Emile Despres, Economist and Academic

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I had uncovered a surprise twist in the history of our new house that was never covered in the extensive historical information that has been collected over the years by previous owners. In fact, it was some of this information that provided me a clue that we were not, in fact, the third family to own this house. We are the fourth.

We’re awaiting information from the Library of Congress on the architect Goodman’s personal papers. However, I think I have enough evidence to reveal that the “Sevareid House” outlined in documents that the City of Alexandria historical office possesses as well as the profile in the 1950s era “Washington Guide to Architecture” was not commissioned by the Eric Sevareid family.

I knew the house was built in 1944. One of the historical “documents” that Mrs. Syme provided to me was the November 1948 edition of Home and Garden Magazine containing a 4-page feature on our house.  Both black and white and color photos as well as a floor plan and detailed building information provide an excellent historical view of how the house looked just 4 years after it was built. In the article, Mrs. Sevareid describes their hunt for the perfect house in the area to raise their twin sons. The search was extensive and they also considered building their own home before they found our house and bought it in 1946. This led to the question – Who hired Charles Goodman to build this house and who lived here from 1944 – 1946?

My real estate attorney and friend Karen helped fill in the blanks by researching the ownership records in the city Real Estate and Taxation office. She found that in 1941 Dwight and Bertha Dunton sold part of their property to Emile Despres and Joanna Despres and that Eric and Lois Sevareid bought the property from them in 1946.

The Despres’ were interesting people in their own right. Emile Despres (1909 – 1973) was a noted, Harvard-educated fellow who worked as a cabinet level economist in the Roosevelt Administration from 1941 – 1944. In 1945, Despres became the economic advisor on German Affairs in the State Department and was a member of the U.S. Delegation to the Potsdam Conference. Both before that Conference and after, Despres worked for an American policy that would further a peace of reconstruction rather than one of economic and military repression. After the war, Despres taught at Williams College from 1946 – 1961. In 1961 Professor Despres went to Stanford University. He held a unique position as a quasi-legendary figure among economic leaders, enlightened businessmen and public figures. Among the letters supporting his Stanford appointment was a famous statement by the late Noble laureate, Paul Samuelson, “Since Stanford cannot hope to appoint Adam Smith, it may do well to set its cap for Despres.”

Young Man with Banjo by Johanna Despres

Young Man with Banjo by Johanna Despres

Joanna Despres was a nationally recognized American muralist and painter who showed her work in France, New York, Pakistan and San Francisco. Her works are in many collections in the U.S. and abroad. She was also secretary to the executive council that implemented the National Recovery Act’s WPA during the New Deal. Joanna received her MA in art from Stanford in 1967. She also had 3 children. Joanna Despres passed away in 2009.

It was these educated and talented people who apparently hired Charles Goodman to build the stunning modern house on the hill.

2 responses »

  1. David, if you can fill in the blanks I would be grateful. It seems as you have knowledge of my house and its former occupants. I’d love to learn what you have to share.


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