash. U., and they should be allowed to utilize the space,” he said.
Membership is currently limited to faculty, staff and members of the Eliot Society, a group of private donors to the University. While this policy initially was enacted to honor these contributors, students find the policy alienating.
“I wouldn’t join simply because I would maintain other connections to the University that were made on my terms,” sophomore Kathy Peter said. “I wouldn’t need to be a part of a club.”
In an attempt to attract new members, monthly dues have been decreased from $26 to $5 this year.
Lower dues, however, have placed a strain on the house’s current financial situation.Whittemore House can host parties for as many as 230 people, but there are rarely events that large.
“We’d like to have a big event every weekend,” said Casolari. “Then our financial woes would certainly be taken care of.”
Similarly problematic for Casolari and the rest of the Whittemore staff has been the reduction of corporate donations in recent years. While large companies such as Monsanto and Enterprise used to hold fairly regular social events at the Whittemore House, the current economic climate has hampered the hosting of subsequent events.
As the house approaches its 100th birthday, upkeep costs are also increasing. The ceiling began to cave in three years ago, setting the house’s independent budget back $45,000.
“As is the case with old houses, things seem to pop up unexpectedly,” Casolari said. “Now Wash. U. has been, for lack of a better term, ‘bailing us out.’”
Now heavily dependent on support from the University, Whittemore House lacks the prominence in campus culture that significantly would broaden its membership base.
“I’ve never heard of it, personally,” Peter said. “Its exclusivity is worthless if no one knows about it.”
Acknowledging that Whittemore House faces a challenging future, Casolari hopes to maintain its luxurious image while increasing accessibility.
“There’s something about it being exclusive that makes it special,” he said, “but it’s still a Wash. U. space.”